Whoa! Everybody is doing The Whoa. No, seriously, I think the number of folks punctuating viral dance challenges with this movement has to be statistically significant. Even before this global health pandemic, various manifestations of hip-hop dance – party dances, groove, and technique – were lighting up our screens of choice via commercials, music videos, competition shows, and other recordings of dance jams and choreography. COVID-19 has sent the world away from the live, in-person gatherings so native to hip-hop culture where bodies not only were the punctuation to beats and verses laid down by DJs and MCs, but also were a kinaesthetic tongue for a language so universal and primal that it allowed dialects (styles and steps) to be shared and remixed. And while the academic world (of which I am a part) may label these gatherings as sites of “informal learning,” I know experientially – which is an essential epistemology – that the type of social, emotional, and cognitive intelligences and processes utilised in these spaces form the essence of what it is to be human – connection and membership.
There is something in the two-step, the bounce, the groove of hip-hop party (or social) dances that draws people in. What is it that makes these dances so special? What gives them this almost supernatural power to connect people, live and virtually, from various racial, ethnic, gender, class, ability backgrounds and contexts? And whatever this “force” is, is it potent enough to literally and metaphorically pivot from dance movements to activism movements?
Even before people were becoming Zoom-bies in the virtual learning sphere that is the “new normal,” I have been advocating for more dance and movement in education (and even traditional workplaces). Moreover, I campaign for decolonised dance curriculum and framings around the moving body. I have witnessed the fear and even aversion people have of their own bodies and of dance more broadly – there is no bop of the head, no bounce of a shoulder, and definitely no sway of the hips. Instead, I observe bodies trying to be invisible, bodies that have imbibed “rules” that dictate being silent and upright is how to demonstrate power and status. Anything, and therefore any bodies, leaning into each other in kinaesthetic and spiritual communion that are undulating their torsos, rounding their backs, dropping their weight low, or shaking the anatomy that lives between the lower back and thigh, is therefore loud, uncultured, less than, and in need of containment and control. Indeed, one of colonisation’s weapons of choice is to label bodies, and the cultures and traditions they hold, as inferior and wild and something to be tamed or removed.
If in this way we can take a moment to inquire how hip-hop dance has been an on-ramp to greater love for own bodies and invited us to embrace a decolonised mindset around movement. Then, perhaps we can begin to not only enjoy those 15-60 second video clips, but we can begin to honour and acknowledge hip-hop dance as something that is simultaneously an outlet for creative expression, an invitation to connect and find membership, and a part of a culture whose roots and evolution should always be acknowledged and appreciated (even if it means your social media caption is long.) Whoa!
Full article can be found in BlackInk new magazine of international voices from across the African and African Caribbean Diaspora and indigenous communities. Featuring over 30 artists, writers, poets, illustrators, photographers and more.
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Aysha Upchurch is an entrepreneur, artist, educator, and consultant who creates, facilitates, and designs for radical change. She is a seed planter and soil agitator who weaves her passion into her commitment to critical arts pedagogy, youth advocacy, social justice, and transformative education. Radical change means shaking up the old, expanding the boundaries of what’s possible, and centering joy in the process. Whether on the stage or in the classroom or boardroom, Aysha is quite literally on the move to show what it means to be D.Ø.P.E. – dismantling oppression, pushing education.