2582 Miles for Family

Did I tell you the story about how I traveled 2582 miles from San Francisco to New York City to discover something that was actually birthed in and around San Francisco? 

It’s a funny and ironic story but neither here nor there. That’s because now I travel this distance quite frequently for my family (both genetic and Hip-Hop) at least once a year. 
As Plik Plok of The Richmond Robots and BRS (Boogaloo Robotting Strutting) Alliance would say “My home is San Francisco. I just work in New York City.” We can say that. ;-) It doesn’t make my voyage sound so absurd LOL. 
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Image Courtesy of BRS Alliance 

While my beginning years of travel back home were fraught with leftover teenage angst and an air of false independence (oh college, lol), it has since changed with the arrival of the underground “above ground” so to speak. Thanks to the efforts of companies like Oakland Boogaloo Reunion BBQ and BRS (Boogaloo Robotting Strutting) Alliance. Back in high school, little did I know of this whole community of Poppers, Boogalooers, Robotters, Strutters existed and that there has been an entire history of talent show culture that incubated in the 70s to 80s from San Francisco to San Jose to Berkeley to Richmond - each city known for a particular essence. It was through learning about this part of Hip-Hop Dance at H+ that I was finally able to see “home” in more than one way, to be proud of where I was birthed and raised. 
I have returned to the Bay Area with even greater fervor since 2012 where I entered the Oakland Boogaloo Reunion BBQ and roadtripped with my brother to meet Granny Robotroid (it would have been a year before she passed - RIP to this amazing woman). Again in 2013 for the BRS Dance Celebration Weekend where I learned from William “Mr. Penguin” Randolph, Ralph “Plik Plok,” and Lonnie “Pop Tart”. And once more this year for the BRS Dance Celebration Week where I was able to experience the The Strutter’s Room, the intersection between skaters and dancers at Golden Gate Bridge Park, and most importantly the calling of an entire Bay Area community into a room teeming with Bay love and family spirit.
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Image Courtesy of BRS Alliance 

I was sad to only attend for the last 3 days of a now weeklong celebration, however each event that I participated in was purposeful and served as a beautiful bonding experience with the BRS family. 
On Friday was The Strutter’s Room hosted by Pop Tart. After a couple of minutes having entered City Dance Center in San Francisco, I was greeted by very familiar faces: Agatha Rupniewski who goes by “Agatron” (the first female Popper I met in the Bay at the Oakland Boogaloo Reunion”) and “Chill” of the Inhumanoids in NYC. Hip-Hop, a small world. I instantly felt at home in my original home. :-) 
The Strutter’s Room, a reproduction of Pop Tart’s childhood bedroom, was complete with couches, a closet rack filled with jackets, hats, and props (canes, masks, etc.), strobe lights, and framed photographs of Bay Area Dance groups from the 70s and 80s. 
If anyone knows Pop Tart, they know that he naturally lights up an entire crowd and knows how to involve everyone in the experience. So while we all wandered around in the darkness (both literally and figuratively) wondering what we were to do like a bad middle school dance, it wasn’t long before Pop Tart stepped into the middle of the “playpen” and established the purpose of the event. Before you know it, we were dancing for a straight 2 hours to the mix he created on repeat which consisted of 3 phrases in that familiar electronic voice that laces so many Funk songs: “Ladies and Gentlemen,” “West Coast,” and “What time is it?”. The energy built and built as each dancer who went in listened carefully to the previous body conversations on the floor, allowing everyone to speak with their movements and contribute to a larger dance dialogue. Having been my first night back in the Bay, this event was an amazing welcome back home. 
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From L-R: Agatha “Agatron” Rupniewski, Lauren Anderson, Lonnie “Pop Tart” Green, Yvonne Chow 

The next day, we gathered for the battles, first an All-Styles and then Popping. Dancers of all experience and skill levels entered the center ground of the competition with their own, unique flavor. Most were only comfortable with their style and very few would stay for the finales that knew how to adapt to all types of music that would grace the tracks that Saturday afternoon.
I was reminded of the mark of a true dancer: not one with all the tricks but one that can take command of whatever sound touches their ear. This was definitely seen by the Popping winner, Alex “Prince Ali” Flores of the San Jose group, Playboyz, INC.; his body a complete and consistent emulation of all the accompaniment had to offer.
He went head to head with a woman from Singapore by the name of My-Linh Le. And while her expression in Popping was a beautifully unique blend of her classical training in Ballet and a strong Hit, her versatility as a whole was trumped by the chameleon qualities of “Prince Ali”. 
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BRS Alliance (August 23, 2014)

One of the most resounding moments for me was when Agatron acknowledged her work in the Popping realm, remarking on her improvement over the years. This was a rare and integral moment where a female community leader shared positive acknowledgement with a female community member, something that unfortunately does not happen enough in this diaspora. 
The highlight of the event for me was the hour before the final rounds where pockets of cyphers started forming. It wasn’t long before a few of us would round up the community into the center for an amazing, free, and unity building time. After so much tension in deliberation over the contests, we all just let go and enjoyed the music. And of course Pop Tart reminded us of the nature of the environment: no judgment, and open to teaching or learning from others. 
The final day was the BRS Video Shoot at the majestic Golden Gate Bridge Park. The community of skaters bladed around the rink to the sounds of Disco, Funk, Hip-Hop, and Electronic music in all their fancy regalia (fairy wings, pilot glasses, Matrix outfits, etc.). We took the time to sink in to the environment and then each dancer went out sharing all the energy, love, and knowledge conjured during that week. It was a beautiful and relaxing way to end the week of celebration with the community. 
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BRS Alliance (August 24, 2014) 
What I really appreciated was Pop Tart’s explanation of the significance of the area chosen. He explained that this was an area he would hang out around and that the community of Skaters blended with and were very much a part of the community of dancers. 
So much thought and consideration went into the curation of this weeklong celebration and I’m so pleased that the preservation of Boogaloo Robotting and Strutting has continued and expanded annually. What I would like to see next year are returning, consistent faces whom see themselves as valuable and contributing members of this great Bay Area dance culture: spanning those who were present and built it’s inception, to those who are just dipping their toes into the depths of such a rich diaspora. What gives me hope of this was seeing the Turf community present and participating in the Popping battles, some having started to build their repertoire in the element of Popping. 
Dance communities are already small as they are, the last thing we need is to divide ourselves even more and not support those that take out the time to produce these events. It’s only September but I’m already excited for next year - BRS 2015: for bigger and better things for the Bay Area dance community that will do justice to it’s rich history and kind-hearted people.  
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BRS Alliance (August 24, 2014) 

Yvonne H. Chow 
Education Director
H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory 
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  • #hiphop #hiphopdance #bboy #bboylife #bgirl #popping #boogaloo #dance #bayarea #california #brs #celebration #sanfrancisco #community #love #culture #music #dj #mc #breaking #bayareadance
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A few months ago on a hot July morning dancers lined up outside of The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory to take part in their Fall Semester 2014 Auditions! Here’s some highlights from that day! :-)

Contact admissions@hdcny.org to inquire about the next audition cycle. 

H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory®

H+ | Guided by Science. Powered by Soul.®

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  • #audition #dance #hiphopdance #hip-hop dance #dancers #dancelife #dancerlife #nyc #gelsey kirkland #safi thomas #the hip-hop dance conservatory #ballet #hiphop #modern dance #dance video #dance vibes
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We had an amazing condensed studio viewing of our newest piece "The BLAME Game: Original Sin" and premiered our repertory company Theatre of the Mind® It was a beautiful night! :-)

H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory®

H+ | Guided by Science. Powered by Soul.®

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  • #dance #dance education #performance #performingartist #performing #hiphop dance #hiphopdance #dancers #dance life #dancer life #broadway #nycnightlife #Arts #female artists #artistic #repertory company #american repertory theater #theatre of the mind #theatre #Theater #musical theater
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  • #quoteoftheday #inspiring words #inspirational quotes #inspirational dance quotes #contemporary dance #dance #dance quotes #quotes by famous people #safi thomas quotes #dance like you #ballet #nycballet #hiphopdance #arts #dance education #the hip-hop dance conservatory
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Soloist and Resident Choreographer Raphaela Riemer getting down for the Dance Like You® Project. We asked her how does dance make her feel she answered PROUD. Because she started from no skill to where she is today. Enjoy! and remember to Dance Like You…PROUD! <3

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Our newest repertory piece which explores a love that transcends tragedy and death. Enjoy! <3

H+ | Theatre of the Mind®

H+ | Guided by Science. Powered by Soul.®

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  • #love #performance #dance #dancelife #dance like nobody’s watching #the hip-hop dance conservatory #drama #repertory company #Theater #theatre #death #artsed #hiphopdance #hiphop #inveterate love #soul #art
  • 1 month ago

Ecstatic Dance

The other week I had the pleasure of attending Ecstatic Dance Gathering NYC at Union Square Ballroom. Ecstatic Dance provides a dance party that is a safe environment free of judgement, where individuals can come to express themselves through dancing and connecting with one another. The event was hosted by Daniel Michael, an amazing man who brought the Ecstatic Dance Gathering concept to New York from the West Coast. Ecstatic Dance is a project that Daniel was inspired to create through his experiences as a dancer, producer and “rabble rouser” for the Ecstatic Dance Oakland community. The phenomenon started out in Oakland, and after he was introduced to the group in 2009, he fell in love with the community, and decided it was his duty to bring the party over to the East Coast.

Elana “Meta” warmed us up with a beautiful combination of stretching, a little bit of body conditioning, and other exercises that were influenced by The BLADE Dance Technique®, yoga, and different forms of martial arts. The warm-up created a beautiful sense of unity between everybody in the room, the energy was serene and at ease, and after a short introduction from Daniel, DJ Chela got the party going with a unique set filled with chilled-out alternative electronic tracks. The lights dimmed, music started playing, and everybody started dancing and introducing themselves to one another through movement. The tense energy of judgement that one may often experience at parties was not present.

Something very unique about this event is that it is respected as a drug and alcohol free environment. Many times these substances can used as an escape from our emotions and from ourselves. However this particular evening I sensed that we were all very present with ourselves and our emotions, and were thus able to connect to the music as well as with one another.

In my experience, it has proven challenging to find a judgement-free environment where all community members are free to express themselves with their movement. When there is judgement present, it becomes more difficult for individuals to explore their bodies with movement, or express themselves with movement. Our perceived expectations limit us, and block our flow of creativity immensely.

How might we release these expectations? First and foremost, we must look at the root of the issue. We’ve grown up in an environment where we’ve been judged by others, and have been taught to judge ourselves and those around us from a young age. Identifying this allows us to find clarity and gives us the ability to approach dance, or anything else we may do, from a new perspective. This gives us the power to be true to ourselves, and to be able to express ourselves through movement in a way that is pure. This freedom of expression can be very therapeutic and liberating.

I see many parallels between the Ecstatic Dance environment and the environment of my company, H+ | The Hip Hop Dance Conservatory. At H+, we begin each of our rehearsals with a meditative exercise called Shuang bì míngxiǎng, a practice that is 10,000 years old and has its origins in the martial art of Wu Shu. The objective of this meditation is to release any thoughts or emotions lingering from our day that will not serve us during rehearsal, to cultivate a mental presence, and thus create unity within our community. This then builds an environment that is free of judgement and competition. We recognize that all dancers have infinite potential, and that everybody is learning and growing in their own, unique way and at their individual pace. This is why each and every day we step onto the floor with the goal of improving ourselves by cultivating a self-respect that will then project outwardly into our community, thus helping others’ also learn, grow, and cultivate their own self-respect.  

It was beautiful to see another community approaching dance in a similar way. I am very excited to attend the next Ecstatic Dance gathering and introduce others to the environment. I would highly recommend checking out the next event if you’re looking to connect with a truly down-to-earth community, and be part of an environment where you can really let your guard down, and express yourself through movement.

H+ | Apprentice Jenna Weiller


Special thanks to Daniel Michael, the founder of EDance in NYC. He also travels around the world DJing as “Clever Alias”. You can check out his Sound Cloud at https://soundcloud.com/cleveralias. In addition, to stay up-to-date about different events coming up, be sure to follow the Ecstatic Dance NYC blog at http://ecstaticdancenyc.wordpress.com.

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  • 1 month ago
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H+ | Dance Like You® Summer Gala {2014}

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Side by side with Adidas Originals SoHo, H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory threw their H+ | Dance Like You® Summer Gala 2014 in celebration of their upcoming ventures and the kick-off of their world-renowned, international Summer Intensive.

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Dance moguls and industry executives from varying fields were in attendance. From Hip-Hop pioneers like Roxanne Shante and Grandmaster Caz, to tap legends like Jason Samuels Smith, to street dance legends like Float Master John Rich, the venue buzzed with an insatiably diverse vibe. Guests enjoyed an open bar, eclectic hors d’ouerves by Chef Mohamed Ghazi, a private shopping experience at Adidas, and the energetic vibes of the one and only DJ Sabine.

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L-r: Eduction Director Yvonne Chow, Principal Dancer Camilla Cusini, Artistic Director Safi Thomas, Architect Kate Kuta, Executive Director Porshia Derival, Associate Artistic Director Yasmine Fequiere, MC Roxanne Shante

The climax of the evening began with the Founder and Artistic Director Safi A. Thomas disclosing plans for the immediate future, in which H+ will be expanding from their foundation in pedagogy and repertory into the areas of policy and infrastructure.

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The 5 companies now under the H+ entity are TOTEM® (Theatre Of ThE Mind), Vitriolum® (The BioMedical Research Facility), LemnisKate Consolidated® (Architectural Design Firm), Dance Mart® (A Food Market for Dancers), and AK47® (High-End Design & Media Services for Businesses & Individuals).

This impressive listing of H+’s redevelopment into the fields of medical research, architecture, healthy living for dancers, and design and media, over the next decade, incited a roar from the crowd. And if that wasn’t enough, Education Director Yvonne Chow continued the announcements with the final “pièce de résistance”: the first architectural designs for the H+ | Safi A. Thomas Arts Pavillion®, an 80-story building that will serve as a community in a community, boasting a state of the art performance venue, subsidized living for dancers, economical art studio space, an outdoor skatepark, a graffiti art space, and several other elements to be announced in the near future!

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Executive Director Porshia Derival and Associate Artistic Director Yasmine Fequiere closed the prodigious evening with a toast to a new era for Hip-Hop, dance, arts, and theater and expressed their warm gratitude for all the exquisite party goers of the evening that joined in on such a momentous celebration in the history of New York City!

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Artistic Director | Safi Thomas & H+ Architect Kate Kuta

Special thanks to Adolfo Banchieri of Adidas Originals SoHo and all the staff of the evening, DJ Sabine, and Chef Mohamed Ghazi.

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DJ Sabine

imageHors d’ouerves by Chef Mohamed Ghazi

Photography Credit: AK47Division

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  • #adidas #dance #hiphop #dancelikeyou #safithomas #architecture #djsabine #gala #party #roxanneshante #summerintensive #soho #nyc #dance education #education #ArtsEd #celebrity #dancelife #dancers
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  • #dance #hiphop #educaiton #WomensHistoryMonth #quote #inspiration
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  • #dancelikeyou #summer #hiphop #dance #inspiration
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  • #dance #WomensHistoryMonth #quote #inspiration #hiphop #education
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  • #dance #hiphop #quotes #inspiration #education
  • 6 months ago
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  • #dance #hiphop #WomensHistoryMonth #quote #inspiration #education
  • 6 months ago
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Beautiful, Not Pretty (A Review of “From Wong to Wild Style: An Evening with Charlie Ahearn and Friends”)

I consider “Wild Style” a visual manual of Hip-Hop culture. Cue “Crazy Legs” with his awesome swipes. Cue “Lady Pink” and her “don’t mess with me” leadership and intellect. Cue “Chief Rocker Busy Bee Starski” in all his lyrical smoothness and those unforgettable glasses.

H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory with Charlie Ahearn, Director of “Wild Style” 

It is a montage of teenage dancers freestyling their generation’s expression, of the vibrancy that plastered those old NYC subways (where you could actually open the windows yourself), of teenage spirit in a burned/burning Bronx; life still high even with treatment so low.

I can’t watch “Wildstyle” enough. The first time I saw it was in a theater on the Lower East side when it first got transferred over to 32mm film. Ahearn raved on about how guerrilla style the whole shindig was. I only imagined how crazy it must have been to film that ending concert scene with the police roaming around.

The second time I had the pleasure of watching it was at the HighLine where I also had the honor of meeting Chief Rocker Busy Bee Starski. The summer day on that park coupled with the summer aura that glowed from the screen was a perfect environmental marriage.

And now this Thursday evening being my “third time charm” at the Museum of the City of New York for their public program, “From Wong to Wild Style An Evening with Charlie Ahearn and Friends.” This event was in conjunction with their graffiti exhibit, “City on Canvas: Graffiti Art from Martin Wong Collection”, a very appropriate curatorial venture for this urban birthing ground of Hip-Hop. 

Each time I watch the film, my appreciation grows exponentially for its historical contribution to the culture what with the full uninterrupted scenes of the spirit and the vibe that surrounded Hip-Hop: the parties, the drama (Cue “Zorro’s” watchful eye on “Lady Pink’s” self-confident freedom with other men), the familial tension (Cue the scene between “Zorro” and his brother in their bombed bedroom), and the class/race hierarchy (Cue the scene between “Zorro” and the lady art buyer).

What made this experience unique unto itself was the opening with Ahearn’s endearing video portrait on community-loved member, Martin Wong, a Chinese American man born in San Francisco and relocated to New York City. ZEPHYR and SHARP, along with Ahearn, spoke to his character and his reputation, drawing a full picture of his presence and meaning to Hip-Hop. Known as an accomplished visual artist, Wong also was a top supporter who bought these young graffiti artist’s work and in turn shifted their minds to see their work as worthy both in cultural/artistic significance and thus in monetary value. Along with his investment in the graffiti culture, he also shared his beaming creativity and extensive art knowledge with the community.

I very much chuckled my way through the introduction to this eccentric character, a man with a vibrant and steaming mind, proven by Wong’s amazing works that seemed to so effortlessly bridge the gap between the life-size graffiti murals of the 80s and the Chinese (American) experience what with the cultural symbols of dragons, Buddhas. Two scenes magnified Wang’s very warm soul and visceral self: the up-close and personal documenting of the cutting of a fish’s head to serve and Wong’s slurping of dim sum in all it’s greasy splendor.

There is a humanistic quality to Ahearn’s filming. There is a trust built: a sensual permeability. Walls don’t exist in his world behind the camera; people just are who they are, something that is not at all difficult for the unapologetic Hip-Hop generation. This authenticity is so effervescently captured in both “Martin Wong” and “Wild Style,” an effect of the approach that Ahearn takes to a beautiful, raw, subculture spawned from the Black and Latino cultural heritage.

Charlie Ahearn, Director of “Wild Style” 

H+ | Artistic Director taught me that Breaking: though “beautiful” is definitely not “pretty”. I transfer this very simple yet poignant distinction to the cultural invention of Hip-Hop. In the highest compliment possible, there is nothing pretty about either documentary; instead both exist as a beautiful real-life portrayal of a world that was a mystery to most (until the documentary landed in their hands), which is what magnifies the valuation of their place in New York history, in American history, all of which must be seen as synonymous with Hip-Hop History.

H+ | Education Director Yvonne H. Chow

H+ | The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory at Museum of the City of New York

Special thanks to Frances Rosenfeld, Ph. D., Curator of Public Programs of the Museum of the City of New York.

Photography Credit: AK47 Division

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  • #hiphop #hip-hop dance #art #film #photograhy #culture #New York City #new york #manhattan #review #documentary #graffiti #breakdance #breaking #bboy #bgirl #mc #rap #dance #dancer #education #music #bronx #1980s #city #canvas #subway #lower east side
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