I've always regretted the fact that I stopped dancing at the age of 12. So when the opportunity to dust off my dancing shoes arose, I was keen to give it another go.
This time, however, I didn't plan to don my ballet pumps. Oh no, a form of dancing that didn't previously exist in my vocabulary was on the agenda. I signed up for hip hop.
Hip hop has its origins in street dancing. Most of us are familiar with one of the earliest forms, "breakdancing" (think guys spinning on their heads or keeping just their palms on the ground while defying the law of gravity). This is also where the widely-used terms B-Girl and B-Boy – for "Breakdance Girl" and "Breakdance Boy" – come from.
Things have evolved, and while the experts still absolutely push their bodies to apparently impossible limits, toned-down versions of hip hop are widely practised. Think of Britney Spears in music videos, and you'll get the picture. It's characterised by fast, jerky movements, with just a hint of goofiness and playfulness. Plus, there's a lot of bouncing. Where breakdancing emphasises floor work, hip hop focuses more on upright dancing. It's reminiscent of jazz, but more modern and funky.
And then, of course, there's the dress code and music that forms part of the hip-hop package: sagging pants and hoodies, and artists such as Jay-Z, Eminem, Kanye West and Snoop Dogg.
So, off I went
I pitched up at the Durbanville School of Dance one Wednesday evening. Things seemed pretty chilled. There were about 30 of us, all lined up in our best gym gear and ready to be initiated.
Sadly, any ideas about mirroring Britney were shattered within the first five minutes. In fact, the entire session was, for me, a write-off. I couldn't keep up with the instructor, my arms and feet were all over the place, and my mind whizzed. This was tough.
We had started with "warm-up exercises" – two 45-second dance routines, aimed at introducing us to a few basic steps and preparing our bodies for the more intricate work that would follow. With tongue sticking out of the corner of my mouth, I tried my best to get the steps right.
Sasha, the instructor, had kicked off by showing us how to do "pops" – a move where you flex and release muscles to simulate shock. Our first pop imitated being punched in the stomach: your stomach muscles contract while your shoulders jerk forward. These were combined with foot- and arm-work; and soon we were exposed to another hip-hop classic called "locking": freezing in different positions, such as with your arms in a box shape, fingers first facing upwards and then forwards.
This sounds pretty basic; I was lost. It's one thing to do everything slowly, but quite another to do intricate sequences to really fast-paced music. Eventually, I had to lose the arms so that I could just focus on my feet – it was easier, but still no walk in the park.
After the warm-ups, Sasha showed us the first steps of a longer dance routine. Again, it was the choreography rather than the physical challenge that I stumbled over (along with many others). She assured us, however, that things would start looking better even by the second class.
Getting there slowly
Sasha was right: things were a lot better during the next class. Miraculously, some of the moves had "sunk in" over the weekend, and I slowly started to get the hang of things. I suspect I still looked like a clown, but I was definitely feeling better as we went over the steps from in the previous class.
As I concentrated less on the steps, I found it easier to relax in the moves and I even started to add a bit of personal interpretation (which is, incidentally, one of the cornerstones of hip hop). Now that I was actually moving properly, I could also feel I was getting a workout.
As the weeks progressed, I really started enjoying myself and sorely missed the classes over the holidays.
Move over, Britney
Those first classes were the beginning of a journey that is now already in its third year, and I've never looked back.
Thanks to hip hop, I've rediscovered the pleasure of moving to the rhythm of music and I love the fact that I'm challenging my body to do things it's never done before.
I'm not Britney yet, but getting there...
(Carine van Rooyen, Health24, April 2008)
For more information, contact:
Sasha Schagen at the Durbanville School of Dance on 083 635 4291.
The Elise Krog School of Dance in Bryanston on 082 955 4604.
The Alberton Dancing Academy on 011 907 8356.
The Daniel S Dance studio in Johannesburg on 011 782 6908.
The Dance Centre in Bloemfontein on 084 788 8810.