As I yanked on spandex shorts, I questioned what I was getting myself into. The next two hours would either be a blast or a complete catastrophe. It had been years since I'd really tried dancing. Sure, I was a cheerleader in high school and had been known to get down at a frat party or two in college, but it had been a long time since I took a lesson with an actual performer. With just a hint of reluctance, I decided to take a hip-hop class with a friend of a friend in advance of National Dance Day, which takes over Charlotte this weekend.
We started off with what's typically referred to as a warm-up. It was actually more like awkward torture, isolating muscle groups that I had no clue even existed. Two minutes into the lesson and I was feeling sore and a little regretful.
Before I knew it, I was twisting and turning, popping and locking and doing some crazy shit called the coffee grinder. The class had started off with beginner moves like the arm wave, which joined smooth isolation motions from my fingertips through my shoulders. Slowly, it graduated to tougher maneuvers like the boogaloo, a very loose, rolling movement that gives the illusion of a dancer with no bones.
Finally it came to what I was really waiting for, the infamous B-girl breaking. This was very unstructured and somewhat improvisational, so needless to say I struggled. First I practiced various freeze moves — you know, the ones that rappers strike at the end of performances (arms crossed, head slanted forward). Then came the power moves like uprock and downrock, footwork-oriented steps performed while standing up and squatting down.
At this point I was feeling confident, probably a little too confident. I began combining all the moves, rocking back and forth with a little spin thrown in here and there.
I was quickly told that I was doing too much. Hip-hop dance draws on the complex rhythms and fluid movements of African dance. It was a radical movement dating back to the early 1960s in New York City, when individuals without professional training brought the natural instinct for movement from the streets to the masses. It wasn't meant to be forced; rather, it's an innate gesture that you simply allow and make your own.
After my lesson, I was eager to learn more about the style and its importance in today's culture. I talked with Ralph Beck, director of education at Blumenthal Performing Arts, about the incorporation of hip-hop dance into Charlotte's National Dance Day celebration on July 27.
"This is about getting people of all ages and abilities participating in the arts actively. Just to have a good time and get moving," said Beck. "This dance isn't just for professionals. It's for everyone across all cultures and skill levels."
Saturday's celebration will consist of five large group numbers, one of which is a hip-hop routine choreographed by Lauren Gottlieb, who starred on Season 3 of So You Think You Can Dance.
This energetic routine will feature eight sections of sassy moves like the brush-and-clap, the wheelchair and the double slide, set to Jennifer Lopez's "Live it Up."
This is Charlotte's first year partaking in National Dance Day, a countrywide campaign to encourage participation in dance by people of all ages and abilities. The event was launched in 2010 by Nigel Lythgoe (you know, the British man always fighting with the crazy lady talking about hot tamale trains), the executive producer and judge of So You Think You Can Dance.
In conjunction with National Dance Day and Blumenthal Performing Arts, hundreds of other organizations across the country will be holding a variety of dance events and instructional sessions throughout the day.
Free admission. Held at Bank of America Founders Hall, 100 N. Tryon St. July 27, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. 704-372-1000. www.blumenthalarts.org.