Monday, September 21, 2009

New Generation: Too Much, Too Fast?

Right now, there seems to be a group of street dancers within the new generation who are learning many styles at one time. Is this a case of too much, too fast? Or is it ADD? Often, these young men and women have only been dancing for a year or less. 

This isn't a new phenomenon. It's always happened even before our street dance world was complicated by online video. We always had some folks who would occasionally visit practice sessions, battles, and classes. They'd try a little popping, then a little locking, and maybe even a bit of bboying. They might consider their dance pursuits as a casual exercise and then later drop out. Understandly, we all face challenges outside of dance from our work, school, finances, relationships, etc. It's not easy to embrace street dance as a lifestyle. 

Today, it's easy to see how one might want to embrace several styles at once. Popping, locking, bboying, and whaacking are all developed styles that have been around for 30+ years or so. Foundation, vocabulary, and diverse sensibilities have evolved over time. If we're new to the street dance world, we'd be amazed by the skill level, creativity, and artistic expression going on within these styles. Anyone would want to try them as soon as possible!

But there are pitfalls if you want to advance in your training. If you embrace many styles without a focus, you could become a dilettante. You could be a practician of many styles but a master of none. There's only so much time in one day. And you may never get to relish the joy of failing and growing past your failures as you mature in one style. In his book "Outliers," Malcolm Gladwell discusses the theory of 10,000 hours of practicing a craft. He analyzed a few case studies and they all seemed to have this in common. Working at your craft at an average of around 10,000 hours led to success within that field. Can you imagine devoting yourself to 10,000 hours of bboying? Or popping? Or locking? An average 40-hour per week job multiplied by 52 weeks in a year equals 2,080 hours. A hypothetical approximation would be taking bboying as a job for around 5 years if it were a 40 hour per week job!

Of course, these are just numbers. But it can provide some context. And context is an aspect that could get lost in this current new generation of dancers. Information travels faster. So dance tutorials, performance videos, and the spread of dance knowledge are communicated often through online video. Although the idea of dance video education is promising, it would be lacking without actual in-person training from an established, knowledgeable mentor. Will this new generation fall into laziness or convenience by watching videos and not seeking out established mentors who can teach them? Will the current economic crisis lead us to cut back on attending dance classes? After all, viewing a tutorial on Youtube is free.

Youth can bring energy and fresh eyes to the table. Innovation can happen with this wave. But innovation can also happen with artists who study the masters, learn the rules, and then break the rules in a pioneering spirit. We see this historical precedent with painters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Claude Monet, and Pablo Picasso. The same can be said for dancers. Just look at Martha Graham. 

Perhaps the relevant question is who will guide this new generation? Who will take the responsibility to teach, educate, and uplift young minds in this ongoing dance journey? As you're reading this, is there something stirring inside of you to reach out to the future generation? If so, please don't ignore that small, quiet voice. 

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