Friday, October 2, 2009

Groove Night Inspirations

Visiting Groove Night at Debbie Reynolds Studio last night was refreshing. Why? Because it's always encouraging to see dancers from all over the world sharing a common language in one place. We need more of that. And we need to foster venues where street dancers can continue to gather and grow together.

In the past few years, Groove Night has quickly become one of the most popular practice sessions in the Los Angeles area. It's sponsored by the Groovaloos, a well-known hip hop dance troupe that has staged their own touring show "Groovaloo" and won NBC's "Superstars of Dance" earlier this year. Established in 1999 under Bradley "Shooz" Rapier, they've fostered a collective of talented dancers who are highly regarded in Los Angeles street dance culture. You can see their work at

What makes Groove Night work so well? An open atmosphere. Great music. And a central location in North Hollywood, which is a prime location for many aspiring professional hip hop dancers. There are many similarities that Groove Night shares with Homeland, based in Long Beach. In fact, many familiar Homelanders were at Debbie Reynolds last night. Perhaps some of the Homeland community culture will cross-pollinate with Groove Night. You can see some of Homeland's community at

So even with Groove Night and Homeland, why is it hard for us to find regular practice sessions in Los Angeles? Well, this economy isn't helping. Whether it's the money needed for gas or a few bucks for an entry fee, there are plenty of factors that would convince us not to go to a session. But think about the session organizer who has to rent a studio space, hire a live DJ, and maintain the facility after its use. It's not easy to run a weekly session if it isn't profitable for the venue owner. Usually, we have to find places that are charity-driven or funded by the local city government. But for a studio owner, allowing a regular session is great promotion for the venue as it brings new faces to your premises. There are opportunities to promote other classes and events held during the week.

Another reason is that it's hard to create a community culture. It takes a strong leader and a supportive team to change the way things are done. Every session will take on the personality of its host. We've all experienced this. Some sessions are intimidating to attend because there are cliques and no one talks to each other. Some sessions are filled with career-minded dancers who only want to interact with people who further their career. And there are sessions where no one attends because the host and his team haven't advertised it. Over the past 10 years in Los Angeles, there have been several session spots that have come and gone. While there's a season for everything, it's sad to see some of these great spots disappear for lack of community-building, support, or less than stellar management. An example of how things have changed in a positive direction is Homeland where BBoy Iceman has overseen a positive change in the community, even with cyphers celebrating dancer's birthdays or marking the departure of international dancers returning to their home countries. Sometimes, there have even been cyphers to mourn dancers or their relatives who have passed away. Gestures like these cyphers make us all feel like that someone cares. Whether it's joy, grief, or sadness; it's powerful when we know that someone else feels the same way.

A third reason why maintaining a session is challenging is the need to be adapt to the changing street dance culture. New faces come into sessions all the time. There will be new needs. A session host or support staff need to be flexible to adapt to changing tastes and music choices of the attendees. Even within the span of one year, a session's community can change rapidly as dancers often have fluid lifestyles, moving from one place to the next. International dancers come in waves and it's crucial to create a welcoming, hospitable environment for them. Even if we share the same dance language, it's hard to have conversations afterwards about classes, places to look for apartments, or good restaurants if everyone has a different native tongue. Embracing an international audience and building relationships with repeat attendees, who have international backgrounds, can alleviate this challenge.

Sessions are our second homes. As dancers, they're a place for us to practice our artform but also a venue where we build relationships. We're already living in an increasingly isolated modern society. Anything we can do to bring change is always welcome.

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