Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Editorial: A United Street Dance Nation

Even though there are other countries that may be geographically larger, the U.S. can feel like a big place at times. As a nation of street dancers; we're spread across different coasts, inland areas, and everything in between. So as we near the end of this decade, why is it still hard to communicate between different dance communities? Has social networking and online forums failed to go further in easing community tensions and bridging gaps in our differences? We need to reflect on where we are and how we can help our communities to support and learn from each other. (Photo above is from a Getty Images archive.)

Let's face it. Although we're a technologically advanced society, we still have regional mentalities. We're proud of our hometowns. And we enjoy the solidarity that comes from standing shoulder to shoulder with folks who've had similar experiences. Even different cities within the same state can have regional unity whether it be Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, or Fresno in California. It's human nature and it's neither right or wrong. So assuming we have these tendencies, how can we better communicate with other street dancers in other states and cities? Through the late 1990s and 2000s; online forums have played a huge role in creating a space for dancers to share information, videos, tips, and engage in heated discussions on various topics. They've helped to direct new dancers into the scene and towards available classes, practice sessions, and local competitions. BBoys and Bgirls have bboyworld.com, bboy.org, freestylesession.com and other sites. Poppers have mrwiggles.biz and westcoastpoppin.com. And hip hop choreo dancers have boogiezone.com. There are plenty of other sites we as well, but we simply name these few as examples.

The negative side of online communication has been the occasional spread of misinformation and heated personal attacks between conflicting personalities. As a reaction to this negativity, perhaps some social networking sites have been adopted as the next step in online sharing. Myspace and facebook are places where event information, performance videos, and tips are being passed on through a more personal approach. Maybe we feel a little more safe sharing our thoughts with people who we know, even on an casual basis. It's interesting to note that a whole new archive of personal dance information is being amassed on facebook, which can't be reached by Google or Youtube's search engines. Anyone can see a video on Youtube if it's made public. But on facebook, you can only see a private video if you're a member or if the poster has allowed you to see it as a friend. Of course, there are exceptions, but these are generalities made for the sake of this article. Now, personalized archiving and sharing of dance info isn't a bad idea. It doesn't necessarily lead to segmentation among our dance nation. If anything, it could help promote better communication especially if we have friends in other cities and states. With a more personalized approach, we can honestly communicate and share ideas because we've based our interaction on some degree of knowing each other. This isn't always true on online forums.

More personal face-to-face interaction can only help unite us. The hip hop choreo scene is taking more steps in this direction by supporting instructors to travel and teach classes outside of their home city or state. Boogiezone.com has opened up chapters in other states outside of California as well as the U.S. to allow teachers to travel as well as teach locally. We're seeing West Coast dancers teaching workshops at East Coast events, and vice-versa. For some street dance communities, we're not seeing this at the same level yet. Perhaps this is due to lack of funding or organization. Often, the street dancers who have a broader view of the world are the ones who have been lucky enough to save up and travel for competitions or teach outside of their hometown. Do we need to see more sponsorship of street dancers to allow for broader communication and sharing? Perhaps. Or we can try to organize larger competitions that will bring dancers from different parts of the country to enter. How Tha West Was Won has been one of the high-profile popping and locking events based in Los Angeles during the past few years. We've seen dancers from Japan, France, Taiwan, Korea, Atlanta, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, and New York come out and represent. But we'll need competitions that are more affordable to bring a diverse crowd. Right now, some of the high profile events are too expensive for the average street dancer to attend.

Where does this leave us? It seems whatever the means of communication; the more personalized it is, the better the chance for greater understanding. We need community leaders to step up and voice their opinions in fair, balanced ways. We need more collaborations between dancers from different regions to help each party grow. And we need to teach each other what we know in an open-minded, tolerant context where making mistakes aren't seen as fatal but as opportunities for growth. The truth is that we can start making a difference in our situation today. And then we'll realize that a united street dance nation not only means within our own country but that it extends to the rest of the world. What steps can you take to help build your dance community?

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