Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Editorial: How Street Dance Trends Developed in 2009

As 2009 comes to a close, we thought it would be helpful to look back at this amazing year and see how five visible trends affected the street dance community in Los Angeles. Some trends involved technique, some were media based, and others simply stood out as unique developments during 2009. (Photo above is from a Google Images Search for Los Angeles.)

1. The Death of Finger Tutting

Finger tutting saw a huge explosion in popularity during 2008 among the LA underground scene. Popper Jsmooth is credited for helping to popularize the techniques when he traveled internationally to compete in high level popping contests between 2006-2008. Back in the U.S., finger tutting as a perceived style filtered into the local choreo hip hop scene and spread out to various pockets of hip hop dance communities across the U.S. We can see evidence of this in the Youtube videos of choreo performances by Houston's So Real Cru, a series of finger tutting videos by Marvelous Motion's Pacman and Moon, and repeated finger tut sets by Poreotics and choreo teams at showcase competitions. There was something intriguing about watching dancers use some of the smallest elements of their bodies - their fingers - to create compelling visual sequences.

However, it's hard to see finger tutting live when you're sitting ten to twenty feet away from the stage. You can only see the details clearly on closeups in online videos. And critics have labeled finger tutting as detracting from "real dancing" since many practitioners of this style rarely moved their core, legs, or the rest of their body while performing it.

Back in LA, among the underground community, finger tutting was losing its appeal as soon as it took off in other dance communities like the hip hop choreo scene. Now, it's safe to say that finger tutting as a trend is dead in our local underground scene. While there will be a few practitioners who continue to do it a high level, it seems like the days of rampant finger tutting in cyphers are gone. We've all moved on as the rest of the world continues to play with it.

2. Too Many Crews Forming for TV

In 2009, we also saw random dance crews popping up in order to audition for MTV's America's Best Dance Crew. While it's hard to determine which crews were really long-term dedicated crew families that competed in a local scene, those credentials didn't seem to be a requirement for this reality TV show. Theoretically, you could form a crew just by quickly assembling peers who you've danced with in classes or an event. The negative aspect of this trend is that any dance crew that makes it on to a broadcasted episode has some degree of legitimacy in the mainstream public's eye just because they're on TV. Many other underground crews may never have the chance to earn recognition from the public because they didn't make it on the show.

Fortunately, there are some smart media watchdogs out there. As the mainstream public gets more informed about their local and national street dance scenes; it's becoming easier to find interviews, photos, and videos of crews before they ever appeared on ABDC. Google, Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter have all helped us to research our favorite crews from the show as well as those who didn't make the audition cut. It appears that on several chat forums, heated debates have popped up between fans discussing the legitimacy and street credentials of crews. As our crews leave digital fingerprints all over the Interwebs, we'll see who gets remembered in the long-term.

3. Returning to Foundation

This was one of the most popular underlying topics to be discussed between poppers in the LA underground scene, whether in private circles or online forums. With greater media exposure to the culture as well as an influx of new generation aspiring poppers crowding the scene, we found a few OGs and seasoned poppers calling for a return to learning foundation and basic fundamentals. The fact was that correct foundation was not being displayed on the large majority of Youtube popping videos. And popping was not getting a fair representation on TV reality shows as compared to bboying and locking. For poppers who had been training for 10+ years, it was discouraging to see a new generation floundering with weak technique. Many heated debates erupted online about what correct foundation entailed. And it's understandable that the new generation may be very confused about how to improve their technique. But in the end, the best advice is to seek out a well-respected, experienced mentor who can work with you on a personal basis either through private lessons or classes. Getting the correct information from a respected personal source will always beat the best Youtube instructional video any day.

4. The Spread of Dubstep and Glitch Music across the U.S.

Earlier in 2009, the local LA underground scene brought dubstep and glitch music to the attention of many dancers. No longer was it a private enjoyment among small circles in our street dance community. We could hear these music genres being played at popping contests instead of the traditional funk music. For some LA poppers, it was a breath of fresh air. For other traditionalists, it was an assault on the funky nature of popping as experienced by the OGs in the early days of the 1970s and 1980s. At the end of 2009, neither side has won the debate. Overall, the end result is that our musical tastes have grown beyond the familiar beats. And it's possible that the dubstep and glitch trend has been perceived as a hot trend by poppers in other parts of the U.S. Even at the NYC Popshop in late November 2009, dubstep and glitch-type music was being played by the local community that gathers there. We think that some of this may be due to the discussions of dubstep and glitch music happening on the popular forum

5. The Use of Twitter by Dancers to Build a Fanbase

For professional dancers, it's hard to get a competitive edge on the people around you. It's even harder to build a fanbase. But as Twitter-mania seized the nation and the world, several professional and aspiring hip hop choreo and street dancers began using Twitter to share updates on their travels, gigs, and personal lives. It became a form of staying in connection with fans for many dancers who appeared on previous seasons of ABDC. For other dancers, it was a means to advertise classes they were teaching or to check out videos of their recent performances. We may not have widespread use of 24/7 live video streams yet on Internet celebrities (although the channels on come close), but Twitter became the way to follow your favorite dancers in 2009. Sometimes the updates were mundane. Sometimes they were plain silly. But it's clear that social networking technology became perceived as a necessary marketing tool for a dancer's career this year.

Along with these five trends, we saw a lot of other developments in our street dance community that go beyond this article. The reality is that we have much time to ponder over them as we move into a new year. Will we see technology shaping street dance in new ways? Will there be an even bigger push for street dance in popular media? What will be the new trends in 2010? Only time will tell.

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