Few music genres capture the imagination of the public quite like hip hop. From its origins in the early 1970s when African American DJs in the Bronx began mixing funk and soul records, to its current dominance in the music industry, hip hop has become a global phenomenon. It’s no surprise then that hip hop dance classes (a great opportunity to improve your coordination, cardiovascular endurance, and body control) have become more popular too. Indeed, research shows a correlation between enjoyment of physical activity and physical activity participation. That said, hip hop dancing can be a great way to have fun while becoming more physically active. Getting started with this type of dance can seem intimidating, especially because of the technicality of its movements and the importance of musical timing. To help you on your journey, here are 10 expert-approved tips for getting started with your hip hop dancing.
1. Cultivate Musicality
Dance goes hand-in-hand with music, and hip hop dance is no exception. One aspect of learning to dance is to develop and refine your musicality.
Musicality refers to the skill of interpreting, expressing, and responding to music.
Rather than just counting the beats or steps, musicality guides you to feel and understand the music. This is especially important when it comes to hip hop, since the style of dance is highly dependent on the music.
Some people are naturally more musically inclined than others, which can make learning to dance easier for them. However, anyone can improve in this area with practice and training.
To develop musicality:
Listen To The Music Over And Over Again
This will help you recognize the beats and phrases and internalize them so that you can move with them more naturally.
Research The Score
Score refers to the structure, melody and rhythm of a piece of music. Learning this can help you to understand how to interpret the music better. You can find the score of popular hip hop tracks and pieces online.
Focus On Counts And The Spaces In-Between
Don’t focus only on the beats and the 1,2,3,4 count. Notice the spaces and more subtle rhythms in between.
Practice Dancing In Silence
This is an important way to develop your body awareness and the ability to move with the music even in its absence.
Take Some Of The Formality Out Of Your Choreography
Embrace the beats and rhythm and allow your body to move in whatever way it wants.
You don’t need to sign up for expensive classes or purchase high-end shoes to start developing musicality. A good pair of headphones, an audio player and some open space are all you need.
2. Develop Body Awareness
Body awareness refers to the ability to recognize how your body moves and its range of motion.
This is essential in any form of dance, but especially so when it comes to hip hop. This is because the movements are often dynamic and athletically demanding. By developing a keen body awareness, you can learn to move more confidently and accurately.
There are many techniques that you can use to develop body awareness. However, we recommend these three: progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness in movement, and balance conditioning.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a technique of systematically tensing and then relaxing muscle groups (1). It can help you to become aware of how your body feels when it is in different states.
To practice PMR:
- Find a quiet space and get into a comfortable position.
- Start with your feet and work your way up the body, first tensing and then relaxing each muscle group.
- Focus on the sensations that you feel as each muscle is tensed and then relaxed.
Mindfulness In Movement
Mindfulness in movement is another technique that can help you become more aware of your body. It involves focusing on the sensations and feelings of each movement as you do it (3). This will help you to recognize how your body is moving, and make corrections accordingly.
To practice mindfulness in movement:
- Start by doing simple stretches and movements that you are already familiar with.
- Focus on the sensations of each movement and be aware of your breathing.
- Move slowly and bring your attention to any areas where you feel tension or tightness.
- Gradually add more complex movements to the practice.
Balance conditioning is a great way to work on your body awareness while improving your overall balance and coordination.
Remember, your body relies on the vestibular, visual, and proprioceptive systems to stay balanced. Therefore, you can use exercises that force these systems to work together in order to help you become more aware of your body.
To practice balance conditioning, perform this exercises:
- Stand with your feet together and then slowly lift one foot off the ground.
- Hold the position for 30 seconds, then switch legs.
- In a seated position, slowly rotate your head, upper body, and then legs in each direction for 15 seconds.
- Lie on your back with your arms and legs extended.
- Slowly raise one arm off the ground, followed by the other.
- Then, raise one leg off the ground, followed by the other.
- Hold each position for 5 seconds before alternating sides.
- Sit on a balance ball and slowly move from side to side, front to back, and in circles.
By regularly practicing these exercises, you can greatly improve your body awareness and coordination. Any exercises that strengthen your core muscles, such as planks and pushups, will also help.
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3. Execute Choreography
Choreography refers to the sequence of movements and steps that make up a dance routine.
A common mistake many beginners make is skipping the basics and jumping right into complex choreography. However, it’s important to have a good understanding of basic movements that come together to form choreography.
To execute choreography, you’ll need to master these movements :
A “stick” is where a dancer uses the momentum from a movement to freeze in place for an instant. To practice sticking, count out loud and freeze in place when you reach the end of a count.
A “hit” is where a dancer emphasizes a certain part of the body or movement at a specific moment in time. To practice hitting, count out loud and emphasize your movements on certain counts.
A “milk” is where a dancer moves their body in slow motion and emphasizes certain movements. To practice milking, count out loud and milk the movements through certain counts.
Controlling your speed is an important part of executing choreography. That’s because the speed of your movements will change depending on the music and the feeling you want to convey. To practice speed control, count out loud and move at different speeds on certain counts.
4. Perfect Fundamental Hip Hop Styles
Now it’s time to start learning some of the foundational hip hop styles. When you have a good understanding of the basics, then you can start to explore different moves and techniques.
Popping And Locking
Anyone who’s seen a hip hop dance performance has likely seen popping and locking. This style is all about isolating different body parts in time with the music.
To practice popping and locking:
- Step with your right foot while extending the left arm.
- Rock the body forward with a pushing motion.
- Move the left arm in an “L” shape while isolating the hips and torso from the arms.
- Release the left arm and pop it back to your side.
Break dancing combines elements of popping and locking with acrobatics. It can be a separate genre of dance entirely, but it’s also an important part of hip hop dance.
To practice breakdancing:
- Execute a series of toprock movements such as arm swings and leg slides.
- Start with a body wave or head spin, depending on your level of experience.
- Combine these movements with arm spins, handstands, and freezes.
Boogaloo is a style of hip hop dance that focuses on isolations and transitions. It’s all about creating smooth, flowing movements between steps.
To practice boogaloo:
- Execute a series of isolations and circles with your arms.
- Move from side to side, combining the movements with your weight shifts.
- Mix up these movements with footwork and floor work.
Soulja Boy is a style of hip hop dance that relies heavily on swagger and attitude. It’s all about accentuating the music with your body movements.
Named after the famous rapper Soulja Boy, this style has become popular in the hip hop dance community.
To practice Soulja Boy:
- Execute a series of swagger-filled arm swings and leg kicks.
- Mix up these moves with body rolls and shoulder shimmies.
- Gesture with your hands and face to create a more expressive performance.
The running man is a classic hip hop dance that involves stepping and twisting your body. This style has been around since the 1980s, and it’s still popular today.
To practice the running man:
- Step with your right foot while extending the left arm.
- Twist your body and move it from side to side.
- Keep your arms and legs loose, creating a more expressive movement.
The moonwalk is a classic hip hop move that involves sliding back and forth on your feet.
To practice this iconic dance style:
- Slide your feet across the floor while keeping your upper body centered.
- Gesture with your arms while maintaining a low center of gravity.
- Practice slowly at first to get the feel of the move and then speed it up.
The wobble is a popular hip hop dance move that involves bouncing up and down while maintaining your balance.
To practice the wobble:
- Bounce up and down on your feet while keeping the core tight.
- Extend your arms in different directions to achieve a more dynamic movement.
- Add in different arm movements to accentuate the bouncing.
5. Sign Up For Hip Hop Dance Classes
You can certainly get started with hip hop dancing at home, but we also recommend signing up for classes.
Taking lessons with an experienced instructor can help you learn the basics and perfect your technique. Furthermore, you’re more likely to stick with hip hop dancing if you have regular classes to attend.
Which Dance Class Should You Take?
Most dance studios offer a range of hip hop classes, from beginner to advanced. We recommend starting with an introductory class that teaches the fundamentals. Note that everyone could benefit from a beginner class—even those who already have experience.
That’s because the basics are essential for all styles of hip hop dance. Once you have a handle on those, you can start exploring more advanced techniques. For more experienced dancers, a beginner’s class is a good opportunity to refresh your skills and learn new ones.
The terminology of some classes can be confusing, so make sure to ask the instructor what the class covers before signing up. That way, you know exactly what to expect and can adjust your expectations accordingly.
How Should You Prepare For A Dance Class?
To get ready for a hip-hop dance class:
Get The Right Clothes
You want to wear something that is comfortable and allows you to move freely. It should also be sweatproof and squat proof (hello, booty pops!).
They come with a tank top and high-waisted shorts or leggings that are stretchy and comfortable, perfect for hip hop dance class. The anti-chafing and sweat wicking properties will keep you cool and dry during your routine (2).
Before class, do some stretching to warm up the muscles. This will help you avoid injury and make sure your body is ready to move.
Make sure you stay hydrated throughout the class. This will help keep your energy levels up and maintain focus during the session.
Avoid eating a full meal before class as this could make you feel sluggish and tired. Instead, have a light snack like a banana or some almonds to keep your energy levels up.
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Work On Your Mindset
A positive mindset is associated with better results. So, try to come into class with an open mind and enthusiasm.
Consistency is key when it comes to mastering any style of dance. Make sure that you attend regularly, practice at home and ask for feedback from your instructor.
The Bottom Line
Hip hop dance is an expressive and dynamic form of dance that will help you get fit and have fun.
To get started, try cultivating musicality, developing body awareness, executing choreography and perfecting some fundamental moves. Finally, sign up for classes to get expert advice from a professional instructor.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Effectiveness of Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Deep Breathing, and Guided Imagery in Promoting Psychological and Physiological States of Relaxation (2021, nih.gov)
- Matching Sets (n.d., betterme.world)
- Mindful movement and skilled attention (2015, nih.gov)