I am the antithesis of ‘funky’. I can’t even remember what ‘bae’ stands for – and I only found it’s an acronym a year ago. (I previously believed it was a stupidly abbreviated form of ‘babe.’) To top that, my Baby Boomer mom had to tell me what GOAT meant, as I puzzled over its meaning while peeling off my Halo clementine sticker.
Needless to say, my low funk factor held me back from hip-hop greatness throughout my life. And although you won’t see me bustin’ it out in at a party any time soon (or ever), I have slightly upped my freestyle hip-hop skill after practicing freestyle hip-hop for 100 days straight, using the Russian Tiger dance tutorials, in the tradition of Karen Cheng’s #GiveIt100 challenge.
I’ll tell you why, but first, let’s take a quick trip to the past, so you can appreciate the sheer ridiculousness of it all.
Hip-hop & Me: The 90s and Early 00s
Today, I don’t believe the hip-hop in the suburb where I grew up really counts. It’s very watered down and just thinking about it makes me cringe. (That said, some people really enjoy that sorta thing, so perhaps it’s simply a matter of taste.)
And it wasn’t just the choreography – or lack of cultural context – that was bad. My dancing of the bad choreography was atrocious. Even though I am short and tended to be in the front for dance routines, I was purposely placed in the back for these choreographies – and I can understand why!
At the time, I thought hip-hop was so cool. (Still do, but my tastes have matured.) But I just felt so awkward trying to make my body move in that way. Think Sara Johnson (aka: Julia Stiles) in Save the Last Dance. Failing hardcore in that nightclub scene. And struggling to find her groove in the one-on-one dance session with Derek.
Except I was 17 or younger, so there was no club – and no blossoming romance.
(Yes, I can’t blame my age for no one wanting to date me throughout high school. But don’t rub it in, okay??)
5 Reasons Why I Started Popping – When It’s Clearly Not My Dance Calling
And now, without further adieu, I practiced popping because…
- I’m a dance dabbler.
I love trying all kinds of dance, and I’ll give any dance style at least one hearty go. I feel like learning a variety of dances from around the globe is a great cultural exploration. And when I was training in modern dance, I felt that learning other types of dance was a good way to practice different movement approaches and qualities. I was cross-training to become a more versatile mover.
However, this doesn’t completely explain why I picked popping over all the other dance forms.
- My best friend is an incredible popper and instructor.
Jeff (aka: The Russian tiger) and I originally bonded over biochemistry. (Does that count as a pun?) And dance. But while I eventually decided to pursue a major in modern dance, Jeff led free dance sessions to teach students popping. And organized a campus-wide conference that matched up more than 20 organizations to collaborate on a routine, eg: belly dance x tap dance. He even made it to Vegas on America’s Got Talent with his novel dance-show-slash-science-demonstration.
I’ve always admired his style, and I stated thinking about popping when I opened the DDSC – an online space for women to try different kinds of dance. We gifted every Founding Member two of his Russian Tiger dance tutorials. And I wanted to try them, for myself, and to talk shop with the rest of the dance fam.
- I was looking for a little redemption.
I half-assed it in the past… And I wanted to redeem myself.
I did learn a little bit of the popping basics from Jeff a decade ago. I wasn’t confident in my skills – or that I’d ever improve. I just liked to tag along and hang out with the crew (hey, Rhythm Per Second!) – internally fan-girling over how cool they all were. I don’t know how many hours I practiced over those few years – maybe 20? And I never practiced on my own.
I just didn’t think I had it in me. I had the idea that I was more suited to other kinds of dance (which is true), but I felt hip-hop swag was incompatible with my entire identity, which always prevented me from investing the requisite time and energy to improve.
Now, I wanted to see how much I could grow as a dancer after committing to practice for 100 days. Never try, never know!
- I wanted to stretch myself.
I envisioned the 100-day challenge as a way to stretch myself – and although I did have a minuscule foundation in freestyle hip-hop, it was certainly outside of my comfort zone. (I even felt pretty silly recording my daily practice sessions to record my dance transformation progress – fervently hoping a different would be apparent between day 1 and 100.)
I recognized popping practice as an opportunity to gain better control of my body (thanks to isolations, dime stops and precise muscular contractions), and I wanted to harness the confident and cool aesthetic.
I hadn’t predicted that I’d still listen to my wistful, mopey songs for many of the practice sessions. However, I dug out many songs from my university days and had plenty of fun dancing around by myself. And if I were to practice like a fiend and get really good, I believe I’d be into more of a dance fusion – like my favorite popping routine by ‘exorcist dancer’ …
- I had to put aside my ego.
I lost a lot of self-confidence after I stopped dancing. Nd I’d actively worry about taking class on the rare occasions I forced myself to the studio. My ego wasn’t inflated in an ‘I’m so amazing, look at me!’ way. But my ego made me afraid to dance with others because I worried I’d let myself down or embarrass myself with subpar efforts.
To nip that in the bud, I humbly accepted my beginner popping status, and did the best I could. I knew I was not great shakes at hip-hop, so I could stop worrying about how much skill and physical facility I’ve since lost – and get on with learning to the best of my ability. I was ab lot laugh at my mistakes, forgive myself and move on.
My ego was still severely bruised when my dad cracked up while watching one of my first popping videos, where I felt like I had actually improved. But attempting to learn the dance seriously (but not tooooo seriously) and editing video practice clips were big steps for me.
Have you ever sporadically picked up a new dance? Or have you always practiced multiple dance genres? Either way, is popping a dance style that fascinates you? Let us know in the comments below.
I started the dance challenge around thanksgiving and ended at the beginning of March.