In Aysha Upchurch’s new course, “Hip Hop Dance: Exploring the Groove and the Movement Beneath and Beyond the Beat,” students learn the histories behind some of their favorite moves.
“Hip-hop dance has been seen in a variety of spaces, from dance studios to commercials to competitions to TV programs. The exposure is beautiful, but there’s so much exposure to just the form that people are missing the context,” said Upchurch, Ed.M. ’15, a visiting lecturer in Theater, Dance & Media and instructor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
In addition to choreography and movement instruction at weekly class meetings, students watch and discuss documentaries about hip-hop culture, including “Paris Is Burning,” about drag ball culture in 1980s New York, and “From Mambo to Hip-Hop: A South Bronx Tale,” on the socioeconomic history of the borough.
“I really love dancing, and I thought this would be an interesting class, to combine dance with an academic setting and to learn more about the history and foundations of hip-hop, which I didn’t know much about,” said Courtney Rabb ’22, an applied math concentrator. “This class is so fun and welcoming for all skill levels and anyone interested in learning.”
At the end of the semester, students write about the evolution of their views of the genre, paying particular attention to the contextual lessons of geography, history, race, gender, and culture present in the learning materials.
“Knowledge is power, and actually having a space to get knowledge, develop knowledge, and hold knowledge in the body could be hopefully liberating for folks, to know that it doesn’t decrease your love for dance to get to know a little bit deeper about it,” said Upchurch. “Seeking out the ‘why’ of dance doesn’t have to displace the fun of it. If anything, it enhances it. I’m hoping the more that students know about hip-hop, the more they can love it and hold it and care for it and appreciate it.”