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Poppin’, lockin’ and breakin’ expands its turf in China

By 13 June 2009 No Comment
Photo by Rebecca Persons

Snakes in a pool: Street dancing devotees practice pioneering moves at a Beijing studio | Photo by Rebecca Persons

Imagine a swimming pool filled with snakes gliding through the water, suddenly shocked by an electric jolt that contorts their bodies. This is how Beijing hip-hop instructor, Hero Cheng, describes the Korean-style street dancing that he teaches in Beijing.

Cheng’s former instructor, famous Korean dancer Wave Zino, actually placed snakes in a pool and zapped them to inspire new dance moves. Along with the Los Angeles styles of street dance, Cheng’s method is the prime influence shaping the street and hip-hop dance scene in China today. Internet and television have increased China’s access to hip-hop videos, making the new trend widespread and rising in popularity.

Teachers like Cheng work at the Beijing Contemporary Music Academy, which is the first and only school in Beijing to teach modern dancing. Cheng said it’s a trend that is emerging among the younger generation, often surprising parents and grandparents who are accustomed to think ballroom dancing when they think of non-Chinese forms of dance.

“The music that this generation listens to is different,” said Cheng. “The Internet has had an influence. It’s easy for us to access information our parents couldn’t access in their time.”

Cheng said many parents initially allow their teenagers to attend the Academy, but change their minds and try to pull them out of school after witnessing the bizarre body movements called popping, locking and breaking.

Cheng’s own parents in China were strongly against his dancing in the beginning, but have now accepted his devotion to the freedom of expression in street dancing, in which students are taught to evoke emotion that parallels the type of music they are dancing to, and even to utilize emotion from their own lives to express in their movements.

Beijing street dance student Ray Jin agrees that the most important thing he has learned is that dancing is not about technique, but passion and a state of mind. “I watched a couple of movies about dancing and I thought it was really cool and I wanted to learn,” said Jin. “My parents thought it was cool but I think it’s harder for the older generation, like my grandparents, to understand the culture.”

Many styles of dancing, particularly traditional dancing, involve years of perfecting technique and training the body. Cheng said that street dancing and hip-hop are easy for beginners because it focuses more on expression. “Teachers like Wave Zino don’t judge dancers by their skills but judges them by their hearts,” said Cheng.

Cheng and Jin said their dance styles have been gaining more popularity within the last year. Internet and television are helping to get the word out. “I’ve been to classes where teachers are invited from L.A.,” said Jin. “It’s becoming more and more common.”

Watching Cheng and Jin practice their moves on a recent evening in Jin’s workout center at his apartment complex,  a reporter got a close-up look at the fundamental techniques. The motion starts with a pop of the head or leading with the shoulder, followed by a wavelike motion that extends through the arm and finishes at the fingertips. Every movement is inextricably connected to the last, making the routine unified.

Watching Cheng finish the routine, one can’t help but flinch as he snaps his head, followed by a wave through his body that looks like he may have just been electrically shocked. But Cheng doesn’t appear to feel any pain, just elated to be dancing.

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