Next weekend, the Reg Lenna Civic Center invites you to see and hear an exciting and involving example of art, in expression of the spirit of today.
Illstyle and Peace Productions, a Philadelphia-based, multicultural and mixed gender dance company, will offer a free workshop for people of any age who want to learn to dance Hip Hop. That will be Friday at 4 p.m. at the Civic Center.
Saturday at 2 p.m., the company will perform its latest production, "Same Spirit, Different Movement." Tickets are on sale through the civic center's box office, in person or by phoning 484-7070. Or, go to www.reglenna.com. Tickets are $10 for the general public, $5 for those younger than 18, and $20 for a family of four. Additional tickets for families purchasing a family ticket are $5 each, regardless of age.
The workshop is free of charge, but advance reservations are strongly encouraged, as work space is limited.
Hip Hop is an artistic force sweeping the world. It stands a very good chance of doing for the 21st century what rock and roll did for the 1950s. Anything new is bound to be surrounded by misunderstandings and uncertainty, so I had a talk about the upcoming events with David Schein, executive director of the civic center, and I've done some research on my own into the mysteries of Hip Hop.
What is Hip Hop?
Hip Hop is a dance style usually performed to Hip Hop music. It began in New York City in the early 1970s as an expression of both the frustrations and ambitions of the youth of that period. The information I found about it sometimes had different meanings for the same terms, and different observers have somewhat different interpretations of what they've seen, so we'll try to be informative, with the caveat that you might encounter different opinions and information.
"I Wondered, Lonely as a Cloud" is a beautiful poem, but doesn't express the thoughts and feelings of most urban dwellers, especially African-American and Hispanic urbanites. Sadly, the entire art style suffers because of the widespread development of similar music which celebrates things such as taking drugs and violence against women. Hip Hop began as an alternative expression of its performers, seeking better answers than gang membership and drug-connected culture.
Hip Hop has evolved from an eclectic mix of jazz, rock and roll, tap dancing, and Latin dancing. The earliest form to show up was called Breaking, a free-form style which involves many movements performed down, near the ground. These are called "downrock" moves.
Seeking to explain the new phenomenon to the general public, the media seized on the term "breakdancing" to mean all of the independently created music and movement associated with the style. There is a tension - often bitter - between those who would standardize the dance moves and those who believe the entire purpose of the form is that each individual express himself in his own way, not according to some pattern.
In the early 1980s, the dance style spread to the American West Coast. There, movements performed in an upright position began to be incorporated into the style. These are called "uprock" moves. Funk styles, such as "popping" and "locking" were West Coast originating moves, which were quickly joined to the original style.
Various efforts have been made to classify the more aggressive dancing of the 1990s and 21st century as "New Style Hip Hop," and the original reaking, locking, etc. as "Old School Hip Hop."
Competitions have sprung up around the United States and in many foreign countries, most of which have made at least minimal attempts to establish "rules" for performance, so that one performance can be judged superior to another, and this has fed the controversy over who can judge another person's self-expression as inferior.
One of the largest competitions in the world is called "Juste Debout," and takes place in Paris. Other well-known competitions take place in Spain, Italy, Austria, Finland, Serbia, Croatia and Ukraine. "Groove" is the Australian competition, which has recently expanded to allow entries from New Zealand.
An axe can be used as a murder weapon, but that doesn't mean that anyone who picks up an axe is a murderer. We deny ourselves much of value when we close our minds to something new or different.
David Schein said ...
Next weekend's presentations by Illstyle and Peace Productions is the first of what the civic center hopes will be attractive and well-received ways to bring the whole community into a meaningful relationship with the arts.
"I spend part of each year working and teaching in Africa," Schein said. "I was astonished to see that African children knew a great deal about Hip Hop. It truly has become a global expression."
Schein said his first exposure to Hip Hop was when he saw this very company performing in Philadelphia. "I saw these shows, and I knew that Jamestown kids - and their parents - had to see them. These shows work against the negative stereotypes promoted by foul-mouth rappers. It really opened my eyes to what Hip Hop is."
He went on to say, "The dancing is incredibly athletic and riveting, and the beatboxing and scratching is unbelievable. It will be a real mind-opener for those who think Hip Hop is not an art form."
Schein said that all too often, if people do attempt to learn about Hip Hop, they encounter someone who has done a little of it, or who has taken a class or two, and as a result, they get an inaccurate picture.
"Brandon 'Peace' Albright is the artistic director of this company, and he has performed and taught Hip Hop all over the world, even in China," Schein commented. "He is one of 11 dancers with a wide range of experience. One of the women was a member of a professional ballet company before deciding that this was a kind of modern dance which she found most exciting."
Illstyle and Peace performed in Jamestown in 2006 and Albright has been hired since then by a number of area school districts to give workshops and presentations. "The last time they were here," Schein said, "We had a number of people who came to one performance and liked it so much they returned twice more. Over the years, the civic center has been fairly successful at attracting young people to afternoon presentations and adults to evening performances, but what we want to do is to make them all feel happy and welcome at the same performances."
"In today's economy, any arts group is limited in their ability to take risks. We think this format of 'Friday workshop and Saturday matinee performance with low admission fees' has promise. If it's successful, we have all kinds of ideas of different and wonderful performers we could offer in the future. If it doesn't draw a crowd and serve the community, we'll have to go in a different direction," he said.
Let's see. The civic center is offering us music, rhythm, instruction, dance, innovation, variety, creativity, inspiration. Sounds great to me. I hope I'll see you there.
The civic center is located at 116 E. Third St., between Pine and Spring streets.