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Hip Haap...Thoughts on hip-hop and contemporary dance
- Vishwa Kiran, Bangalore

September 11, 2010

The intent was to do hip hop but why does it look like moves stolen from a Chinese fight sequence blended with a real bad MJ impersonation? I've been asking myself this every time I watch something on Indian television where someone is trying to krump with an oversized pullover (intentionally worn) trying to point towards his man b**bs with those arthritis fingers. Well, you have to appreciate his guts, after all he is doing this to himself on national television, but wait a minute; I also saw about a hundred odd dancers imitate his moves in a local competition in the city... where has it gone wrong?

Honestly, I don't know; maybe for them it just didn't matter as long as they had fun. Things were not that different when I was growing up, shaking a leg for everything possible - MJ, Ricky Martin, BSB, Shivaraj Kumar, Mammootty... just about anything that inspired us to move. And the moves we did would resemble anything from riding a bicycle to peeling bananas.

My affiliation with hip hop is like Britney Spears's brain. Though biologically you might prove it exists, it's hardly any proof. With a little professional training, I decided that hip hop is my second favorite dance form. I would not say I was very bad at it, when compared to the guy with the arthritis fingers. Not to brag or anything, but I'm naturally good with movements and hip-hop comes with less effort. I could really make people believe that I know what I'm doing, kinda like what our Indian cricket team does with their fielding. My folks at the company were so impressed, they made me take a couple of technique sessions for them... glad I could help.

You know this thing that you really like, are not very good at, but you keep doing it and eventually get better at, the same thing happened to me. As a dancer, it gives you time to understand a movement form, its history, origin and its purpose. You will question yourself about why you like it so much or why the movement flows naturally in your body. Answering this might help you understand your connection with the dance form and once you have done that, all you need is an inspiration point to create movements, which in my case was just about anything.

It's important that you know what you are going to do with all the knowledge you have acquired. Well, not really. I never learnt anything with an intention to make good use of it. I've got proof - 18 years of academic education and I'm a full time dancer. It really does not matter, you know how they say, everything happens for good. My creative impulse told me to do something brave - and stupid. Hence I went ahead and did it. I thought why not find a connection between my two favorite dance forms - Hip Hop and Indian contemporary (suggested names for the dance form - Indian Haap, contemporary Hip). It looked refreshingly new and made sense to me. To think of it, both of these dance forms are very similar in its origin. I am of the belief that hip-hop culture can be seen as a form of struggle against the wider society whose belief and values are generally accepted in the society. It can be seen as a religion because it holds its own values and beliefs. And contemporary dance was a movement started against the rigid classical dance form.

Things became much clearer when I started to choreograph (Which I have elaborately explained in my blog 'How NOT to choreograph'). Hip-hop is a vast language and there is a wide range of styles that one can get inspired to create movements from. And the culmination of the two languages has to be interesting, right? At this point you might think the movements might look like, cheese burger with pudina chutney, statue of liberty holding a balance in hand, Barack Obama in lungi ..., but it was not like that at all. At least that's what I thought; unfortunately my dancers thought differently... to be more specific they stopped thinking. Every time I showed them a movement, they looked like they just came out of the movies after watching 'Inception.' After a lot of trial and error, all of us landed in the same page; after all, dance is the easiest language to learn. The dancers took it pretty well, to be fair to them. In the beginning, for them, it was just movements and they didn't want to look beyond it, which kinda worked for me. It was important to keep alive the aesthetics of Indian dance, while achieving the dislocated and disfigured movements. At the end of the day I'm happy, kinda like how Isaac Newton would have felt, for not having sat under a jackfruit tree... I'm not saying this is the most creative and unique thing in the world, but it's mine.

Here I am claiming to be the proud owner of Hip Haap, still experimenting, understanding and still in the first page of a book, which I'm hoping will become a novel and not a comic strip. To me, it was what they stood for, its purpose and what it meant for their people that attracted me most towards these dance forms. What contemporary dancing did to people was evidently revolutionary; it gave regular people a chance to enjoy the art of dancing in times when only the best of bodies were allowed to take up dancing seriously. And how the hip hop culture was more of a struggle, a means to express, a means to survive; if there was one thing in common between both, it was 'Hope.'

Vishwa Kiran is a senior dancer and youth wing Director of Nritarutya.

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