By Emily J. Weitz
Hip hop: the term alone can be loaded with misconceptions based on what we see in pop culture, as if every rapper is a thug and every graffiti artist a criminal. The Art of Hip Hop, a show and workshop coming to Guild Hall on July 15 through Soul Street Dance, is out to set the record straight, and to show kids and adults alike how hip hop can be, and has been, an unparalleled source of strength and positivity.
“We want people to understand the history of hip hop,” said Javier Garcia, Artistic Director of Soul Street Dance, which is based out of Houston, Texas, “and not be guided by what they see on television, because that is not what hip hop is. Girls in bikinis and big chains is not hip hop.”
“It is an art form that came from poverty,” explained Mr. Garcia, “and people who wanted to do something with their lives.”
There are four basic facets of hip hop culture: MCs, DJs, dancers, and graffiti artists. Through the Art of Hip Hop, each of these facets is explored, and each of the performers brings their own interpretation. There are four performers, and according to Mr. Garcia, hip hop saved them all.
“At one point,” he said, “all of us were at-risk youth, and all of us found dance. Hip hop is the theater arts, combined with our culture.”
Mr. Garcia started dancing in the 1990s, long before the Internet could teach you everything you needed to know. There were no YouTube videos: kids shared their skills on the street, dancing on a piece of cardboard or a slab of linoleum.
“We just wanted to practice and make up new moves,” he said, “and perfect those moves.”
All four performers bring their own unique style to the show. There are B Boys (dancers), tumblers, rapping, and comedy.
“It’s kind of like a gumbo of circus, comedy, and dance,” said Mr. Garcia. “We mix it all into one, and we like to have a lot of fun.”
They incorporate a lot of older music, and Mr. Garcia says they’ll incorporate any song as long as it’s got soul. Some songs date back to the 1950s or earlier, but then the group also uses more modern hip hop movements.
Soul Street Dance has had the opportunity to share their skills with people around the world. The group went to Haiti and traveled to an orphanage to share their art with the children there.
“Our main goal was to bring hope,” said Mr. Garcia. “We understand. Our conditions were pretty rough too. We were supposed to be statistics and we wanted better, and dance and hip hop gave us that.”
Coming to East Hampton in July, the group will inevitably face the opposite side of the spectrum from their experience in Haiti, but this is nothing new to them, either. As important as it is to expose underprivileged people to a way to achieve better for themselves, this show also teaches audiences about the value and importance of hip hop culture.
“We get judged by the way we look,” said Mr. Garcia. “Because we are hip hop, people think we are gangsters and thugs, and we are so far from that. We like to live life and laugh and do our art form.”
And they incorporate a wide variety of musical influences, so audience members shouldn’t expect only one genre.
“We dance to Vivaldi,” said Mr. Garcia. “Our shows and workshops vary, and we tailor it to the audiences we are going to see.”
After the show, Soul Street Dance will offer a workshop for beginners, intermediate, and advanced performers to teach the foundations of hip hop dance. What they hope people will come away with is a new way to be creative, because that’s what hip hop gave to them.
“Some of us had rough childhoods,” said Mr. Garcia, “and we wanted better. We were artistic in our own ways and now we tour all over the world at venues from NBA Playoff games to prestigious theaters to orphanages in Haiti, and we [help people] understand how to be creative and put it all into what you bring.”
Soul Street Dance Workshop: The Art of Hip Hop will be at Guild Hall, 159 Main Street in East Hampton, on Wednesday, July 15 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10; $8 for members. For more information, call (631) 324-0806 or visit guildhall.org or soulstreetdance.com.