Hip Hop in Beijing: When Dedication Surpasses Skill

Having fun during one of our evening practices

Since early April, I’ve had the chance to visit and take classes from several dance studios in Beijing.  I’ve chosen to seek out the hip hop sessions here to see how they differ from learning in a western or Taiwanese environment.  While my main goal throughout this experience is to gain more insight on how students think hip hop is viewed to locals outside of the dance world, and how dancers have personally gained interest in this hobby, I first want to address the amount of motivation and drive I have seen from these dancers in this short time.

The two studios I frequented the most so far were 舞佳舞, famous for their popping and hip hop teachers, and Zaha Dance Club, known for their creative choreographers.  Although these companies have high reputations within the city, I noticed that the teachers still focused on explaining dance steps in a fairly elementary process, such as indicating where to place the right arm or introducing a body roll to the left.  By the end of a two-hour class, we will have accomplished two 8 counts whereas I view it as being taught in 10-20 minutes.  The teachers recognize that this is the best for the class as a whole, where as I see some of the explanations as common knowledge for a dancer.

The routines are relatively simple for studios with renowned professional teachers who have claimed titles at international battles and performed at local dance showcases.  However, I do admire the students’ drive to improve and take advantage of their resources on site.  While students may have a difficult time grasping every concept and movement, they have a desire to understand and eagerly ask the teachers for individual help during breaks or after class.  Sometimes, the teacher will end up staying after the end of a class on a volunteer basis to mentor a student for fifteen minutes, or to simply chat with them about how to practice a certain movement.

This dedication also translates into our team at Tsinghua.  The students are young and have been exposed to a limited amount of material, but their dedication shows in their time commitment and enthusiasm to try new things.  Laowan mentioned that every semester, they will have 100 or so new students signed up on their interest lists.  While it appears that people show great appreciation for this scene, many guys will join for the sake of attracting girls, and many girls show interest because they want to be sexy and effectively lose weight – which is completely understandable, because who doesn’t want these attributes?  The numbers slowly trickle down with each passing week but the ones who remain truly have the desire to dance, and it shows through their cooperation and willingness to learn.

Hard at work

In the past month, we have had four of our seven total performances for the semester so far.  Each practice is led with intense training and high energy with an equal amount of fun and inside jokes.  Routines are drilled into us until the wee hours of 3-4AM and there is no question that teammates will practice on their own after we disperse.  While it takes days to produce a presentable show, there are rarely any signs of complaints because they like what they are a part of.  Finding a practice space is usually our biggest obstacle – student organizations compete for a spot in the gym, so if we’re lucky we can stay for two hours at a time.  Then we migrate to the second floor lobby, and finally move to the ever so reliable C Building that is open 24 hours where we can have our midnight dinners and last-minute runs of our routines.

Xufan, our oldest and cutest member!

Despite the amount of work accumulated within everyone’s majors, my teammates are willing to sacrifice a few hours of sleep to better the team as a whole.  While our usual practices are held two to three times a week for three hours each, we dedicated each minute of our free time to perfecting our routine during competition week.  I am proud to say that it paid off, proven with the highest score received for the night at the semi-finals for UR Rattan Hip Hop Competition at 北京吉利大学 (Beijing Geely University).  This shows that even with time constraints and shortage on training, my teammates’ passion and determination for hip hop has brought our Tsinghua team farther along into the scene than ever before.

Click here for a video of our first performance.

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