"Walk By Faith, Not By Sight" 2 Corinthians 5:7
On Saturday, July 27, 2013, dancers across America celebrated National Dance Day. I wanted to share with all of you some of my dance experience, as well as some of my favorite dances, but, alas, life got in the way. So, to make up for that, I am wishing all of you a belated happy National Dance Day. Below is a paper I wrote for my first dance class I took in college. It was a beginner’s Jazz class at Florida State University. Unfortunately, to be able to participate in any higher-level courses of dance at FSU, you have to be a major, unless you try out for the intermediate class. I enjoyed being able to experience a class that was completely secular, unlike the Christian studio I came from. It was a learning experience; one that not only taught me the different views of dance and choreography between secular and non-secular dance, but, also, the hard physical work one has to put in to measure up to the college dance level. But, this paper is not about that. It is about some wonderful people who had a great impact on who I am today. Without further ado:
Dance to many is a sense of expression. It is a way to get out all the unheard thoughts and emotions. To me, dance is much more. It is a lifestyle; a part of an individual that will never leave. Hip hop, in particular, is the free spirit that conveys all emotions. It can be smooth and cool, with a more jazz feel to it, or rough and aggressive, such as krumping. More than just expression, it is an art form that can be applied to life. It is a way to communicate. Hip hop has given me the opportunity to work with two inspirational choreographers, learn and understand the art of movement, and to apply the movement and styles to different areas of my life.
In 2007, I met a choreographer who would leave a foot print in my life through her skill. Tiffany Cotton Willis became my first dance instructor. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in the Fine Arts of Dance from Florida State University. Graduating not only from Florida State University, but also from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, and Florida School of the Arts, Willis has been studying dance for twenty-four years. She has studied under Yvonne Salcedo Williams as a member of the professional Arts Triumphant Dance Theatre, and is now studying with Michelle Wynn. As well as studying with Wynn, Willis is also currently teaching at Destiny Dance Center. Willis founded Destiny Dance Center in 2005. Her goal is, “To teach students that dance is a gift from God and is most rewarding when used to glorify and worship Him. To show student’s that their lives have purpose and a destiny. To impact students lives by encouraging them to be passionate for God through the arts” (Destiny Dance Center 1). By doing so, Willis offers all forms of dance, from ballet to hip hope, as she calls the class (Destiny Dance Center).
Although Willis mainly focuses on ballet, she has taught Broadway, jazz, tap and hip hop. Her hip hop class is a mixture of jazz-like movements, as well as grungy, hard b-boy skills. She has even encouraged her students to incorporate their own style into choreography that has been used in and outside of class. For example, taking hip hop to a whole new level, company performer at Destiny Dance Center, Christa Gloster choreographed a step routine to use in the annual recital in 2009. Willis has created a senior and junior company that also performs in the community. Her companies use all types of dance forms, usually starting a performance off with a hip hop routine to attract a crowd. Willis brought in choreographer Scott Leigh to continue teaching hip hop because her knowledge is more in ballet.
Scott Leigh is a professional recording artist that has a true love for dance. He started his career as a dancer, being fully committed by practicing nine hours a day, every day. All his hard work paid off as he traveled the East Coast to perform. In 2001, tragedy hit America as the World Trade Center was bombed on September eleventh. As a result, Leigh was able to make an impact on a crowd, while also realizing his calling. He performed a tribute to the fallen, incorporating acting, singing, and dancing into the piece. This was the beginning of a journey that would lead him to the Education Through Entertainment organization. Through Education Through Entertainment, Leigh encourages families to have, “…faith, hope, and respect,” as well as inform children about the importance of safety (Education Through Entertainment 5). He has choreographed and recorded an awareness music video that is a rap about children needing to say no to strangers. In addition to his rap, Leigh has also created, choreographed, and recorded hip hop videos promoting the nation’s freedom, and also candidate Mike Weinstein for Jacksonville, Florida’s district nineteen. He has also appeared in numerous commercials as a dancer, taught at Florida Community College and Jacksonville University, and has performed at the Country Music Awards and on MTV’s “The Circuit.” Among those, he has also done numerous workshops, including one at Destiny Dance Center. His workshop was such a hit that in 2009, Leigh joined the studio to teach hip hop classes for a year (Leigh).
In 2007, I joined Destiny Dance Center to learn about the movement incorporated with hip hop. Under the instruction of Willis, I learned the technicalities. Willis’ style incorporated more jazz than street dancing. I learned how to do counts, while executing moves such as switch leaps and pas de bourées. She emphasized the importance of stretching before dancing, and also of having fun. Aside from the technical jazz movements, she introduced me to break dancing, an art form I would come to love. Only using the basics, we learned how to execute the coffee grinder and prepare for other moves by using the rock-step or six-step. Willis, however, focuses more on ballet, and as such, has a limited knowledge on hip hop. Leigh, on the other hand, was able to expand Willis’ student’s knowledge when he came to teach at Destiny Dance Center in 2009.
Leigh brought with his skill and knowledge, a different technique and fun. The first hip hop class I took with Leigh was quite an experience. We stared off the class by turning off the lights in the studio. Leigh explained that when we are in the dark, we do not have to worry about people seeing us dancing. It was a way for each student to come out of his or her shell and dance without worry of being embarrassed if he or she forgot a step. Leigh’s technique was completely opposite of Willis’. Rather than focusing on jazz movements, he defied the technicalities and introduced whole new movements. Isolations or pop-and-lock were a large contribution to his choreography. We learned the importance of not locking the legs to allow for easier movement. Leigh strived for perfection, which pushed each dancer beyond his or her limits. After each class, I would leave drenched in sweat. It was a good feeling, however, knowing that I was becoming a stronger dancer. Although Leigh pushed us to do our best, he made us laugh. Often forgetting his own choreography, we would be challenged to remember it ourselves and to practice. Learning his counts was less of a challenge because he would not use the typical five, six, seven eight, but rather sound effects, such as boom ca-ca. Leigh’s class left a lasting impression on me that I would carry with me into other areas of my life.
Leigh taught me to never give up. When I made a mistake, he emphasized the importance of acknowledging it, but also laughing at it. His style of dance spilled over into other aspects of dance for me. When in class now, I remember the importance of bent legs and not worrying about what those around me think. Willis also contributed to my life. She showed me a new means of praising God, and helped me grow in my faith, while having fun. Dance is a means of expression. By dancing without worry, I can fully convey what I mean to say. Hip hop has become that outlet of expression for me. Through learning these life styles and values through hip hop, I have also incorporated dance into my life. Hip hop is a lifestyle.
Without Willis’ and Leigh’s instruction, I would not be the dancer I am today. Their hip hop classes have left me inspired and wanting to learn more. I have taken other jazz classes that have incorporated hip hop, as well as joined a break dancing club. They were both so inspirational, that I have even choreographed some hip hop and jazz dances on my own free time. Hip hop has become my outlet; my means of expression and a lifestyle. Through the help of two choreographers, I have learned and understood new movements and have applied the art of hip hop to my life.
Destiny Dance Center. Destiny Dance CenterProfessional dance instruction with a Christian perspective. n.d. 14 11 2010 <http://destinydancecenter.com/>.
Education Through Entertainment. Education Through Entertainment. 2010. 10 11 2010 <http://educationthroughentertainment.org/about/>.
Leigh, Scott. Scott Leigh. n.d. 10 11 2010 <http://scottleigh.com/>.
Youtube. Scott Leigh Promo Video. n.d. 15 11 2010 <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsGmv0BIPgE>.
Haha, As I read over this now, it makes me smile. For one, I have grown so much as a writer, but on the other, it expresses some raw emotions that I hold for my instructors. I still wish I could be at Destiny Dance Center. More often than not, I miss dance to the point that it feels as if I am missing a part of me. I know that some things happen for a reason, though, and thankfully God has given me the ability to enjoy dance for the time that I did. I am not sure what the future holds with my thirst for dance, but I sure hope to have some classes in my near future.
What are some of your favorite dancing memories?