Check out the new article from Straight Outta Fresno: From Poppin to B-Boys and B-Girls (a California Humanities-supported project) published by Tropics of Meta: Historiography for the Masses.
by Naomi Macalalad Bragin
Naomi Macalalad Bragin is an assistant professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington Bothell, where she teaches courses in black performance theory, performance research, and dance improvisation. Her current project, Black Power of Hip Hop Dance: On Kinethic Politics, traces the role of freestyle street dance in the generation of Black political aesthetics.
Also check out upcoming event from Straight Outta Fresno– Battle for Fresno State Championship Round on April 15th which will also feature items from the Straight Outta Fresno archive and story collection of Fresno hip hop history.
Excerpt from On the Front Porch: Deborah McCoy and Fresno Streetdance:
Deborah: Whatchoo mean where were we learning? From the street! On the street. Are you kidding me? I have to say it like this. You’re black and you’re gona go take dance lessons? It’s on the street. It’s right there. That was a release for us. It was nothing like it. It was nothing like it. Nothing like it. You learned by watching other dancers, what they did, what you liked. The way they hit.
This isn’t a definition of the street that corners blackness into a type of mythical physicality. Deborah reminds me what’s significant about the street—it’s an affirmation of study unaccountable to professionalized lessons and learning within the protected space of industry dance studios. In 1960s and 1970s California, the studio world hardly accepted Streetdancers as legitimate artists. Streetdance is black study and Streetdancers are students who love to “study without an end,” a phrase that turns up in Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s book The Undercommons. “The student is not home, out of time, out of place, without credit, in bad debt.” There is no regular schedule of classes to attend or pre-determined levels of expertise to achieve. Streetdance seems “non-technical” or “natural” because the method of incorporating technique in these informal contexts is not linear. Practice is stitched intimately into everyday happen-stances—extending through sleepless nights preparing for a community talent show and improvised in tight spaces of front porches.
Deborah: It was like a way of life for us. Everybody would dance. Everybody would participate. People would get up and do solos. We would get up and we would dance. We would do our thing and they would watch. They would join in. We were learning.
Naomi: Sometimes you were choreographing but a lot of times you were also freestyling.
Deborah: It was both of those. We did a lot of the Motown choreos on the front porch. It was like group dancing. That was much easier to do than the popping and the robotting. All of that was all stirred up in a pot. It was all together.
There are no starting and ending points, in time or space. Practice quickly turns to performance. Witness your mom get down to a nasty groove in the living room. Get pushed in front of the crowd at the neighbors’ house party. Study the off-balance stroll of a peg leg man at the corner store. Not unlike the hip hop social/party dances of Now—[#HITDEMFOLKS] [#NAENAE]—early hip hop dance weaves the collective rhythm of blackness into offstage contexts that make up the often overlooked black social scene. Sociologist Marcel Mauss used the expression “Techniques of the Body” to describe everyday movements like walking and eating. Streetdance technique generates knowledgethrough cultural tradition and social practice: “Learning and doing techniques takes place in a collective context; a context which forms and informs the social constitution of its practitioners.”