A Note About My Essay For The Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap
I was honored to have been asked to write a short piece on Hip-Hop dance forms for the Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap. I am excited that mainstream institutions like the Smithsonian are increasingly recognizing the value of Hip-Hop culture, but I am also very much aware of the complexities involved.
In terms of this essay in particular, one of the things that was very important to me to emphasize in this piece was the relationship between music and dance, and especially the frequently overlooked contributions that dancers made to the early evolution of Hip-Hop music.
As part of that effort, I noted how African American and Latino dances began to blend together as those communities came into closer contact with each other in the South Bronx in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In particular, I discussed how some of the conceptual vocabulary of the predominantly Latino dance known as rocking began to influence African American competitive and party dances. These new forms, which in many cases were also called “rocking,” then entered into a mutual relationship with the new break-centered turntable techniques being developed by Hip-Hop’s pioneering deejays, and together the music and dance evolved into Hip-Hop as we know it today.
But due to some last-minute changes in the way the piece was structured, some of that context was lost in the final version. As a result, the essay seems to suggest that the form of rocking that was developed by Latinos evolved directly into breaking, which is not my position.
In my book, Foundation (2009), I spoke extensively about how and why this issue can be very difficult to untangle in retrospect. As part of my discussion of the different perspectives one could take on the geographical and social origins of breaking, I wrote the following:
One of my goals in the Smithsonian piece was to make sure that these Latino influences were not overlooked, as they often are. But it was absolutely not my intention to do that at the expense of the dance’s African American innovators.
I would like to think that was clear from the piece, but just in case it wasn’t, I want to be very clear about it here, and apologize for any confusion that that phrasing may have caused. But it is still my hope that even if that has been the case, some positive may come from it, namely that it might draw some attention to these important and complex historical conversations that are ongoing within Hip-Hop culture.