What I know about hip hop dance

25 May 2016

It started when I was barely three years old. Family lore tells of a tiny blonde figure strutting about the living room, parents and siblings arranged in a dutiful semi-circle, while Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ pumped from the tape deck. The genius of MJ moved my limbs across the carpet as if possessed by the rhythm. As I grew older, the obsession tightened its hold. I would moonwalk across the hall at the school disco while impressed pre-teens looked on. I perfected my moves over hours of sock-footed kitchen floor sliding while mum was trying to cook dinner.

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At high school I started taking hip hop dance lessons, eventually forming an all-girl crew. We performed anywhere and everywhere: school fairs, prisons, and churches, and busking in the street. I started teaching classes and competition crews, and we travelled to national and international events. I spent all my money on sneakers. Hip hop became my life.

My love of hip hop music has always been the force that moved me. I love the rhythm, the freedom and the emotion, and how we as dancers translate this into a visual format. Hip hop dance includes the old school foundation styles of b-boying, popping and locking which arose during the birth of hip hop culture in New York in the early 80s. It has now grown into new school styles like krump, twerk, even lyrical, as the music and culture of hip hop has grown and became mainstream.

What I love about hip hop dance is the freedom of it: there are no rules, no grades to pass before moving to the next level. You can learn in a studio, or out on the street late at night, using a shop window as a mirror. You can learn to twerk by watching a video on YouTube in your room wearing pyjamas. And there are continually new styles, moves, and trends: hip hop dance evolves constantly.

I’m now performing and filming videos with musicians outside the hip hop genre, bringing dance to an audience who does not expect it. And my style and choreography has evolved to include their influence. I’m still guided by the music, and how it evokes a physical reaction in me.

It’s hard to keep dancing with this new doctor job, but I don’t really have a choice: the music moves me whether I like it or not. 

Dr Sylvia Gjerde

St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney