HUNTINGTON — Fly Dance Company spent three days this week showing off some fancy footwork and educating and inspiring 3,000 East Texas students about hip hop.
“We are the Fly Dance Company from Houston, Texas, and today we’re going to educate ya’ll on the positive aspects of hip hop culture,” Jesse Magana said.
Hip hop was started by DJ Kool Herc in the early 1970s in the Bronx, New York. Magana said he would ride around with two huge speakers, blasting music and spreading joy.
“He would invite the community out for these huge block parties, but there were three rules — you must dance, no violence, you must have fun,” he said.
The hip hop culture was started to combat gang violence, influence youth and spread positivity, Magana said.
There are four elements in hip hop culture — the DJ, the MC, the graffiti artist and the dancers. The dancers are called b-boys and b-girls.
There are four elements to the dancing of b-boys and b-girls — top rock, footwork, freeze and power move.
Top rock is a dance move where the dancer stays standing on two feet, never low to the ground. Influencers who often used top rock moves include James Brown and Michael Jackson.
Footwork is the opposite of top rock. It is a move where the dancer stays low to the ground with intricate slides, spins and patterns using hands and feet. Some influencers who used footwork include Sammy Davis Jr. and Fred Astaire.
A freeze is the exclamation point at the end of a dance or sequence most commonly held for about three seconds. It shows off a dancer’s strength and control.
Power moves are the flashy, acrobatic movements that put flare into a dance sequence.
“These are the huge tricks, the flips, the spins, the gymnastic movements, the karate movements, all kinds of huge, different flying tricks,” he said.
Power moves are often inspired by cartoons and gymnastics.
The dancers spent much time in comedic interludes, punctuating Magana’s lessons on culture, and they gave many examples to popular tunes like “Perm” by Bruno Mars and a rendition of “Apache” by The Shadows.
But perhaps the students’ most favorite part of the performance was when the crew invited some of the crowd to dance with them. Fourth-grader Alana Emmerson said the experience was embarrassing but fun.
“It was actually kind of fun,” Alana said. “I didn’t think I could do those moves. I can’t dance.”
Fifth-grader Casen Hoke said he absolutely loved getting to dance with the crew, even if it was a little embarrassing.
“I was really nervous at first. I rose my hand because I didn’t think they would call on me, but when they did, I was so surprised,” Casen said. “It exhilarated me, the thought of performing in front of all these people.
“They were saying it takes a lot of courage to do this kind of stuff and perform in front of people. I just think they’re all amazing.”
The group came to East Texas as a partnership with the Angelina Arts Alliance.
Fly Dance Company has been around for more than 25 years, performing educational shows and cultural exchange programs with the U.S. Embassy.
Dancer Chad Franklin said he always wanted to have somebody to look up to when he was a kid, and he wants to be that role model for these kids.
“We see a lot of ourselves in these kids,” dancer Adam Quiroz said. “We came up in the after school programs in tough times, people telling us we couldn’t do these things. We just want to show them that if they stick to what they believe and follow their passion, they can do it, too. We’re living proof of that.”
Magana invited the students to reach out to them if they ever felt alone, and he encouraged them to follow their dreams, never giving up just because someone tells them they can’t make it.
“A lot of times in life, people are going to tell you that you cannot achieve your dreams,” Magana told the students. “They’re going to tell you that you’re wasting your time, that you should be doing something else.
“But I’m here to tell ya’ll to always follow your heart, follow your passions, follow your heart and to never give up.”