There are those who take offense to people of other cultures doing hip-hop dance (popping, locking, boogaloo, breaking, rocking and party dances.) They feel that they are “stealing” or misappropriating the dance. They say that these people need “Black Soul” in order to truly do the dance and that anything outside of that is just a bad facsimile or straight theft. Stories of cultural destruction begin to emerge, and then slavery, and then the Indigenous Americans.
What many people are conflating though, are cultural origins and cultural diffusion.
Yes, as African Americans, our progenitors were uprooted from their home and we as a result are disconnected from our heritage. We were robbed of our family name (Thomas is the slave owners name not my people’s name), our religions (christianity is not a part of our heritage), our culture (which varied dependent on which region of Africa one was taken from) and our Gods (the “savage” Africans were “civilized” by Catholicism and monotheism.)
As we know, the modus operandi for invading a land for its resources is to wipe out the indigenous population. The indigenous population of the Americas was decimated as a result of what is called FORCED DIFFUSION, where a culture subjugated the indigenous culture by erasing their belief system and traditions while inculcating their own system.
This is a worldwide epidemic and is not isolated to just America. We are also not the only race to be uprooted to a different location via slavery nor the only ones to be robbed of our cultural heritage in the process. There are the Germans, Thracians, Guals, Jews, Russians, Persians, the Fulanis, the Hausas and many more.
The origins of hip-hop dance are African American and Latino. The soul and groove of the dance have been disseminated worldwide via cultural diffusion.
What has happened with the various dance forms that blacks and latinos on both coasts created is dissimilar to what happened with Jazz, Blues, Rock and Rhythm & Blues music. You see, those art-forms were misappropriated via a conscious effort to disenfranchise blacks in this country. White men would sit in Jazz clubs and speakeasies and copy the music down. They had the advantage for two reasons, they had the education and understood how to transcribe music and they were a card carrying member of the dominant culture.
The same happened with many of the social dances in the sixties. White kids in LA would go to black parties and then go on American Bandstand and say they made up the dance! The Red Skeleton Show did the same thing! It was the deliberate and systematic disenfranchisement of the creators of the dance.
However, this is not what has happened with popping or other arts, this is cultural diffusion. Now, cultural diffusion has a variety of components. I will explain them all because I believe it will bring context to the conundrum people are facing:
There are four main influences of cultural diffusion: contagious, relocation, expansion and hierarchal.
CONTAGIOUS means a concept that is transmitted via individual personal contact.
RELOCATION is where a concept travels from its area of origin to a new area. (i.e. a popper from Oakland moves to Ohio)
EXPANSION is when an innovation is nurtured, honed and preserved at it’s point of origin, remains stable there but also simultaneously begins to expand into other areas. (this happened via movies and dance shows from the late 60s to 80s)
HIERARCHAL is where an innovation is disseminated via a large distribution point into “smaller” areas without distance being a mitigating factor and is usually perpetuated by the social elites. (the commercial industry getting a hold of the art and using it without regard for those who created the art)
We (the hip-hop community) are most impacted by EXPANSION and HIERARCHAL, yet because of the nature of American society, all four have had direct impacts on the diffusion of the various cultural inventions of the black and latino communities.
Hip-Hop dance now belongs to the world, not just our small communities anymore.
Our cultural grooves have been studied and assimilated by a variety of populations. The younger they are, the more disconnected they are from the root origins. If I’m white and growing up in Cardiff and see popping, I think that it in fact comes from Cardiff! Until I get older and research and find out different. Does that mean that this young white boy from Cardiff has no right to do the dance? NO! Does it mean he doesn’t have groove because he’s not black? NO! Does it mean that he can’t take ownership over the dance? NO! It means that due to cultural diffusion he now shares in our art. He loves it, respects it, admires it, and wants to spread it too! That is a good thing not a bad one.
Now of course our groove is unique to our cultural heritage. Yet Japanese, Serbian, German, Korean, Chinese etc. have their own cultural groove! Once this groove starts to meet with ours, at first it clashes as I’ve seen happen with my own students from other countries. But then over time they establish a synchronicity between the origin groove and their own and that’s what creates their individual “swagger!”
As long as they are educated and pay homage to the roots of this dance and are clear on it’s cultural lineage, I say let them be. Let them explore. Let them revel in the glory that is our cultural invention. Not excoriate them for not being black.
“Black Soul” as some call it is everywhere. It is the universal membrane of our collective consciousness. It is readily accessible for anyone who is humble enough to acknowledge it, reach for it and own it.
The Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory