House Dancing: Origins &Originals_

Forever-by-Maurice-van-der-Meijs-106House dance style has roots in the clubs of Chicago and of New York. The main elements of House dance include Footwork, Jacking, and Lofting. House dance is often improvisational in nature and emphasis on fast and complex foot oriented steps combined with fluid movements in the torso, as well as floor work. The major source in house dance movement stems directly from the music and the elements within the music such as Jazz, African, Latin, Soul, R&B, Funk, Hip Hop, etc. The other source is the people, the individuals and their characteristics, ethnicities, origin, etc. People from all walks of life partying under one roof provided exchanges of information (via body language) making house dancing a social dance.


In house dancing there is an emphasis on the subtle rhythms and riffs of the music with the footwork following closely (the more on-time one was with more than just the heavy beat, the more one’s moves and style were noticed, appreciated and even duplicated or modified) making it the main feature that distinguished house dancing from disco dancing and the foot stomping that emerged as the current form of dancing that is done to electronic dance music as part of the rave culture.

A lot of today’s house dancers began as b-boys (better known as breakdancers). “A lot of us started out as hip-hop monsters” says Marjory Smart, one of the most prominent female house dancers and someone with who I’ve witnessed. These heads came up in the late ’80s when the influence of hip-hop “made the movements more aggressive.” The different coasts brought with them different interpretations. 257816_10150198860533634_685448633_7213585_4993104_o1Chicago along with nearby Detroit was known for its harder “jacking” sound, with lots of techno and acid house influence. The East Coast had a lot of hip-hop influence, and the West Coast tended towards the more commercial music and had a lot of b-boying in their style. Eventually dancers were sharing, exchanging and inspiring one another from city to city. One of the basic movements of house dancing is the “Jack,” which is a movement of the torso in an almost rippling effect. Chicago is known for originating the Jack, which comes from the body grooving to the harder sounds of early Chicago house. A natural extension was a move called the “Farmer,” which looks like one is bouncing up and down while stomping their foot on the ground.

New York house dancers continued codifying these steps and had more terminology such as Loose Legs, the Train and the Skate. Monte, a Jamaican-American, mentions that Jamaican “skanking” informed a lot of these steps. It was a dance a lot of the Rastas were doing, and much of the heel-toe steps seen in house dance borrow from this form. Hands down, all agree that the greatest influence on what is now known as house dancing is African dance. maliksidibeThe footwork, the movements of the torso, and the polyrhythms played by the drummers in African dance were attuned to the music. It made you listen not just to the obvious top beat, but to all the other rhythms within the song. “Every form of dance has its roots in African dance” . “If I listed all my influences, it would take up a whole other article,” says Marjory, “but it was the Carribean rhythms that were my foundation.” Also with house dance, a lot of tap influence can be seen, not to mention the graceful movements and acrobatics of capoeira.Other countries have huge house scenes, with dancers from the US going overseas to share this dance style. Japan carries a huge following of house dancers, many who traveled in drove to New York to learn. Other countries with burgeoning scenes are France, Canada and Holland.


What is really interesting to see is a circle in which both b-boys and house dancers participate. A lot of the latter began as breakers, but the older they got, the more they appreciated the beauty of dancing instead of flashy crowd pleasing stunts. Many house dancers tend to be older than the b-boys. Some take a stern view and challenge: when the tricks and flips are done, can you dance? 


Another interesting observation was made with regards to female dancers. “Women used to dance like women,” Sekou says. “You used your strengths, your femininity, as opposed to now where the women feel like they have to dance like men in order to keep up with them.”Ultimately, there really is no strict definition to what is hip-hop dance or house dance. people call it “flowing free or free expression”, while i believe it’s about “freeing yourself as a human. House is a feeling and a culture. It’s not something you put on in the club and take off when you leave. House has its pulse, but it has to live in you.”

Mason Teller


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