About a month ago a dance acquaintance of mine posted on Facebook, “Grooving is suppose to be natural, it’s not a technique. Listen to the music.” When she posted it, I don’t believe she thought it would ignite a significant debate amongst dance practitioners, but that is exactly what it did. The foundation of the debate was predicated on the question of, “is grooving itself a technique?”
I believe this is an important topic that needs more discussion amongst social dance practitioners, specifically because dance practitioners within ballet, modern, theatrical jazz, etc. often use the word technique to describe valuable characteristics solely within their own genres; thus, marginalizing the valuable techniques within forms outside of the euro-centric paradigm (I just went to an audition where the choreographer said, “We’re going to learn hip-hop and some technique”…WHAT!?)
In regards to vernacular/street dance, notions of “ease” and “anyone can do it” from inside-and-outside the community create a fallacy that technique is non-existent within these genres (I talked about this before in a previous post, The Technical Dancer: Perception of Beauty Through the World of Dance).
As a result of this false ownership over the word technique (the T-word for short), I speculate that there is a repulsion towards the T-word from vernacular dance practitioners within the United States, especially amongst hip-hoppers. We as a community have subconsciously associated the T-word with euro-centrism, and thus exiled it from our vocabulary. What have we come up with instead? The G-word— groove. Groove seems to be the antonym of technique, the yin to technique’s yang. Since euro-centric dance forms want to claim technique, we claim groove. Here are some quotes from that debate I had with dancers on Facebook:
“the groove itself is just a feeling… there’s 0 techniques to just groove”
“you can do the exact same everything as another person, but you will look different, because of your body structure, natural energy level, rhythmic anticipation, etc. Such factors are too subjective and inconsistent to be considered technique… Groove is just not technical, that’s all.” Note that “body structure, energy level, rhythmic anticipation” are used here to describe idiosyncrasies of an individual that inform their groove, and thus their groove cannot be technical.
Many within the culture have established that groove and technique are two completely different things. However, it’s more complicated than that. In our attempt to dichotomize groove and technique, we perpetuate the euro-centric ownership over the latter. It’s important for hip-hop practitioners, and vernacular dance practitioners in general, to take ownership of the T-word as we legitimize our own art forms within our society. You know what, forget legitimization. We deserve to take ownership of the word because we have worked our asses off for it. We know what we do isn’t easy. We understand the hours-upon-hours of sessioning, cyphering, practicing alone, taking classes, battling, sweating, crying, bleeding, bruising, and all the other “-ing’s”. We’ve put the work in just like any other form to say that what we do is technical. Show up and own that!
So, is grooving natural and/or is grooving technical? To me, the answer is yes to both. Here are some definitions from Mirriam-Webster and three reasons why:
Groove: a pronounced enjoyable rhythm; an established routine or habit
Natural: coming instinctively to a person
Technique: a way of carrying out a particular task, especially the execution or performance of an artistic work or a scientific procedure.
1. Something that is natural can also be technical
I feel like this is obvious, but still needs to be mentioned. We walk. It’s natural… now. There was a certain time it wasn’t, but we learned techniques in order to accomplish walking. If you want to walk backwards, you’re going to walk toe-to-heel instead of heel-to-toe. Walking regular, backwards, sideways, or on your hands may feel more natural than it is for others, but that doesn’t expel the fact that there is still a technique to it.
2. We are unique, but we’re also the same
Scientists have established that on a molecular level human beings are 99% the same. As unique and precious as you are, you’re also very much the same as everyone else.
I believe the spiritual nature of groove is completely unique. However the way it manifests is unique on a level, and then it’s also shared on another level because of the similar DNA that resides in each of us. That shared commonality, again, is the technical aspect to me.
In hip-hop social dance, the shared commonality is the bounce of the body. Each individual’s unique characteristics falls underneath a certain type of bounce. If you’re finding your natural groove, but not finding a bounce within your dance, then you’re not carrying out the communal technique.
2b. Case and Point: Babies
Grooving to music is a feeling, a natural response to the auditory impulses that converse with one’s soul. The most quintessential groove exists within babies (for your viewing entertainment, here’s a great compilation of dancing babies…). Every baby has their own unique synchronicity with the music they’re listening to.
Each baby also has technique. If you watch the video, you’ll notice that there are similarities in the way each of these miniature human beings accomplish the task of interacting with the music. The groove and the technique are both present, and both are natural.
My last thought is that hip-hop culture has a tendency to glorify the individual above all else. As beautiful as this mindset is, hip-hop will never reach it’s fullest potential with it. The glorification of groove over technique is the foregrounding of the individual over the community. It is not until we embrace our technique— our shared experiences of accomplishing things— that we will unlock the true impact we can have on each other and our world.