In the early 1970s, new “funk style” dances were being developed by urban dancers in California. Locking (created by Don Campbell in the late 1960s) and popping (created by Sam Solomon) were two of the first and most popular. Others included hitting, electric boogaloo, roboting, strutting, etc. On the East Coast, break dancing was developing. Ultimately, the media (probably starting in the early 1980s) starting putting the West and East Coast styles together under the “hip-hop dance” or “break dancing” umbrellas. But each each Coast had its own common elements, and then each dance had its own distinct moves and stylizations.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, I loved to go to the Fisherman’s Wharf and watch and attempt to emulate the amazing street dancers. And it was from watching them that I began to isolate and use hard muscle contractions to create accents and layering options that I felt suited belly dance perfectly. These were movements that weren’t happening in belly dance; an individual dancer might have her signature isolation or two, but that was typically all. I began using rib and pelvic locks; circles could be isolated into squares; arms could be isolated into staccato arm waves; etc. Immediately, I could see the potential, and I tried to go see the urban dancers as often as I could. Later on, inspired by a performance by The Gentlemen of Production, I studied with Walter Freeman — more on that in a future blog post.

Early on, I began breaking down my mother’s format for myself in the terms of the classical dance world. And as I started developing my own format in 1979, I already had a strong structure developed in my mind on which to build. I was able to make decisions about whether to use soft or hard muscle contractions. I was able to accent moments in the music and layer more artistically; I might accent the percussion with hard contractions using my hips while accenting a violin with soft contractions in my arms and upperbody. (My Dances for the Sultan video (1988) really shows how these isolations came into play as I had been incorporating them in my performing for over a decade by that point. )


Image: The Gentlemen of Production, Oakland, CA