You hear a great beat. The familiar pulse of something like, say, the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” You want to move. You ought to groove. But you’re not sure what to do with your hands and feet. And, frankly, you feel a little self-conscious about it. What now?
“Come to my class!” suggests Sokeo Ros, director of the hip-hop program at the dance company Everett. Students without experience are as welcome as those with it, and Sokeo offers this advice: “You’re gonna feel weird. You’re gonna feel awkward. You’re out of your comfort zone. But at Everett, your being out of your comfort zone is what we want. And we approach everybody with open arms.”
Sokeo considers dance an opportunity for growth, and believes that, “the more uncomfortable you feel, the better you will get at shedding your own skin.” In the supportive, non-judgmental environment of Everett, students who don’t know a two-step or an eight-count may – with time, practice and passion – find themselves busting a move at the biannual Hip-Hop Blowout. The showcase caps off each semester, the culmination of choreography and confidence built up class by class.
This month’s installment of the Hip-Hop Blowout features dancers as young as ten. It’s a family-friendly affair set to popular, recognizable tunes, with original choreography by Sokeo and members of Case Closed!, Everett’s own hip-hop troupe. Sokeo started Case Closed! in 2004 as a way to empower youth through dance and theater, and in turn bring their creativity and positivity to the community via education and performance. He himself experienced how affirming such a process could be when he first found Everett.
Sokeo came to the US as a refugee, after his parents fled war-torn Cambodia. Growing up in a rough neighborhood over-run with drugs, he feared he was destined for failure. He started break dancing in his teens and, on a whim, attended an open break dance session at Everett. After the class, Everett co-founder Dorothy Jungels invited him to participate in a show at local schools. Sokeo discovered that he loved performing and stuck with it, ultimately joining Everett’s professional company and touring the country.
“I feel like hip-hop saved my life. The arts saved my life. I hung out with a lot of gang bangers and friends who were not going the right route. This was the only thing that kept me going,” Sokeo reveals. Since teaching classes and directing Case Closed!, he has learned that a number of his students face similar challenges. “Hip-hop helps them with that because hip-hop also came from a struggle, from an impoverished neighborhood, from this community. And it became something so much more.”
A sweaty dance session can be highly therapeutic, Sokeo explains. “For that moment that we’re on the stage, whether we’re rehearsing or performing, we forget all about the trials and tribulations that surround us. We get to be free. We just get to release. That is something that is very powerful in and of itself. And afterwards we feel so much better.”
Sokeo reminds his students that the skills they learn in dance apply to other fields as well. He says, “The stage is yours. You want to be a doctor? You’re performing surgery: that is your stage and you do it to the best of your ability. You want to be a lawyer or a teacher? Same thing. That is your stage and you own that stage to the best of your ability and you do that 1,000% whether you’re performing for one person or one million people. Always the same amount of energy.”
Get a jolt of that energy at the Hip-Hop Blowout. Consider taking a class. And the next time you wonder, as A Tribe Called Quest might, “Can I kick it?” The answer is yes, you can. And, you should.
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