York’s dance program adds hip-hop course

York’s Dance Department, well-known for its innovative and diversified program, is extending its range with a brand new course on urban hip hop. Taught by dynamic dance artist and York alumna, Akua Acheampong, the course will be offered this summer for the first time, in the Faculty of Fine Arts.

Hip hop is a popular urban youth culture closely associated with rap music and the style and fashions of African-American urban communities. Some of the key dancers who made hip hop and urban what they are today are Run DMC, KRS1, Biggy Smalls, NAS, Missy Elliott, TLC and Aaliyah.

Along with teaching steps and creating dances, the new course examines the phenomenon of urban hip-hop dance through both practical and theoretical means, including the dance form’s cultural impact on society: movies, fashion, advertising, sports, choreography and music. Rounding out the syllabus is a presentation of group projects, readings, films and guest speakers.

Hip-hop is a dance form that can be highly athletic, requiring both coordination and control. Acheampong hopes to be able to bring in a DJ for at least part of the course, in order to expose students to a more authentic “club” sound.

“I will be teaching choreography influenced by commercial dance,” explained Acheampong. “Students will be exposed to my original moves, styles and interpretation of hip hop. I will help students appreciate hip-hop context, give it an aesthetic sense, and make it stage-appropriate by using a safe approach.”

Born and raised in Canada of Ghanaian and West African descent, Acheampong said her dance career started in her mother’s womb. “Dance has always been part of my life,” she said. “Even before I was born, and then while being carried on my mother’s back, as most traditional African women do with their babies, I was already being exposed to, and inheriting into my soul, the rhythms that came from my mother’s walk and heartbeat.”

Although Acheampong’s mother was most influential in her dance studies, it was her older brother Boachie who sparked her interest in urban hip-hop dance culture. Happily embracing the diversity of her artistic discipline, she pursues both classical western dance and non-theatrical, popular dance forms rooted in her heritage.

Acheampong received her master’s degree in dance from York in 2003, completing her teacher’s eligibility for the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) in the same year. Previously, as an undergraduate at the University of Western Ontario, she was head choreographer for the university’s African Students Association ensemble. She also trained at the Canadian Conservatory of Dance, Ontario Ballet School and Pia Bouman School for Ballet & Creative Movement.

Always community-minded, Acheampong has served as assistant artistic director of Culture Shock Toronto, a youth outreach and hip-hop organization. Last year, she helped pioneer She’s Got that Vibe, another youth outreach program which encourages young girls to build on their self-esteem through hip-hop dance.

Acheampong currently teaches full-time at the Elia Middle School in Toronto. Concurrently, she is participating in RAD’s certificate program in ballet teaching and learning artistic direction at the Canadian Conservatory of Dance, where she began her ballet studies in 1986 as one of their first 25 students.

Penelope Reed-Doob, Chair of York’s Dance Department, hails Achaempong’s urban/hip-hop course as an innovative new voice within the department. “Contemporary dance has always been a strong feature of dance education at York,” she said. “This new course is an exciting development that allows us to extend the dance experience, building on our burgeoning world-dance program and bringing in popular dance culture as an exciting new dimension of our program.”

The urban hip-hop dance course begins today and continues until July 29. Open to all York University students, classes take place Monday and Wednesday evenings from 7 to 9:30pm. Applications for enrolment will be accepted until June 30.

This article was submitted to YFile by Mary-Lou Schagena in the Faculty of Fine Arts.