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Joanne Zimbler
Hip hop
United States
Boulder, CO

Seeking Friendship in the Front Range - Hip Hop in Boulder, Colorado

by Joanne Zimbler
October 25, 2014
1035 Pearl Street
Boulder, CO 80302
Growing up in a suburban middle class neighborhood in the 70's many little girls, myself included, eagerly obliged when our parents signed us up for dance classes, the ballet, tap, and, jazz combo usually. Us girls in the neighborhood studied with a dance teacher who came of age generations before, bringing to class the popular music of her day. Mrs. Mallory was a throwback to another era and we lamented that she wouldn't allow us to dance to any of the funky disco music of the day, like from Saturday Night Fever, which was so perfect for dancing. But we submitted to our elder and her bygone ethos and values and studied technique and honed our skills so that when the end of the school year came, we'd make our parents proud in our sequined tutus and smiling faces as Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole crooned along while our feet flailed and shined in their polished new tap shoes.

After this experience, in college, when I discovered modern dance, I was confused by its refusal to conform to structure and convention. I was a product of my bourgeois upbringing with all of its fealty to convention and safety. I believed in "the tyranny of rhyme" and thought that the aesthetics of dance were achieved through strict technique, skill, and years of training. I learned to appreciate it, but never loved it like I did ballet. Likewise, when people began insisting that hip-hop was now some form of dance deserving the respect of more illustrious art forms, I rolled my eyes at the notion. And the music itself. What did that music even reference that a suburban Culture Club loving, high-kicking drill team member like me could ever understand?

Later, living in Los Angeles with a best friend whose life revolves around hip hop, I grudgingly came to accept the fact that, well, it existed. I enjoyed watching my friend compete in hip hop dance shows and conceded that at least there was modicum of skill involved. But still, the music - I don't get it. Driving on the freeway, it's Radiohead, Tame Impala, or some other edgy band that I rock out to. Hip hop - I'm not sure I even know of any hip hop songs that came after LL Cool Jay's universal party anthem "Mama Said Knock You Out", circa '92.

So out and about in Boulder one night, searching high and low for new connections since I'm new in town, using the one I have to try to parlay into 87 more, I was feeling very open to new possibility. Embracing the notion that it's out of my comfort zone where change happens, I was ready for anything. But when my friend explained that the tequila joint we were having drinks in was about to turn into a hip hop dance party, I started plotting our exit and had to admit that that was just too far south of my comfort zone. I had no interest. And I was trying to meet new people, peers ideally, not some twenty something college students who knew nothing about the poetry of Pearl Jam or Nirvana or the awesome rock tunes of my day.

I'll chalk it up to the tequila and good conversation that the escape plot -completely escaped me. We continued to chat, well yell was more like it, over the increasingly loud music when minutes later, with a slight buzz, I looked up and noticed that the place was filling up - and I was feeling good. I heard someone say it was Notorious B.I.G. that the DJ was spinning as I simultaneously had the thought " I kind of like this." The rhythm was solid, the beats were popping and I - was bouncing in my seat?! Wait a minute, what? But, this song, it's - fun! Who knew? Definitely not me? What was happening? Still, I wasn't ready to get down there all night so when my friend suggested that we walk over to the dance floor, I thought fine, just for a minute. "But then," I insisted, "we have to head over to a grown up place."

Minutes later, everything would change. Steve, my buddy, started dancing. I started to move a little to the music too but said to him "you just can't dance to this kind of music." I felt silly, like I was just copying moves from dance videos, moves that came neither organically or smoothly. I felt like a fraud, like I was somehow appropriating something from a culture that wasn't mine and I was mocking it by dancing in some stereotypical fashion. This dance vocabulary wasn't in my repertoire. But why not? I am a dancer and normally can move to anything with a beat.

Why was I resisting? Hip hop is so ubiquitous and enjoyed by so many. Why was I being such a fuddy-duddy? Am I really this white, this old? Am I Mrs. Mallory? Was her rigidity, insistence on "Chattanooga Choo Choo the same as mine for "Smells Like Teen Spirit"? It may have been this idea of becoming my girlhood's 70 year old dance instructor, it may have been the tequila, or it may just have been that the music was infectious and I was just now figuring it out . But suddenly, somewhere, in the pretense and ruminations, something clicked and my body just - got it. I mean really got it. I was breaking it down. I was a B-girl, I was kicking it old school, new school, dropping it like it was hot. I was J-Lo as a fly girl, I was Nicki Minaj. I was on fire. And I don't mean that I was so good at it mind you. But I felt it, really felt it, felt like I was good and it didn't matter if I wasn't. I may have been a fool out there but I know at least my energy was powerful because at least three of the hippest dudes in that place spent a good portion of their nights dancing with me.

And the funniest part is that I did meet people - appropriate people too, peers who I could actually be friends with. They were as pumped as I was about the energy and there was a shared enthusiasm in the room that I'd not experienced in years and we bonded. It was a discovery I never expected. Opening a door in myself to let in new people, I've unexpectedly exposed myself to all kinds of new interests, new possibilities. I may have been on my way to becoming a Mrs. Mallory, but a move was all it took to kick my butt out of it's safe place on the couch, and out shaking on the dance floor to my new favorite Kendrick Lamar.
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