Hip Hop Moves Bond University Students and Area Teens

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There’s ballet, there’s tap and then there’s hip hop dance. All are artistic expression; just one is more likely to excite and engage young people gathered on a Friday night. It’s that eager acceptance and openness to communication that convinced a group of University of Scranton students that their hip hop dance routines would be a good vehicle for a service project aimed at reaching area youth.

The University students involved belong to a campus club called Urban Beats. The purpose of the club is to celebrate hip hop culture and to entertain and engage the student body and community through hip hop dance, notable for its improvisational style and flamboyant moves. In fact, according to the 2002 documentary film “The Freshest Kids: A History of the B-Boy,” originally the dance form was known as “boing,” as in the sound a spring makes when popping.

Hip hop dance is flashy, it’s fun and above all, it’s cool. And that’s what makes it a great way to build rapport with image-obsessed pre-teens and teens, according to Brian McGinley, a founder of the service project. A 2012 graduate of Scranton, McGinley is now pursuing a master’s degree in environmental science at Drexel University in Philadelphia. However, he was back at United Neighborhood Center’s UNC) Progressive Childcare Center on Olive Street on a recent Friday night to check up on the project he helped initiate in 2011 – and to “bust” a few dance moves with the kids.

“I’ve had some troubles in my family life and where I lived myself,” McGinley said. “So when I came to UNC as a sophomore to perform with Urban Beats, I found the interaction amazing. We were talking to the kids, seeing them happy and having fun . . . so in early fall 2011, I knew we had to find a contact at UNC to see if we could make this more permanent.”

Through the University’s Center for Service and Social Justice,  Urban Beats was able to connect with United Neighborhood Centers and establish a monthly session to perform a bit and then teach the kids some dance moves interspersed with positive messages. The monthly sessions were promptly deluged by eager would-be dancers, so Urban Beats was glad to make the program an every-other-Friday tradition.

“It’s a great physical activity,” said Dana Ramalho ’14, a Scranton counseling and human services major from Pittstown, N.J., and president of the club. “Some kids have issues and they have trouble letting go of them, but we laugh and joke and they start to relax and have fun. We just want them to smile.”

“The kids embrace it. They love it. When we came back for the first time this year, we found them still doing dances they learned last year. They were so excited to see us again,” said Anastasia Kirsch ’13 an exercise science major from Malvern.

On a recent Friday, hip hop showed its unique ability to form instant bonds between the students and the kids. Seven-year-old Allen Duverge was goofing off before the session, spinning on his head, walking on his hands and flipping over so easily you could almost hear the “boing” which was hip hop’s early trade name. His moves did not go unnoticed. Brian Fischer ’13, a management major from Williamsport, approached Allen with a big smile and a mock challenge to a freestyle dance competition, colloquially referred to in hip hop as a “battle.” Fischer encouraged Allen, high-fiving him as the two performed acrobatic break-dancing moves that had everyone present cheering. By the time they were finished, all the kids swarmed the Urban Beats wanting to learn the moves.

It was a Friday night and all was well as the kids engaged in a healthy physical activity led by positive young role models. As Fischer said, “It’s really rewarding and we teach them life lessons when we can.”