By Lesley Mealor / Edited by Samantha Bellerose, B.Ed, Dip.Dance (Performing Arts)
If your child is wanting to make the hip hop dance team at school, join a local dance crew, or simply feel more confident in their dance skills, practicing hip hop at home is a sure-fire way to level up. While your dancer might die of embarrassment if they saw you bust a move, there are still ways you can help and encourage your dancer in hip hop!
The best way to help your dancer improve at hip hop is to practice at home! Games that develop personal style are a fun way to work on individual movement quality, and exercises that focus on the basics of hip hop will help with consistency.
Depending on the style of hip hop your child is studying, you may want to amend some of these exercises, but I’ve tried to include a wide variety of skills that are beneficial to many hip hop and funk styles. If you’re unsure what styles your child is learning in class, check out our article covering the many styles of hip hop and its origins, and be sure to ask your child’s teacher for more clarification!
Games For Developing Personal Style
One of the most important parts of hip hop is self-expression. While sometimes in hip hop crews you will see uniformity, all hip hop dancers strive to be unique in their approach to movement.
Developing your personal style takes time, thought, and a willingness to try and try again. Here are a few fun games that can help young hip-hop dancers begin to learn what their own individual swagger looks like! These games are most effective (and fun) when played with friends, so invite some dance classmates and get started!
DANCE GAME 1 – HIP HOP COPY CAT
Copy Cat can be played with as few as two dancers, or with a whole group. The goal is to observe another person’s style, mimic it, and adapt it to your own style.
Similar to tap dance, hip-hop is a genre based in community, so trading steps is part of the history of the culture.
For this game, you will need only space and music. For some kid-friendly hip-hop music, check out our Top 20 Hip Hop Songs For Kids list!
How To Play Hip Hop Copy Cat
First, choose a piece of music. Dancer A comes up with a short phrase of hip hop choreography – think 8 counts. Dancer A will perform the phrase over and over, so that Dancer B can learn it.
Then, when Dancer B has learned it the way Dancer A performed it, they will dance together, aiming for both dancers to dance as similarly as possible.
Next, Dancer B will change however many aspects of the phrase that they want, into something of their own. Maybe this means a level change, or changing a movement from sharp to smooth. Be creative!
Once Dancer B is satisfied with their version, Dancer A will learn that version as well. This process can continue many times, with the phrase continuously morphing into something new.
Things to consider during this game are levels which you can introduce on cards or a large dice that you can write on:
- Levels – can I do this move lower?
- tempo – how fast or slow can I do this move?
- energy – is it possible to perform this step with more or less energy?
- direction – can I change the direction this step travels?
- Dynamics – Can I make the movements flow or become percussive?
- Locomotion – Can I move whilst doing these moves?
DANCE GAME 2 – HIP HOP HOUSE PARTY
House Party is a musical chairs type game that involves as few as two people. The caregiver or parent in the house can serve as the moderator. The goal of this game is to practice different styles of hip hop. Be sure to select styles your child is familiar with!
For this game, you will need a large space free of clutter, a way to play music, and index cards. To set up the game, create 4 “houses” in 4 corners of the room. Each house will have a different theme, or style of hip hop.
Your child can help by creating the signs for each house. House 1 is Social Dances, House 2 is Breaking, House 3 is Waving, and House 4 is Popping.
You can choose any type of hip hop or funk styles, these are just some examples to start.
Create flashcards with different skills for each house. Try to keep the amount of cards the same for each house.
Social Dance House
- The Funky Chicken
- The Dougie
- The Running Man
- Six Step
- Knee Drop
- Hip Twist
- Right Arm Wave
- Hand Wave
- Body Wave
How to Play House Party
Once you have created the houses and the index cards for the skills at each house, it’s time to play! Play a song and have the participants walk in a circle around the room, passing “through” each house until you yell “House Party!”
When the dancers hear that cue, they are to stop at the closest house, pick up a card, and perform the skill. Allow the dancers to dance for as long as you like, and when you’re ready to change it up, yell “Let’s go!” Then, the dancers put the used card back in the pile and continue walking in the circle.
Play until everyone has had a chance to perform all the skills in each house. In this way, everyone stays in and gets to practice.
If you did want to play this as a competitive game, you could take away one card from one house at the end of each round that was used so there are fewer and fewer cards and dancers are eliminated, or make rules such as you can’t go to the same house consecutively.
Exercises & Games For Practicing The Basics
Hip hop dance includes such a wide variety of styles that it’s nearly impossible to say what skills are the most important to master, but two that come to mind are isolations and bouncing. Almost all hip hop and funk styles incorporate isolations in some form, and the ability to bounce in various ways to different kinds of music is actually harder than it looks.
The game Isolate to the Beat will help dancers understand their timing as well as their isolations, and exercises involving repetition of different bounces will get that musicality into their bodies.
DANCE GAME 3 – ISOLATE TO THE BEAT
This game can be played with one dancer and a parent, or multiple dancers. This example will use a parent and a dancer. First, the parent will call out a body part to isolate, like “Shoulders” and clap out a beat (1 2 3 4). Then, as the parent repeats the clapped beat, the dancer performs the isolation to that beat (shoulders can alternate up, down, up, down).
Experiment with timing – instead of a steady beat, try changing it up (1 2 & a 3 & 4), vary the body parts that are being isolated, and have fun! Some isolations to consider are hips, head, shoulder, feet, and ribs. If playing with multiple players, change out who is giving the beat and who is dancing so everyone gets a turn.
Talk to any hip hop teacher around and they will tell you the one thing you need to have in your hip hop tool box is the ability to bounce. Practicing bouncing is one of the easiest skills to work on, and is instrumental in helping dancers find their musicality. Two commonly taught bounces in hip hop are the drop bounce and the East Coast stomp.
The drop bounce is very simple to execute – simply bend at the knees on count 1, then straighten up on the “and” count, continuously bouncing with the accent on the downbeat, or the “1 2 3 4”. The upper body is relaxed and arms can move in a variety of ways.
East Coast Stomp
The East Coast Stomp is actually a variation on the drop bounce that allows the dancer to travel while not losing their groove. To perform the East Coast Stomp, pick up the right foot while bending the knee on count 1. Step down on the right foot on the “and”, then shift your weight to the right foot and pick up the left foot on count 2. Step down on the left foot on the “and”. You are essentially walking while doing a drop bounce.
The upper body during the East Coast Stomp rocks forward on count 1, creasing at the hip and leaning towards the leg that is lifted. The arms swing out on count 1, and in on the “and” count.
To practice both the drop bounce and the East Coast Stomp together, find a piece of music with a steady beat. Start by practicing 8 drop bounces in a row – that would be counts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8. Then, shift to 8 counts of the East Coast Stomp by immediately picking up the right foot on the next 1 count.
Pro-tip – you must finish your last drop bounce with your knees straight in order for your weight to be in the right place to start the East Coast Stomp.
Developing a personal style is just as important as perfecting the basics in hip hop, and with these exercises and games, your child is sure to improve with practice!