ADF Hip Hop Class
  • Photo by Sarah Ewald
  • Instructor Jimmy Morrow observes his dancers’ steppin’ skills.

The experience of shadowing dancer Kat Folckomer as she attended classes made me curious about the other classes offered during ADF. I chose three more classes to attend and observe. As ADF asks of its students, I chose two technique classes and one theory class.

I arrived at the Durham School of the Arts’ Upper Studio for the technique class called “Slosh and Fall: Moving with Weight, Clarity and Ease.”

Instructor Abby Yager addressed the intriguing title, telling me that the class “addresses the question of weight [and] how to use gravity to your advantage to move with ease and efficiency.”

“It allows us to access maximum movement potential within the body and through space,” she continued, adding that her class examines the mechanics, or the “how,” of dance, and not just the “what.”

Yager led her class in stretches, instructing students to “get a little bit more snake-y” in their movements. The dancers moved in spirals and arcs, while Yager told them to pay attention to the movements’ nuances.

Her students incorporated yoga moves as well. They bounced on the balls of their feet as they raised their hips upward, posed in the downward dog position.

“Real work comes from getting out of your body’s way,” Yager said, invoking a comparison to the task of childbirth.

After warm-ups, it was time for the choreography. Students performed the routine in groups while Yager issued instructions for perfecting deliberate movements.

“[Move] almost like you could slice the space and the room would fall apart,” Yager said.

The next technique class, on hip-hop, promised to be energetic. Back on Duke’s East Campus, it’s held in the Baldwin building’s auditorium—or, as one student referred to it, “Club Baldwin.” Dancers first warmed up stretching in a circle, swinging their arms and rolling their shoulders. Unlike the other classes I’ve visited, many dancers here wore street shoes to dance in.

This summer is instructor Jimmy Morrow’s fourth visit to ADF since 1999, but his first stint as a teacher. He’s part of the Hollins/ADF MFA program, and finish next summer. His diverse dance background includes jazz, hip-hop and ballet companies.

Morrow is a particularly gregarious teacher—he even asks me if I’d like to participate. Morrow jokes around with his students, once invoking “Cotton Eye Joe” when the dancers get out of step with a certain sequence, and exaggeratedly imitating their missteps for comic effect.

“Shall we go to the steppin’?” Morrow asked after a water break. They then practiced a high-energy routine, with one section dedicated to each dancer moving as they saw fit when Morrow told them alternately to “break it down” and “work it out.” This is a calculated decision on Morrow’s part.

“I stress individual style, which means I begin with teaching my style,” Morrow says, explaining that his is a combination of every street dance with which he’s made contact. “As the dancers learn this, I ask them to develop their own style.”

Watching the various dancers “break it down,” it’s clear that they’re venturing out on their own.

Dancers also danced a routine in pairs. While Morrow demonstrated steps, some students practiced with him. When everyone had gotten it, Morrow added some music. Wanting to go “old ’90s,” he chose a remix of Deee-Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart.”

“I’m not concerned with my dancers to look like me. I want them to use the way I move to explore and discover their own individual voice,” Morrow says.

Morrow also wants to impress on his students that hip-hop is not just a product of their own generation.

“It’s important that the dancers in my class know that this movement wasn’t created on MTV, VH1 or even BET, for that matter. It sprouted from a small seed in the Boogie Down, and its flourished into a global contagion,” Morrow says.