These shoes weren’t made for dancing…
|When you think of traditional types of shoes worn in dance, which ones immediately spring to mind: ballet pumps? Tap shoes? Clogs? There are certain types of shoes that are intrinsically linked to particular dance styles. Shoes are important to dancers because of what they allow the dancer to do; they can also reflect or represent the culture and style of the dance.
You're very unlikely to see a ballet dancer performing in Reebok Classics, and neither would you see somebody krumping in tap shoes. Dance shoes have specific purposes, and trainers are now an accepted type of dance shoe, just as hip hop dance, and all its styles and sub-genres, is now a mainstream form of dance. Hip hop is now over 30 years old and is established as one of the most significant and important influences in popular entertainment.
You might have seen acts such as Diversity on Britain’s Got Talent (they're also due to feature in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics); the shoes that these performers wear is crucial to the performance of their dance style, just as the shoes worn by Adam Garcia allow us to see and hear his tap dancing.
Where did hip hop dance come from?
||Hip hop began in the early 1970s in New York. B-boys and b-girls performed breaking, popping and locking to break beats (a sampling of breaks such a drum loop). The history of breakers is featured in the film The Freshest Kids: A History of the B-Boy. The dances (mainly improvised) were performed in a variety of indoor locations but generally on the street (with a boombox and a large sheet of cardboard or linoleum). Identity was a crucial element; not only did the breakers need to dance but they had to look the part. |
The choice of trainers (sneakers) included Converse All-Stars and Pro-Ked 69ers; these were cheap and stylish, although they offered little protection and support to the feet of the performer. With the advent of MTV and music videos, the choice of trainers for hip hop dancers became influenced by popular music and fashion. My Adidas was Run DMC’s 1986 paean to their Adidas Superstars (with their nearly indestructible rubberised toecap), while Schooly D ordered everybody to Put Your Filas On. The Rocksteady Crew demonstrated how to dance and wear trainers with style, and even punk svengali Malcolm Mclaren got in on the act with Buffalo Gals. Trainers could represent your crew, your style of performance, and how fashionable you were.
How important are trainers to hip hop dance? Can you pike without your Nike?
|The actual dance moves for hip hop were created by people wearing trainers. Hip hop is street dance and one of the few genres of dance that requires the use of non-dance shoes for performance. Trainers are an integral part of hip hop dance. The weight, shape and flexibility of the trainer allow the dancer to perform specific moves and styles. There are two types of trainer used in hip hop dance: the sports trainer, with a continuous sole (sold in sports shops) and the dance trainer, which has a reinforced rubber toe and a split sole. A split sole makes the shoe very flexible, allowing the foot to arch and point; a continuous sole doesn’t allow the foot to stretch.
I feel like I’m dancing on air (Jordans)
Trainers are primarily designed for outdoor sport activities, for pounding tarmac and pavements, and to be able to survive the abrasive nature of ‘the outdoors’. The compound used to make the sole is hard and dense. The continuous sole would not allow the foot to be pointed like a ballet dancer in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. Trainers have shock absorption; with thick soles, the hip hop dancer is insulated from the floor and is less likely to feel a heavy landing from flips and jumps. You wouldn’t be able to tap dance like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in a pair of Pumas.
Trainers have spring and power, allowing the dancer to make dynamic, acrobatic movements. The heaviness of the trainer (when compared with other dance shoes) provides a weight and balance for the dancer to show styles such as popping and locking. Trainers have a lot of grip, and will stick to a smooth floor, so you might find it hard to do Michael Jackson’s moonwalk in your Air Force 1s. These shoes allow the dancer to use different parts of their feet in their routines, including standing on their toes.
Hip hop you don’t stop…
You can see lots of trainers being worn with style and panache by UK hip hop dance crews and performers. As well as launching Diversity, Britain’s Got Talent (ITV1) has introduced Flawless and George Sampson into the mainstream. After winning the second series of the show, George went on to star in the West End hip hop musical, Into the Hoods. Zoo Nation produced this show and the follow-up, Some Like It Hip Hop. Another UK hip hop crew to mention is Boy Blue Entertainment, who incorporate a huge variety of hip hop dance styles with a dazzling display of footwear into works like Pied Piper.
Television has provided lots of opportunities to see exciting UK hip hop talent: the last two series of Got to Dance (Sky One) have been won by two hip hop dance acts, Akai and Chris and Wes, and So You Think You Can Dance (BBC One) has showcased some exciting hip hop dance choreography and performers, such as Tommy Franzen, doing his thing in trainers.
Performing Arts Subject Advisor