2018 NASSS Annual Conference
Sport Soundtrack: Sport, Music, & Culture

Mike Scanlon

“What’s the message behind those hard hits?”: Hip hop culture as described by competitive high school dancers

While a large body of research focuses on how youth engage with lyrical aspects of hip hop, research on how hip hop fits into youth dance culture is less common. Understanding how youth participating in competitive dance conceptualize hip hop can inform research that is faithful to young people’s experiences, and encourage relevant and culturally sustaining practices among educators and other youth workers. As part of semi-structured interviews with high school-age dancers on hip hop teams in the Pacific Northwest (n=46, majority Asian American, majority girls/women), we asked how they would describe hip hop culture, and to identify outsiders’ misconceptions about hip hop culture. Relative to other forms of dance, dancers described hip hop as versatile, flexible, and accessible, demonstrating hip hop’s status as a mainstream and nearly universal form of expression. Dancers discussed hip hop’s complicated relationship with low culture (‘ratchet’, ‘thug’), considered how aggressive aspects of hip hop are embodied in dance, and framed ethnicity and gender within hip hop. These open-ended responses reflect the intersection of hip hop, movement, and individual expression, and illustrate how youth who are ‘doing’ hip hop as artists and athletes are conceptualizing and situating their practice.