Trae Turner
April 1, 2015

Music for hip hop/urban contemporary

Turner’s choreography
is influenced by jazz and street styles.

There are certain old-school devotees who argue that today’s hip-hop dance is so far removed from its original b-boying context that it shouldn’t be called hip hop. Trae Turner categorizes his classes as “hip hop/urban contemporary,” even though he doesn’t quite buy the argument. “I’ve had debates with people about it,” he says, laughing. Nevertheless, “urban contemporary” is an apt description of Turner’s movement, which he imbues with elements of street and classic jazz, in addition to drawing from house, krump and Chicago footwork. “There could be a pencil turn or a quick little rond coming through,” he says of his class combinations at Chicago’s Lou Conte Dance Studio. “I’m always talking about being in first or a low second.”

Turner’s greatest challenge is convincing beginner students to invest in building a base of correct hip-hop technique. “Dancers have a preconceived notion that hip hop/urban contemporary is easy,” he says. Many newcomers want to jump right into freestyling and pulling off moves they’ve seen on YouTube or in music videos. But first, he says, they need to master the basics. After warm-up, he often puts on a new song just for popping, asking students to drill the foundational move. “Take the next five minutes and focus on your popping,” he tells them. “Just pop using your chest. OK, now use your arms only.” Over time, they work their way up to freestyling.

Once students reach his advanced classes, though, Turner’s task is the opposite: to help dancers relax about getting it right. He works with them on expanding their emotional comfort zones and becoming more dynamic performers and storytellers. “They have trouble finding themselves in the movement. Instead of making it something, they’ll turn my choreography into steps,” he says. He never doubts dancers’ abilities to move beyond such challenges. In fact, he’s known and beloved by students for lingering up to 45 minutes after class to offer individual critiques. “I’m there to get them past their plateaus and problem areas.” DT

Artist: Iamsu

Track: “Float”

“Iamsu has a very melodic style. ‘Float’ is a song about how he adores someone; you don’t often hear rappers talk about love. I really get frustrated when a dancer can be aggressive or arrogant, but on the opposite end, they can’t be emotional.”



Artist: Azealia Banks

Track: “BBD”

“Banks’ arrogance [as a rapper] can be translated into choreography in many different ways. She is so Harlem, and I’d want to keep that hardness by making the movement big with strong hits and quick weight changes. I’d incorporate some Chicago footwork for the chorus, then get grimy with street jazz for the verses.”



Track: “Grown Woman”

“This song tells a complex story. I would teach this as a combo in an advanced class to help students take their personalities to another place.”




Artist: Childish Gambino

Track: “V. 3005 (Beach Picnic Version)”

“In my opinion, this is the best song of 2014. Great lyrics, melodies are infectious and you can’t deny the emotion. This is a good song to use for stretching in the classroom.”



Photo (top) by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

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