IF YOU want to keep your children out of trouble, try enrolling them for hip-hop lessons. This street dancing might once have glorified a bad-ass gangsta lifestyle, but now it’s so mainstream that even young girls at the upmarket Waterfall Country Estate in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs are taking lessons. Grateful parents find it keeps their kids fit and busy, gives them a goal and might just give them a career.
It’s also causing some parental headaches — not from the music, but from making plans to relocate to Los Angeles for a month so their daughters can take up scholarships with a famous dance studio. Eight Gauteng girls have won scholarships to the Millennium Dance Complex, which has trained Justin Bieber, Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez.
Their dance teacher and choreographer, Corlanie Botha, is almost a veteran at 24, but she’s young and funky enough for the kids to love her. “What makes me a bit different from other dance teachers is that I live for hip-hop. I dress like a hip-hopper, I walk like a hip-hopper and the kids say I’m crazy. I explain it to them in a very emotional way so they can understand where I’m coming from,” she says.
Dressing like a hip-hopper means red or purple T-shirts worn with baggy camouflage trousers or jeans with cool prints on them, or loud polka-dot shirts topped by a blazer.
Her hair is shaved on one side and worn longer on the other, matched with weird earrings and shocking-pink lipstick. “I really play the part,” she says.
Botha thinks hip-hop is so popular because of its exuberant freedom. “There are so many styles and every style has a different personality and character, so kids can really find themselves. It’s challenging because you get to learn new styles all the time and you can discover your personality through hip-hop,” she says.
Botha started dancing when she was seven, took to hip-hop when she was 12 and began teaching it at 19. She was studying sport science when the owner of a tennis club gave her the space to start dance classes. She teaches at the Studio Seven Gym in Waterfall and at her own Pulse dance studio in Pretoria.
“A few years ago dance teachers who only taught ballet were doing well, but then they had to start teaching a few styles to cope financially,” Botha says.
“Ballet is very stiff and demands perfection, whereas with hip-hop you can do whatever you want. I can’t do ballet because I’m not strict enough. I don’t want to use the word boring, but it’s so formal, while hip-hop has nice music and it’s fast and fun.”
THE styles include voguing, moving like you’re posing on a catwalk; krumping, the aggressive moves developed by gangs to vent their energy and anger through dance; and the robotic movements of popping and locking.
“It appeals to both genders and about 70% of my pupils are girls. You get breakdancing, which the boys love, spinning on the ground on their heads and hands while the girls can do voguing,” Botha says.
“Krumping and popping and locking are for both boys and girls, although krumping comes from the days when guys put their energy into … dancing to help them relieve all the aggression and emotions.”
Botha mixes her own music for the routines. “I take different types of music and mix the beats together, so I’ll have a crazy fast piece, then all of a sudden a beautiful violin piece, then some old-school pieces. With hip-hop, you don’t dance one style through the whole scene, so in a 90-second routine I’ll have four pieces of music, and I like to add sound snippets too.”
Botha’s reputation grew as her pupils began winning medals in provincial and national competitions. “I think the thing that made me so popular is that my kids have been doing very well at the dance championships. Parents hear that other kids have won gold medals and want their kids to get the same achievements,” she says.
That success has allowed her to take her best students to the Performing Arts Championships in Los Angeles for the past two years. This year, her team flew home with six gold, four silver and three bronze medals after beating competitors from 52 countries. Of the 24 scholarships awarded at the competition, SA won a quarter.
The winners were all girls, four of them aged 12 or 13 years and four of just six or seven years. Because they are so young, most of their parents are heading for Los Angeles too to look after them.
Their scholarships will be gruelling, with classes from morning until evening, six days a week. They will hone all sorts of dance genres including ballet and tap, and take acting and deportment classes to help them become stage ready.
THOSE who excel may win contacts to appear in stage shows or TV programmes in the US.
“It really is a full-on experience to help you in all the aspects of show business,” Botha says. “This is such a big opportunity, because if they are seen by the right people, they might end up dancing in an upcoming movie or a commercial. It could change their lives.”
While most professional opportunities are in the US, Botha is working to increase hip-hop’s commercial appeal in SA, partly by taking dancers to various events to demonstrate their skills. “I’ve been approached by numerous companies that want to become the face of hip-hop in SA,” she says. “It creates hope for the kids. There are so many kids out there who are really good at it, but they don’t have the money to go to dance schools and they end up dancing on the streets.”
To help kids who don’t have the money for proper classes, she runs workshops in underprivileged areas, where any kid can go along to see if they have a natural flair.
Botha has also influenced standards taught at dance schools after being invited to write the hip-hop syllabus for the South African Championships of Performing Arts.
The syllabus she created for would-be dance instructors includes learning how to choreograph routines, how to run and market a dance school, and how to manage conflict if the kids get angry.