Baggy pants? Check. Big ostentatious trainers? Check. Baseball cap (on backwards, of course)? Check and double check. At the end of the day, you might as well look the part if you’re going to attempt to bust a few super-cool, street style dance moves. At least that was our five-year-old tester’s opinion as he made his way into the dance studio to meet Sacha Nikolsky – the break dance and hip hop instructor at the International Dance Studio in Deira.
Sacha, who is from Russia, is a walking advert for the fitness benefits of practicing hip hop and break dancing. He has been teaching children and adults how to dance street style for the past four years and is a firm believer in getting children into the groove, as it were. ‘It’s great fun,’ he says, while mustering the 10 or so children towards the mat and getting them to start the stretching exercises with erstwhile efficiency. ‘I have children that start this class barely knowing their right from their left with real coordination problems – but after a month or so, the difference in their physical confidence is amazing.’
David Ovsepyan, general manager of the dance school, is the man behind the hip hop initiative. A gold medalist dancer who has performed in numerous international competitions, and danced street style for the past 16 years, he explains: ‘We started running the hip hop and break dance programme a year ago, and today we are teaching around 70 children a week. It’s gaining in popularity all the time for a number of very good reasons. At this age, it’s very important to develop a child’s physical coordination. All types of dance encourage this, but street style is, in many ways, even more demanding than ballet. This is because it’s a combination of acrobatics and dance. As a result, it’s an amazing way to improve all over body fitness and strength, as well as flexibility and grand motor skills.’
The First International Dance Studio’s philosophy takes a more serious approach to their classes than some establishments. The children are there to learn, improve and reach a goal where they can perform live hip hop and break dancing routines after just six months of classes. It seems a tall order for the younger children, but David is adamant that the seven and ups are usually more than ready for it. He shows us a film clip of his latest six-month graduates. And they are more than impressive – already performing complicated moves and basic acrobatic tumbles with professional aplomb. More than anything, they look fit and confident – something, he points out, that is indicative of this style of dance.
‘Back in the ’70s and ’80s, hip hop and break dancing were associated with gangland culture and a niche scene. But these days, they are huge – and are growing in popularity by the day. International competitions attract tens of thousands of participants, and I think that’s because it’s such a cool thing to be able to do. Think about it. If you were a quiet, shy kid, how much would it have helped your confidence to be able to dance some really cool moves in front of other children? Street dance literally raises your street cred – which is really important for some kids – especially those who are on the shy side.’
The classes, he explains, begin with a 10-minute stretching session. Then the children start to practice the moves they learned in the previous class, and get to grips with some new ones too. It’s pretty strenuous stuff, and 20 minutes in, our little tester needs a drink of water and a packet of raisins to boost his flagging energy levels. The class runs for a whole hour, after which, exhaustion has well and truly set in.
We wonder whether an hour is too long – and we question the fact that you can only sign up for three lessons a week (two hip hop and one break dance class). ‘It’s about improving their skills and keeping them fit,’ says David. For the younger children especially, they need three lessons because otherwise they forget the moves and don’t progress from week to week. The older students actually do 90 minute classes. But that really would be too much for the little ones.’
Olga Tangian has been taking her son Bagrat, eight, for the past month, and says although the schedule is tough, she’s seen a marked improvement in his confidence and his dancing. ‘He enjoys it, it keeps him away from the games consoles and the computer, and he’s improving all the time. This is about learning a skill, and although it’s fun, it’s also quite demanding. You can’t really miss a lesson, and three times a week can be difficult to maintain. But we’d rather be driving our son to dance class than him watching TV or playing on the computer.’
Classes are for children aged four and up. You can book a package of 12 hour-long lessons for Dhs800. For more information visit www.firstids.com (056 605 5265).