One, two step

Mackenzie Horras

Weinberg senior Jessica Harris is the manager of Fusion Dance Company, Northwestern’s hip-hop dance troupe – and she’s extending her skills into the classroom. She’s now the instructor of a new “Hip-Hop Dance Etcetera” class sponsored by Norris Mini-Courses. The beginner-level class meets Wednesday afternoons from 3:30 to 5 at Blomquist Gymnasium, and it incorporates popular club and hip-hop dance with jazz and modern influences, drawing on Harris’s own diverse dance training for inspiration. PLAY sat down with Harris, who proposed the idea for the course herself, to talk about what she hopes her students will get out of getting into the groove.

PLAY Tell me a little bit about your hip-hop class.

Jessica Harris: The way I try to teach the class is to help people find a way to use dance as an extension of themselves, and hip-hop is a really great way to express that self. I structure the class so that we come in, we warm up, and we do a mini-combination dance across the floor. Then we do a bigger combination at the end. Most of the people come to the class without a dance background, so they’re just trying to learn. My goal is to make the people in the class feel comfortable in themselves and in expressing themselves in any situation.

PLAY: How long have you been dancing yourself?

JH: Technically, I started dancing in the sixth grade. My school had a middle school and a high school combined dance company, and that’s really how I became introduced to dance. We did a lot of jazz and a little ballet, but mostly the concentration was on jazz and hip-hop. I’ve been dancing ever since then.

PLAY: Are you involved in any dance groups here at Northwestern?

JH: I’m actually the company manager of Fusion Dance Company, which is a hip-hop company that also fuses together several different types of dance.

PLAY: How did you get involved in teaching the Norris Mini-Course?

JH: It was actually my friend Malena Amusa’s idea. She thought it would be a good idea for her and I to teach a giant class that bridges together African and hip-hop dance. We just submitted a proposal to Norris. They actually separated the class, but people can take the African and hip-hop classes together for a discount. Her class is on Thursday and mine is on Wednesday.

PLAY: What was the process for applying for a Mini-Course?

JH: We just came up with our idea for the goal of the class and we submitted it to Norris and they asked us to elaborate on it. We made a lesson plan and then we had to find a space to teach, and they liked the idea and said we could do it. That was about it.

PLAY: Do you find yourself having to spend a lot of outside time planning your class lessons?

JH: I do, actually, and it’s an interesting experience because I’m used to teaching people who have a dance background. It took me awhile to figure out what everyone’s goals are for the class, and I try to work with those goals now that I know their expectations.

PLAY: What is the class composition like? Is it mostly guys or girls?

JH: I think there are either eight or nine people in the class – and actually the majority of them are guys.

PLAY: That’s interesting, since it seems like a lot of dancers are female. Do you think the vibe is different with mostly male students than it would be with mostly female students?

JH: No. I think the general consensus is that people just want to feel more comfortable with movement. With this class in particular, I think people are just interested in being able to go out and dance and feel like they know what they are doing. Hip-hop is becoming more and more influential, and as that happens I think more people are interested in learning how to do it.

PLAY: Be honest – are your students any good at hip-hop, or are they sort of awkward?

JH: It’s funny; before I taught the class I was worried about that. But everyone does have a pretty good basis in terms of feeling rhythm, and everybody puts forth a very good effort, so I’ve been really impressed.

PLAY: What do you hope your students will get out of your class?

JH: I would really just love to see people take some of the moves they have learned from me and create their own style. This kind of movement changes and is supposed to change. I would really like to see people take it and make part of it their own.

-Mackenzie Horras