Cardiff was graced with some choreographer elite this weekend when SLASH Hip-Hop Group hosted a two-day dance workshop at Vitality Gym.
I was fortunate enough to grab a spot on the sell-out Saturday workshop, which had three classes to offer from choreographers Bly Richards, Azrul Aminudin and Nader Musharbash.
First up was Bly Richards. Originally from Huddersfield, Bly works as a performer, dance tutor and choreographer up and down the country, running classes in Pineapple Dance Studios and the new Studio 68 in London on a regular basis. Bly also teaches in various community groups and schools, and has taught workshops across Europe and in the United States.
Bly has also found personal success in being named Stylefest 2009 House Champion and House Dance UK Winner. He is also a member of dance troop Plague, who found themselves in the final for the BBC3 programme “Move Like Michael Jackson”
Bly deviated from the traditional workshop structure of a warm-up and routine to a full-on masterclass in house dancing, a style of dance which originated in the nightclubs of Chicago. A fusion of many different types of dance – such as Latin, hip-hop, jazz and even tap – house dance is a style which really reflects the individuality of the dancer. And this was the core lesson in Bly’s class.
The class was based around a sequence of drills which allowed the dancers to add their own style to the moves – known as ‘jacking’, or to those who aren’t familiar with the term, how a dancer feels the music and moves to it in their own individual way.
Combining intricate, fast-paced footwork with my own style – more like, trying to determine what my own house style actually is and execute it at the same time – was not only a physical but a mental workout, like tapping our head and rubbing your belly simultaneously, only about a hundred times harder.
Having said that, it was seriously good fun. There’s nothing like a demanding sequence to bring anonymous members of a dance class closer together. What was nice about the class, in fact the whole workshop, was that all the participants were ready to help each other out and were really friendly – which really sums up the attitude of the SLASH dance group in general.
After a few attempts, I found I was really getting into it – and starting to understand what Bly meant when he was talking about riding the music. The end result is incredibly effective and visually exciting, and this only makes you want to get better. For an introduction to house dance, Bly’s class really fitted the bill – his explanations were clear, and you can’t help but stand open-mouthed at his own incredible talent.
Bly said he finds inspiration in the music. “Good music really inspires me,” he said. He went on to underline the importance of these sorts of classes. “Nowadays we don’t really have the club culture that they had back in Chicago,” he said. “People don’t really dance in clubs these days. Workshops are where people can get the knowledge and the inspiration they need.”
Bly (in purple, front) with the group running through the sequence
The second class was taken by Azrul Aminudin. His third SLASH workshop in Cardiff, Azrul has taught in other workshops around Cardiff, London, and at Manchester Sunshine Studios. Azrul started his dancing career by being involved in a number of dance troops, such as Unleashed and Stereotype. Azrul was drafted in to show us the ways of New Age hip-hop, and after a quick warm-up got straight on with the choreography.
My favourite routine of the day, the choreography was slick and stylish, with brilliant musicality – using both lyrics and beats to style out the dance. Azrul’s teaching methods could not be faulted. His instructions were clear, and he went at a pace which suited the whole class – whose ability level ranged from beginners to advanced.
The combination of jaunty moves and slow grooves leave you helpless but to embrace your inner gangster. The clash of the two tempos – a feature of New Age style – create a routine which forbids you to pull your eyes away as a spectator. From the dancer’s point of view, the style is something which doesn’t necessarily demand a huge amount of technical ability, but does require a good level of musicality.
The routine in itself was a masterclass in how to feel the music. What Azrul gave the class was in fact a lesson in musicality, demanded by the irregular beat of the music, but disguised in the choreography.
Azrul, 21, has been choreographing since the age of 16. He said he finds inspiration for his choreography in other dancers around him, and believes the increase in the popularity of hip-hop is down to television. “It’s definitely getting more popular,” he said “I think it’s down to recent movies and dance TV shows. People want to get involved.”
Azrul (front, with hat) dancing with workshop participants in a final run-through
Last but not least was Nader Musharbash, a professional working dancer who has worked with a range of artists and taught alongside big names in the business – he has recently just come from teaching with Nick Bass and Mischa Gabriel, two of the dancers from the planned Michael Jackson ‘This Is It’ tour.
Despite having a group of dancers who had just been put through their paces with two previous classes and were looking less than spritely, Nader managed to inject some life into the class and finish off with a routine which was energetic and well-executed.
The routine was originally choreographed by Nader for a Russian artist, and had brought it to Cardiff for the benefit of the workshop.The choreography was incredibly high-tempo and intense, however the intricacy of the routine not only showed Nader’s talent as a choreographer, but also as a teacher.
Nader managed to keep up the enthusiasm the whole way through the class – even throughout the gruelling sit-up and press-up session in the warm up. His enthusiasm seemed to be infectious, and that translated into the routine.
The choreography was again a test of musicality, however the choice of music left no room for thought – you had to almost rely on instinct. The moves had an element of Michael Jackson inspiration, and the dance required the same sort of sharp, rapid movements to be pulled off effectively (to see how it really should be done, see the video below!)
All in all the routine was the most demanding of the three, but the most satisfying to complete. The end result was a piece which seemed effortless and was visually exciting for the audience, ensured by the variety of levels, angles and types of transition – ranging from smooth, gliding gestures to explosive isolations.
Nader described his style as groovy – “This piece is funky and fun,” he said.
Nader (right) with a SLASH dancer performing the end routine
As a final word – credit has to be given to the SLASH team for a thoroughly enjoyable day, my only regret is that I couldn’t go to the Sunday as well! For more info on SLASH classes, visit their Facebook page.