On Popular Dance Aesthetics: Why Backup Dancers Matter to Hip Hop Dance Histories

Mary Fogarty Woehrel


In this paper, I consider the influence of American and Canadian hip hop dancers who performed as backup dancers and "extras" in film, TV and live music performances. I discuss the significance of these seeming background performances in the light of the local history of breaking in Toronto, Canada, centred on first-hand accounts of two celebrated b-boys, Arnold "Gizmo" Vidad (Bag of Trix crew) and Karl "Dyzee" Alba (Supernaturalz crew). The discussion raises critical issues concerning the notion of "art" in popular culture and probes the tensions inherent in a dance form that has both professional and amateur manifestations. The commercialization of hip hop is interrogated, and the process of professionalization for dancers who require to make a living is contextualized in a way that seeks to demystify the infrastructures that have influenced hip hop dance aesthetics. In doing so, I suggest that entertainment industries have downplayed the significance of dance and dance histories have downplayed the significance of entertainment industries. Studying cultural mediation through social biographies and influences—however paradoxical—affords new routes into analyzing dance practices, lineages, influences, and aesthetics.

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Copyright (c) 2019 Mary Fogarty Woehrel

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