Hip-Hop Taxing for Motown Generation : You may be the oldest in the YMCA dance class, and you soon realize those old dance routines from the ‘60s just don’t work with ‘Arrested Development.’

You fell in love with the dance sequences in the movies, especially the one with Rosie Perez dancing through the credits in “Do the Right Thing.” She opened that movie with a bang, a hip-hop dance routine set to “Fight the Power” that blew your socks off. She was a powerhouse of physical form--athletic, muscular, fearless.

Of course, you never actually thought hip-hop was something you could do. Sure, you like to try new dance forms, and you work out, you’re in decent shape. But this is out of your league.

Then you start to notice that you are a bit out of it on the dance floor. Those old ‘60s Motown routines just don’t work with “Arrested Development,” and you don’t like the feeling that you’re not keeping up. Something different is required here, something new: Less ‘60s, more ‘90s.

Your 12-year-old niece tries teaching you the Running Man, but you can’t get it. After five minutes of looking like the Tripping Man, your heart is pounding like a freight train. “It’s the easiest step,” she says, exasperated. “If you can’t get this one, you’ll never get the rest.” You take that as a challenge.


The class at the Ventura Family YMCA isn’t all teen-agers; that’s encouraging. You may be the oldest one here, but that woman next to you in the lavender leotard looks almost your age. Well, she isn’t that much younger.

The instructor--bouncy, with well-defined triceps and powerhouse quads--shows the class a quick series of movements with names: the Regina, the Criss-Cross, the Sliding Cart, the Squash and your old favorite, the Running Man.

“Now you try it,” she says, and starts the music. You’re moving as fast as you can but there seem to be too many steps and not enough beats. And with so few beats, how are you supposed to also get in kicks, jumps and turns that go the wrong way ‘round? Even when you can sort of manage the moves, they don’t look the same as when she does them.

Surely, you have been here two hours, you think, as you desperately search out the clock that tells you 20 minutes have elapsed.


Your heart is beating at about the same rate as a cat purrs; it sounds more like a well-tuned Harley-Davidson than something that should be in your chest. And the sweat is so profuse an oil slick has formed on the floor beneath you, adding to the traction problem.

Still, you are no closer to fitting the double Criss-Cross into the two quick beats than you were before, and you’ve given up the Regina entirely. Actually, you’ve given up all pretense that you are doing anything more than trying to stay vertical and alive.

You hope no one notices as you bounce to the music, make things up as you go along, slipping in a few of those old reliable Motown moves.

“Is it hard to pick up the steps?” you had asked a fellow dancer before class. “Well, it’s all in your thinking,” she had said. “If you think you can’t get it, you won’t. And of course it’s like anything else: the more you do it, the easier it gets.”


The same could be said about beating your head against the wall, and the same explanation would apply: pain and injury create their own kind of senselessness.

Still, you remember this and redouble your efforts, and the next thing you know, you’ve got the Sliding Cart. Well maybe it’s more of a Sliding Fork, but you’re doing it. And you even manage the turn at the end, landing with both feet on the count of eight. You’d have been satisfied just to land with both feet on the floor.

Next time it comes around, you not only land on time, you even bounce, and that cute little move with the shoulders that gives it the right look just sort of happens as a result.

The momentum propels you into the next move, a quick salute to the right, and, suddenly, you are hitting it, just like Janet Jackson in the video.


And you realize you suddenly have that thing that makes it all work, that ties everything together--the Attitude. Gotta get the jump on, gotta be tougher than the rest, smarter, stronger, faster. Gotta let them know you’re here, and that you can’t be messed with.

It’s not for the faint of heart, nor for the weak in the knees, and it’s certainly not for those with back problems. With all that pounding, all those quick turns, hip-hop is hard on the body, possibly the most physically demanding and athletic dance form to emerge in this country, and a great cardiovascular workout. By the end of the class, your pulse rate is in the red zone.

You never do get the Regina. And while you can sort of do the Criss-Cross, you know you are really doing the Criss without the Cross and hope that you’ll merge them eventually.

Anyway, it was worth it: Next time you see your niece, she’ll eat your Running Man’s dust.


This week’s Reluctant Novice is freelance writer RACHEL ALTMAN.


* CAMARILLO: Pleasant Valley Recreation Center, 1605 E. Burnley St., 482-1996.

* FILLMORE: Fillmore Recreation Department, 524 Sespe Ave., 524-3701.


* NEWBURY PARK: Borchard Community Center, 190 Reino Road, 498-3124.

* SIMI VALLEY: Simi Valley Recreation Center, 1692 Sycamore Drive, 584-4400.

* THOUSAND OAKS: Conejo Recreation Center, 1300 Hendrix Ave., 495-2163; Thousand Oaks Teen Center, 1375 E. Janss Road, 494-5156.

* VENTURA: The Performance Studio, 34 N. Palm St., 643-5701; Pacific Coast Ballet and Dance, 2261-7 Palma Drive, 339-9456; Ventura Family YMCA, 3760 Telegraph Road, 642-2131; Ventura Recreation Department, 7050 Ralston St., 658-4726.