Hip-Hop in the Rain
National Dance Day
By Libby Ryan
“It’s gonna be a rain dance!” shouted Alex Wong, So You Think You Can Dance all-star and fan-favorite dancer. He stood on the Lincoln Center stage with newly married SYTYCD alums Allison Holker and Stephen Boss, better known as Twitch.
We were about to run through a hip-hop routine created by Emmy-nominated choreographer Christopher Scott. To my left, a high-school dance team practiced the first few steps. To my right, two break-dancers carefully counted out the movements. Hip-hop is a little outside of my element, but I couldn’t be in New York City on the weekend of National Dance Day and not stop by to dance.
The plaza was filled with dance enthusiasts waiting to learn the two National Dance Day routines from the pros on the stage. July in New York was sweltering, and hundreds of dancers packed together made the rain a welcome relief.
As an avid (obsessive) SYTYCD watcher, I was thrilled to see three of my favorites dance in person. Even more exciting was the crowd around the stage, people of different ages, skill levels, and dance backgrounds all eagerly watching the spectacle.
National Dance Day was the brainchild of Nigel Lythgoe, co-creator of SYTYCD and co-president of the dance education nonprofit Dizzy Feet Foundation. Four years ago, the grassroots campaign focused on showcasing dance as a fun way to stay active and combat obesity.
This year, there were three official National Dance Day events in New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., teaching routines and getting the cities moving with dance.
First up was the beginner number, a dance choreographed for those with two left feet and no sense of rhythm, making dance accessible to even the most tentative in the crowd. Ballroom dancers in the crowd recognized the cha-cha beats leading into an open break, while jazz dancers proudly ended the song with Fosse-handed poses.
The front rows of young dancers with big dreams screamed their hearts out when the three SYTYCD dancers asked for volunteers to perform the routines onstage in a friendly dance-off. It was a close call: a dad (signature move: the sprinkler) faced off against a three-year-old girl decked out in Canadian flags.
The Canuck toddler won by a thunderous margin of applause but was far from the most interesting character in the crowd. Crazy hats, bright colors, and unique hairstyles all became background noise when the crowd starting dancing, some people putting their own spin on the choreography. Some abandoned the choreography altogether and freestyled on the sidelines, hoping to be noticed. A few forgot the choreography and instead clapped along to the music, cheering on their fellow dancers.
It didn’t matter who was best, if a certain step was executed properly or even executed at all. Everyone was there to dance, for the love of dance.
The crowd changed slightly when Twitch announced the advanced routine would begin after a water break. Watching the darkening skies, the dancers onstage threw up their hands.
“Who doesn’t love dancing in the rain?” Allison Holker yelled. The crowd screamed back in agreement as some of the beginner routine dancers moved to the side of the crowd. Most stayed, having been convinced by the fun of the first number.
The second routine was more difficult. It was fast, choreographed to Dancing with the Stars’s latest crossover dancer/musician Mark Ballas’s “Get My Name.” A moment of brutal honesty: I don’t have nearly enough sass to pull off hip-hop. I’m missing that critical confident swagger. But I gave it my best.
The rest of the crowd did, as well. I stood in the middle of a dance party filled with hundreds of strangers, all there together for the sole purpose of spreading the love of dance. We were dancing our hearts out, all laughing together and bouncing up and down with the energy of the day.
I left the plaza while the dancing was in full swing, re-energized to continue exploring the city. At some point, I realized the rain had stopped to let the sun peek through the clouds. I hadn’t even noticed. I’d been much too busy dancing.