Traditionally, learning has been envisioned as a process in which the body is still — students are sitting and reading or sitting and listening to the teacher. That's especially true for the kind of distance learning that most students are doing today, which often requires them to sit in front of a screen. Yet research has shown that movement is a key component in learning and can help alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression. Hip-hop — and an accompanying pedagogy of hip-hop — can offer a key pathway to a new kind of learning model that allows learners to move and think critically about the systems and structures that allow and inhibit movement. Pairing critical consciousness with movement — especially at a time when students are socially isolated — can open the door for rich and contemporary learning experiences.
"As many of us find ourselves teaching, learning, and even socializing seated in front of screens, it is even more necessary to consider how our bodies and minds are handling these unprecedented times. Social distancing, while necessary in this health pandemic, can have the impact of distancing ourselves from powerful knowledge of self and community that is unlocked through movement," says Aysha Upchurch, artist, performer, Harvard Graduate School of Education lecturer, and director of HipHopEx, which just hosted the 4th Annual Can’t Stop Hip-Hop conference at Harvard — this time as on online experience. [Watch videos from the conference here].
For Upchurch, movement, dance, and an accompanying hip-hop pedagogy extend a meaningful, culturally relevant invitation for students of all ages — even trhough a screen.
Form a Dance Cypher
Cyphers have been a part of the human experience since the beginning of time. People form a circle and someone, or even small groups of people, enter the middle to show what they know, build off what someone else has done, or even challenge someone to see who’s best. In her work, Upchurch has found dance cyphers to be a powerful learning tool. Not only do they help build a sense of community, but they also allow students to express themselves in ways the typical curriculum might not consider. Moreover, she organizes all of her classes in a circle to encourage students to see and talk with each other, and not just “show out” for the professor. And, sometimes, dance cyphers close a class session so folks can connect and celebrate with their bodies.