Bryan "Chibi" Gaynor (in gold) performing with Dragon House Crew on "So You Think You Can Dance" (photo by Adam Rose/FOX)
When Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer of Dragon House Crew auditioned for Season 9 of “So You Think You Can Dance,” fans were blown away by his “new” style: animation. The fascination continued in Season 10, when judges selected not one but two animators—Jade “Soul” Zuberi and Dorian “BluPrint” Hector—for the Top 20. And while we’re still waiting for an animator to be crowned America’s Favorite Dancer, one thing’s for sure: America’s caught the animation bug.
But what exactly is animation? Dance Spirit went to the pros to find out.
Where did animation come from?
This style isn’t new. Some sources say it originated in the late 1980s. Old-school animators, like Boppin Andre, drew inspiration from a form of stop-motion animation called dynamation, which brings inanimate models to life within a live-action film—think the early versions of King Kong and Godzilla. Most animators trace their history back to the 1958 dynamation movie The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (which is why Boppin Andre used to call the style “Sinbad dance”). Claymation films are also a source of inspiration for animation dance.
The resulting movement is almost human, but not quite. “When you’re animating, you’re pretending to be an inanimate model that’s trying to move like a human,” says Bryan “Chibi” Gaynor of Dragon House and RemoteKontrol crews.
“Animation is about bending reality,” adds Soul. “You want to make the audience question whether what they’re seeing is real.”
Cyrus "Glitch" Spencer (left) and Stephen "tWitch" Boss performing Like a Criminal on "SYTYCD" Season 9 (photo by Adam Rose/FOX)
How Do You Become an Animator?
Anyone can pretend to be a robot on the dance floor, but becoming a master animator takes a lot of time and research. “As with any style, start by doing your homework,” says Soul. When Soul first began animating, he would spend hours on YouTube watching animation-dance videos to pin down the basics.
Glitch stresses that you need to master the fundamentals of popping—hard hits, stopping, isolations, etc.—before you can animate. “Then you can begin to experiment and find out what feels good on your body,” he says. “For example, you can add movement—waving, tutting, gliding—to the hard hits of popping to make it look less mechanical.”
While it’s essential to learn the fundamentals, it’s equally important to develop your unique way of moving. “It’s easy to mimic someone else’s style,” Chibi say. “It takes time to find you.”
If animation has been around since the late ’80s, why the sudden surge in popularity? Soul explains that animation, like any form of street dance, requires exposure to grow. “Now that we have YouTube and camera phones, we can record our stuff and put it out there—and it spreads like wildfire,” he says.
When Chibi auditioned for “SYTYCD” in 2007, he not only introduced America to animation, but also set the standard for what it’s supposed to look like. The animators who have followed him—on “SYTYCD” and “America’s Got Talent,” in the Step Up movies, on YouTube and on TV commercials—continue to raise the bar. “The young people coming up are gonna have something that really amazes us,” Chibi says.
Dorian "BluPrint" Hector (left) and Jade "Soul" Zuberi performing Trigger on "SYTYCD" Season 10 (photo by Adam Rose/Fox)
A Note on Music
Jade “Soul” Zuberi of “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 10, Cyrus “Glitch” Spencer of Season 9 and Bryan “Chibi” Gaynor of Dragon House and RemoteKontrol crews all note the importance of music to style development. Because animation hit the commercial dance scene around the same time dubstep music exploded, many mistakenly call it dubstep dance. “Animation is not dubstep dance,” says Glitch.
Glitch’s music preference depends on his mood. When he wants to be expressive, he performs to slow music. Hip-hop helps him convey strength and power, and glitch-hop (a form of electronic music with deliberate “glitches” or malfunctions in the sound) is perfect for crisp, small movements.
Soul prefers dancing to classical, ambiance or glitch-hop music.
But just because animation isn’t dubstep dance doesn’t mean you can’t perform animation to dubstep music. Chibi likes using it because it offers a lot of sounds he can capture. “It can be a simple ‘tick, tick, tick’ or a big move that emphasizes the sound,” he says.
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.