Hip Hop's Tiniest Talents

The life of a commercial hip-hop dancer can be exhausting—auditions, classes, long video shoots, international tours. But imagine doing all of that when you’re just 10 years old! Over the past few years, the hip-hop world has been inundated with pint-sized hip-hop phenoms. These days, dancers like 11-year-old Taylor Hatala can become YouTube sensations overnight, with millions of views and loyal followings of both children and adults (including, in Taylor’s case, Ellen DeGeneres). How are so many kids thriving in the very grown-up hip-hop world—and how are teachers catering to the younger students swarming their studios? DS talked to some of the industry’s top artists to get the scoop on what it means to be a hip-hop little.

Matt Tayao (center) is the director of mLkids, which gives younger hip-hop dancers an outlet. (Photo by Jino Abad, courtesy mLkids)

Gaining New Visibility

Hip hop, with its powerful, hard-hitting moves that are both fun and physical, has actually been a kid-friendly activity since its inception. “Kids have a lot of emotions, and hip hop really gives them a release,” explains choreographer Will “WilldaBeast” Adams.

But anti-dance stigmas used to keep many young hip-hoppers—especially young boys—out of the public eye. “When I was their age, I was dancing in my room to Michael Jackson…and hiding,” says Matt Tayao, director and choreographer of youth program mLkids. Adams, afraid of being bullied, didn’t start dancing seriously until the age of 18.

Luckily, things have changed in recent years. “Today, dance is everywhere—on dance shows, in movies and on social media,” Adams says. Thanks to the increased exposure, he explains, “dancing has become a cool thing for kids—including boys—to do.” Now, littles are less afraid to share their love of dance. And they have more outlets to show the world what they can do. Today’s 10-year-olds are filming their MJ routines, posting them to their YouTube channels and sharing them on Twitter.

It’s also now totally acceptable for the girls to hit as hard as the boys—forget those old “girls do ballet” stereotypes. Taylor has found a special connection with hip hop’s harder edge. “The music makes me feel really powerful,” she explains. “When we do choreography, sometimes we split into male and female groups, but they’re considered completely equal. I never feel like I’m treated differently.”

Taylor Hatala is just 11—but thanks to YouTube, she's already a star (Photo courtesy the Hatalas)

Keeping Things Kid-Appropriate

Because they want to work with the best dancers and choreographers in the industry, more and more young hip-hoppers are joining professional crews and taking classes geared toward adults. Taylor, for example, is the youngest dancer in Alexander Chung’s crew, NXG. But pro-level hip-hop choreography is frequently provocative. How do littles handle more-mature material?

Very cautiously. Taylor’s mother, Teresa, set ground rules early on for how Taylor would deal with age-inappropriate choreo, and vets all the artists Taylor works with. “It’s a combination of parenting and finding the right mentors,” Teresa says. “We make sure Taylor’s choreographers don’t put her in more mature pieces, and she knows not to repeat certain lyrics.”

Some choreographers have actually created separate crews for their younger students—like Adams’ “LilBeasts”—with choreography specifically designed for children. “I wanted these kids to experience working in a group, and to meet and hang out with other dancers their age,” Adams says. CEO and founder of Movement Lifestyle, Shaun Evaristo, also created mLkids, a separate hip-hop class designed for young dancers—including gifted 11-year-old Joshua “Red” Guerrero, who was featured in the Michael Jackson/Justin Timberlake music video “Love Never Felt So Good.”

Inspiring Their Mentors

It’s no surprise that many hip-hop littles have grown-up role models. (Charismatic Stephen “tWitch” Boss is one of the dancers most admired by young hip-hoppers.) But with more kids making it big in the commercial world, older dancers are also finding inspiration in the younger generation. “These kids are bringing things to the table that have never been done before,” Tayao says. “Their voices haven’t even dropped yet, and they’re already accomplishing unbelievable things.”

Veterans are getting a boost from littles’ optimism and energy, too. “Kids are making people dance full-out again,” Adams says. “They’re fearless. They can do anything.” And that enthusiasm is changing the face of the industry. “Not only are the dancers getting younger, but choreographers are making it big at a younger age, too,” Adams says.

Handling Pressure with Grace

Living in the spotlight can put a lot of pressure on younger dancers. Even at the age of 11, Joshua feels the need to prove himself in class. “If there aren’t a lot of other kids in a hip-hop class, I really have to step up my game,” he says. “You never want to get too proud of yourself.”

But with that pressure comes a lot of inspiration. “Every dance class, I’m encouraged by the other dancers to push harder,” Joshua says. Taylor agrees: “Yes, there’s more competition now, with dancers starting to train at age 5 instead of 15. But competition is just a tool you use to work harder.” And young hip-hop dancers’ hard work is driving the commercial world to bigger and better places.

Show Comments ()
Popular

Summer dance camp season will be here before you know it and you might be starting to wonder what you need to pack in your bag. Don't stress, we have 5 of the top must haves for camp this summer!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Safe to say that flexibility is still not an issue for the talented Ms. Igo. (screenshot via YouTube)

Because winning the Junior Division on last summer's inaugural season of "World of Dance" (suuuuuuuuuuper casual) just wasn't enough.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Screenshot via YouTube
Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

We caught up with former Rockette Trina Simon at Showstopper's Myrtle Beach dance convention to get her expert advice on how to work as a professional dancer. Trina's work on Broadway has given her insight into the key things to focus on as a professional dancer looking for jobs and making a name for yourself, whether you are new to the world of professional dance or you have been making your way from one audition to the next for a while.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Safe to say that flexibility is still not an issue for the talented Ms. Igo. (screenshot via YouTube)

Because winning the Junior Division on last summer's inaugural season of "World of Dance" (suuuuuuuuuuper casual) just wasn't enough.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Including Travis Wall, obviously! (Adam Rose/FOX)

"So You Think You Can Dance" is often a launching pad for a dancer's career. While many "SYT" alums go on to perform for iconic artists or join high-profile companies, some also become choreographers—and a few even come full-circle, making dances for the show where it all began. Here are 8 talented choreographers who got their start as "SYTYCD" hopefuls.

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
Photo by Lucas Chilczuk

Click here to get the inside scoop on the film High Strung: Free Dance!

Juliet Doherty has been at home in the studio and the spotlight since before she could walk. The 21-year-old comes from a long line of dancers: She practically grew up at the school her grandmother owned, Fishback Studio of the Dance in Albuquerque, NM, and her mom was her longtime teacher. As a young student, Doherty competed at the world's toughest ballet competitions and performed as Clara in the Radio City Christmas SpectacularRadio City Christmas Spectacular. Eventually, she left Albuquerque to train at the San Francisco Ballet School for three years, and then she danced with Phoenix Ballet for two years.

Along the way, Doherty discovered another great love: acting. In 2014, she was part of the cast of the Susan Stroman–directed musical Little Dancer (alongside Tiler Peck). And in 2017, she appeared in her first film, On Pointe—playing, naturally, an ambitious young dancer.

Now, Doherty's on the big screen again, starring as Barlow in High Strung: Free Dance. Plus, she has a new city to call home: NYC. Doherty sat down with us to talk about the film, her transition into acting, and what's next.

Keep reading... Show less
Giveaways
Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Want to Be on Our Cover?

covermodelsearch-image

Video

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored