News Column

Hip hop camp blends movement with acting for young dancers

June 25, 2014

By Katie Gillespie, Redding Record Searchlight, Calif.

June 25--A group of squealing children dragged themselves through a pool of honey, bounced across a field of Jell-O and swam through a chocolate river Tuesday morning -- or at least, they pretended.

Redding Recreation offered a unique camp to young dancers this week: Beatbox Urban Dance Theatre Camp, which combines hip hop dancing with storytelling and acting. About 20 children, ages 6 to 12, were in the class instructed by Fred Vassallo.

"That's the ultimate goal is the marriage of those two," Vassallo said.

Vassallo has a background in movement therapy and hip hop lessons. He recently taught hip hop theater at Sequoia Middle School. Students there produced a version of "The Nutcracker."

"It keeps the essence of the story and the familiarly of the tradition, but it bridges the gap for a new audience," Vassallo said.

Students in the Beatbox Urban Dance Theatre Camp are preparing for their Friday presentation of a hip hop version of "Alice in Wonderland" for their parents.

Noah Zane, 7, has been taking classes with Vassallo for about two years now.

"It's kind of an instinct," Noah said. "I've been dancing all my life. It's a way to get out energy and it's really, really fun."

Vasallo's daughter, ChloÉ, also joined the class, popping and locking along with her father.

ChloÉ, 10, also studies tap, jazz and other areas of dance. She wants to be a professional hip hop dancer like her father when she grows up.

"It gives me a freedom just to be what I am," she said.

"Your imagination can just explode," she adding about acting through dance.

Vassallo led them through several sessions of choreography and drills, then played improvisation games. Vassallo encouraged his students to speak up, to embrace their characters and make sure to convince the audience that they'd actually become their characters.

"Your goal as a performer is to make the audience believe that what they're seeing is real," Vassallo told his students after they swam -- or ate -- their way through the imaginary chocolate river.

Vassallo teaches hip hop classes across Shasta County, including a family hip hop class and a Hip Hop for Tots class. Most recently, he organized the flash mob to Pharrell Williams' "Happy" at the Sundial Bridge's 10th anniversary event, Celebrate 10.

Though he's a dancer by trade, Vassallo said his passion is to build confidence in his students.

"This is part of my heart as a teacher is to teach the whole child so building on obviously their physical stamina with their hip hop dance training, but also working on their confidence level and ability."


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Source: Record Searchlight (Redding, CA)

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