In Boogie McClarin’s hip-hop classes, students learn more than just, well, how to boogie. She teaches about deejaying, emceeing, break dancing, graffiti and, more important for her, the history of hip-hop’s roots. The goal, she says, is “to get someone to connect mind, body and soul to the music—even if it’s just for one minute—and to understand the culture, the music and the movement, and the place it came from.”
Don’t expect choreography from a Ciara video, but do expect to get down. Dancers learn popping, locking, house, funk, capoeira and breaking. Students of all levels sweat it out together and everyone is sore the next day. McClarin pushes her students hard, so beginners and amateur clubbers are encouraged to start with her level one class; more advanced dancers who are comfortable with floor work, such as breaking, can take level two. Although she constantly challenges her students, McClarin fosters a positive class environment where she stresses individual style and working at one’s own pace.
McClarin—who has trained with Rennie Harris from Philadelphia, the Electric Boogaloos in L.A., Compagnie Käfig in Paris, Popmaster Fabel in New York and Phaze II in Chicago—teaches at the Old Town School of Folk Music (4544 N Lincoln Ave and 909 W Armitage Ave, 773-728-6000) and Joel Hall (1511 W Berwyn Ave, 773-293-0900). She begins each class with a rigorous cardio warm-up (the ab portion is killer), does across-the-floor exercises and then teaches a combination. “I don’t think everyone will be the best hip-hop dancer, but I feel everyone can be empowered individuals through dance,” she says. “And if you can access that through movement, that’s great.”
The 33-year-old, who dances with Fivestar Boogie Productions, Chicago Dance Crash and Kuumba Lynx, says that hip-hop is an important style, despite critics’ refusal to accept it as a serious dance genre. “People said tap wasn’t a credible art form and that jazz wasn’t a credible art form,” she says. “People also said that rap wasn’t a credible art form, and 30 years later, it’s still here.
“It’s a continuation of the legacy of American dance, and it’s the first global dance form where everyone has put in something,” McClarin says, “and everyone can do it.” She says that the hip-hop scene in Chicago is unique. “It’s connected to house music and it’s coming out of a city with extreme segregation and it was able to survive even when there was no hip-hop scene in Chicago. People have a passion for hip-hop here. In the cultural context of a segregated and polarized city, the music brought the people together. We’ve always been a dancing city.”—Jennifer Kester