The Shaolin Temple Gets Down at the Dance Till You Drop Fundraiser

The Temple recently hosted an event unlike any before. Brian “Footwork” Green, a world-famous dance teacher who has worked with stars such as Missy Elliot, Mariah Carey, Busta Rhymes, and Gwen Stefani, was invited by one of his students who trains at the temple to lead an all-day seminar in various styles of dance. There were three classes, each two hours long, followed by an “open cipher”, where dancers gather in a circle and take turns expressing themselves. The philosophy expressed by Brian and the other teachers was a perfect mirror of that practiced at the temple – the combination of physical and mental – and the importance of expressing oneself.

The first class was on house dancing. Brian began by leading the attendees of the event, a combination of students from the temple and many of his own dance students, through basic isolation exercises and stretches. He then taught a few basic steps, quickly picking up the pace. After that, he led everyone through more stretches and strength exercises, followed by a rigorous routine of floor movements. The pace was fast and the movements intense – such as one where you go into a push up position and twist your body on the way down, kicking your legs in opposite directions, then bring them back on the way up. The students performed this movement along with lunges across the temple floor multiple times – it was just about as intense as a normal kung fu class at the temple!

Throughout the class, Brian also spoke about his philosophy of dance. He especially emphasized the importance of expressing oneself. Once one has mastered the basics, one may “break” the style and express your own way of doing things. Just as Shifu teaches, and Bruce Lee practiced his whole life, “study and combine all of the styles, and make your own style. Study all of the philosophies and put them together – that’s your philosophy”. Brian also emphasized the importance of humility – no matter how many years you’ve been practicing, whether it be dance or kung fu, always have the mindset of a beginner so that you can always learn more. Once you think you know everything, how can you improve?

The house class ended with a “cipher”, a term in dance that refers to a circle of dancers each taking turns in the center performing and expressing their style. Some of the temple students in attendance performed tricks such as aerials and sweep kicks as part of their dance, while some of Brian’s advanced students executed complicated floor movements with grace and ease.

The next class was in freestyle dancing. At the beginning of the class, Brian asked everyone to dance for 5 minutes by themselves and note what their blocks or problems were. He asked each student what they felt they needed to work on the most, and promised that we’d be able to touch on all of the issues. The students’ responses ranged from isolations and timing to not having a large enough vocabulary of movement to express oneself. After everyone had shared their perceived limitations, Brian took everyone in front of the mirror and began going over isolations.

As Brian went over the isolations, he began to discuss the technique in dance known as waving. But as he taught, he realized there was someone there who would be better at demonstrating the style. Legendary waver Shallow, a technical waving and isolations expert, had come along for the day, and Brian invited him to lead the class. The students were amazed at the way Shallow could control the various parts of his body, such as rolling his stomach like a wave without using his hips. Shallow lead the class through a basic 8-step wave, and explained that the key to mastering it – just like anything in life – was practice, practice, practice – or as we say in the temple, train harder! He discussed how he would spend hours in front of the mirror when younger, refining and creating various movements that he could then bust out any time he was out performing or battling. He encouraged everyone to watch others and take what they like, then switch up the movement to add to their own styles. Shallow encouraged everyone not to be intimidated or scared to approach someone in a club and ask about their movements, saying most people would be quite flattered at the opportunity to share their expression.

The freestyle class ended with a cipher – a circle of dancers each taking turns expressing themselves – and Brian asked everyone to incorporate waving into their movements. Additionally, he talked some of the students through the issues they had mentioned earlier, and several of them were able to open up and improve quite rapidly. Brian helped one temple student who had barely danced since the 3rd grade, when he had learned merengue style, to express that style and add on what he had learned. The focus was on taking your core expression, whatever it may be, and building upon that.

For the final class, popping, Brian had another teacher, Doc, help out. Doc is also a martial artist, and took the opportunity to show the similarities between the martial arts and popping style. He focused on the hardness of the style, as opposed to the softness expressed in the previous class when waving was practiced. Doc related the popping movements to kung fu – using one’s qi and explosive power to make the popping motions. He then led drills that combined kung fu and popping together.

After the three classes were over, it was time for an open cipher, an opportunity for everyone to express themselves and the wealth of dances they’d learned throughout the day. Everyone had a wonderful time dancing – even the teachers took turns in the cipher – and the students greatly enjoyed watching them express their movements. One temple student even took what she’d learned in the popping class and combined doing kung fu forms with the popping movements to the beat.

Everyone kept taking turns dancing late into the night. Brian, Shallow, and the other teachers all had a wonderful time visiting the temple and sharing philosophy with the temple community, and likewise, the temple students loved the opportunity to learn new styles of motion and ways to express themselves. This was the first of many more dance fundraisers to come – stay tuned to our website, facebook, and twitter pages for announcements on upcoming events!