“The first song that spoke to me was ‘Man in the Mirror’ by Michael Jackson. I knew Michael Jackson, his songs were the first ones I was dancing to, but that song had a message. I may not have fully known it at the time it came out, I was young, but I knew how I felt about it. It made me want to go after it. Once I knew the words, it made me want to stop dancing just like him, and start dancing just like me.”
Kevin Glasper is a local dancer with a national reputation. While dance festivals take him across the country to California, his love for this region keeps him rooted here, where he teaches movement and dance, and is hired regularly as a choreographer. His repertoire includes jazz, ballet and hip hop, and it is his hip hop moves that he has built his reputation on.
“I bring hip hop with me where ever I go. What I mean by that, is that hip hop is about more than just the moves There’s five parts to it, part of it is the moves, it is also the history, the DJing, the MCing, and the graffiti art.”
He points to one of his tattoos. “My tattoos are art that I have drawn — that is the graffiti. Everywhere I go, I share the history, and learn more. And I’m always dancing.”
Glasper’s life is built around dance, which started when he was a child. He counts as his early mentors the Steppers for Christ in his church.
City Youth Ballet, and especially Susan Pace White and Tom Blessing, helped develop his classical skills and techniques. He also recounts Eva Taylor, who was over Johnson City Recyclables and Urban Art Throw Down, which helped connect him to the Umoja Festival and Little Chicago.
“I studied hard with all of those groups. I practiced, I listened, I learned. Because dance wasn’t just something fun for me to do. It’s who I am. You can go to school to be anything or learn something else, but if you don’t have a passion, you can grow tired of it. Dance is something I want to keep learning, not just movement, but history, and turn it into a lifelong pursuit.”
Part of this lifelong pursuit is the dance group Universally Complicated Freestylers, which he co-founded with Mark Flowers in 2009.
He takes his work as a dancer seriously. More than a hobby, he says, dance can bring people together, that it is a universal language.
“People can speak to each other without saying a word. Dancing to music, whether you feel like you know how to dance or not, you are moving because the music makes you feel something. Slow, fast, salsa, jazz, funk, classical, lyrical, it makes you move some way. My joy is helping people connect those moves to their own spirit.”
He said he didn’t always know he would become a teacher of dance and movement. But the more he became skilled in his craft, the more he wanted to share it with others.
“So many times, a kid is told they are doing something wrong, doing it the wrong way. Dance is so free. Once you learn the basics, you can take it, and make it your own, and express yourself freely, and it isn’t wrong. It’s empowering.”
Glasper also points out there is much more to learning dance than just the moves. There are life skills being taught that will help them grow and mature.
In dance and choreography, there is a process of active listening, always big in communication. There is listening and repeating back.
He immediately knows if his students are listening when they repeat back the moves he teachers — or not.
Critical thinking skills are combined with learning basic movement. Students learn a pattern, take it, then think about how to make it better and make it their own. Behavioral skills are in play, as students discover when it is the best time to add or take away a movement, the right time to ask questions, and when to defer to another dancer.
“This is what I want to teach. Give them the basics, and then foster their growth as individuals.”
He references the song again.
“As I got older, I began to understand what the song said, not just how it made me feel. It was that message of wanting to make the world a better place by being the person I am. Behind the dancing man is a man who cares about the world and the people in it, and the next smile, the next advancement you can make.”
He then laughs his unmistakable laugh that fills the room.
“We all have a chance to make the world a better place. Or not. And we each have a special skill to do that. I believe mine is dance. And that’s what I am doing every time I teach it.”
Kevin Glasper returns this fall to the McKinney Center in Jonesborough to teach hip hop levels one and two.
For information about the hip hop class or other classes at the McKinney Center, contact McKinney Center Director Theresa Hammons at [email protected] or by calling (423) 753-0562.
To see all classes, download the online catalog at this link: http://www.jonesboroughtn.org/images/MBM_Fall_2017_071017R.pdf.