Hip Hop Fundamentals – Making an Impact in the Most Unique and Inspiring Way
by: Kelly Fliller with contributions from Mark Wong
Most of us have heard of Hip Hop and Breakdancing and may even know a move or two. But did you know that Hip Hop and Breakdancing (also known as Breaking) are being used to teach empowerment, diversity, creativity, collaboration and even classroom subjects? Hip Hop Fundamentals is doing just that and creating positive impact in so many ways. Co-founded by Mark Wong (aka Metal) and Steve Lunger (aka Steve Believe), Hip Hop Fundamentals is an award-winning team of diverse, professional Breakdancers dedicated to Hip Hop Education.
I met Hip Hop Fundamentals in December of 2018 at Silver Bay Elementary School in New Jersey. They were performing an in-school assembly as part of the ARTS Lab program, brought to the school by Young Audiences for Learning and funded by the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation. Students learned a little bit of history, how to work together and some brand new dance moves! The teachers and principal joined the students on stage to make their Hip Hop debut. One of the best parts for me, aside from watching the amazing talent of the group members, was seeing how engaged and excited the kids were. They could not wait to participate and learn.
I was so excited to have the opportunity to talk to Mark and learn more about how Hip Hop Fundamentals got started and how they are making their impact.
Mark met Steve in 2002 in what Mark describes as a B-boy underground network of superheroes. A B-boy or B-girl is a person devoted to Breakdancing and Hip Hop culture. What makes them superheroes? They go to school all day plus work hard at their jobs, but still come together at night to spend hours practicing the art of Breaking. This is not just a dance, it’s a way to communicate, feel like a part of something bigger and positively impact others.
In 2006, Mark started running a teen lounge, where he taught after-school programs. Teens could hang out, learn about Breaking and create what would become lifelong bonds. This lounge gave teens a place to go and something to do with a purpose. The more the teens learned about Hip Hop and Breaking, the more they really started to like it and could feel and understand the impact it had on their lives. Some of the teens from the first after-school program are still a part of Hip Hop Fundamentals, today.
Mark and Steve took their passion for Breaking and turned it into their careers and a way to make life better for so many others. It is their hope to be able to create more jobs for young B-boys and B-girls who want to use their love of Breaking to change the world.
Turning Passion into Purpose
Eventually, the after school programs transitioned into assembly programs and residencies in the schools. In 2010, Hip Hop Fundamentals created their first school-aligned program where they integrated Breaking with teaching academic subjects. Aaron Troisi, Educational Director of Hip Hop Fundamentals, and a personal friend of Mark and Steve, brought up the idea of teaching academic subjects through Breaking. So Mark and Steve expanded their knowledge and expertise and became Certified Teaching Artists. They started integrating Hip Hop with teaching and were building shows around teaching the history of the Civil Rights Movement. This is a ground-breaking program, which focuses on audience participation and interactive activities to tackle racism and segregation in a safe and fun environment through Hip Hop.
Mark and Steve wanted to bring this show to more and more people so they created a Kickstarter campaign and raised over $11,000 which eventually led to other funding. Because of this, they were able to perform for free wherever they could and spread their mission to more schools and communities.
The Hip Hop Fundamentals crew is also using Breaking to teach some other subjects that may come as a surprise. They did a residency in kindergarten and first grade classrooms, teaching long and short vowels. They are also using Hip Hop to teach physics. Mark said that teaching through Breaking really resonates with the younger kids. Who wouldn’t want to learn in this fun and interactive way? Young people learn best when they are challenged, supported, empowered and can participate in engaging and personal lessons.
Mark and Steve have an active role in the planning and academic alignment between Breaking and education. They are artists and their philosophy is to let the teachers teach, but the process is so collaborative. They regularly meet with teachers and have open conversations where ideas flow back and forth. This has produced some of the greatest classroom content.
Some of the after school residencies have been tough. Mark has led a few programs where the kids just didn’t want to be there. He has also broken up fights on more than one occasion. But out of a tough situation came the positive. Mark noticed the kids were coming in feeling angry every day. He could have let that go and just continued on with the program. Instead, he wanted to know why they were feeling this way. So Mark asked if anyone wanted to talk privately. All of the kids lined up and spoke to Mark about what was going on in their lives. There were so many serious reasons why these students were so angry, but now Mark could do something about it. He spent every day showing them he cared. Mark talked to them, worked with them on breathing and eventually, the kids started showing an interest in learning dance. After the residency was over, the group performed a showcase for their friends and family. This was a successful outcome and Mark proved that with compassion, understanding and Hip Hop, anything can happen.
Mark has seen extremely positive results from the after school programs and residencies. The happiness, smiles and joy are clear. For some of these teens, it’s the only time in their lives where they can be kids and just have fun. It is a great two hours to unplug from the world and just focus on themselves. There are no phones (for risk of it falling out of their pockets and breaking – no pun intended) and best of all, there is no judgment.
This is a safe place for kids to express emotions. Hip Hop Fundamentals teaches diversity, collaboration and gives teens an outlet for aggression. They can “dance upset” and get out those emotions in a safe, non-violent way with support of others.
For Mark, the best part of this is getting to do what he loves. Breaking is his favorite thing in the world and he does it every day for a loving audience. Even if it was only for entertainment purposes, he would be happy. The fact that he gets to do what he loves and make an impact, well that’s a dream come true. Mark also loves when he witnesses other B-boys and B-girls finally make the connection that what they are doing is having a positive impact.
Hip Hop Fundamentals will continue doing amazing work in the community. From after school workshops and in-school residencies to Hip Hop dance lessons and professional development, Hip Hop Fundamentals is carrying out its mission to inspire audiences and participants of all ages. Mark encourages anyone who wants to participate or learn more to start a conversation with him. Visit https://www.hiphopfundamentals.com/ to read more and see Hip Hop Fundamentals in action.