Hip Hop with Kenan Peters

Hip Hop

Taking Class

Kenan Peters' Hip Hop offers a comfortable, accepting class environment; aimed primarily for beginners, it's also great for dancers looking for inspiration without a vibe of competition. Coming to dance from a background in classical and jazz alto saxophone performance, Kenan is passionate about expressing the subtleties of music through movement. Kenan's choreography embodies a strong element of musicality, and his dances usually have a story or premise behind them that he explains before teaching the steps.

Throughout class, Kenan strives to convey to his students exactly what he hears in a song.

"If I can get that physically taught to someone," Kenan says, "then I feel like my job as a choreographer is accomplished."

Kenan is passionate about expressing the
subtleties of music through movement.

Precise musicality can be challenging, but Kenan always teaches with an eye to the needs of his students. He'd rather have people actually master a smaller amount of choreography than to push through a long routine, Kenan says. And he prefers to teach each dance multiple times so that his students can grasp it more fully. At the end of a routine, he loves to see that look on dancers' faces that says, "Yes, I got it!"

It's important to Kenan to break down the mechanics of the movements and explain where they match up with the music, so that his students can make those connections for themselves. And he encourages questions in class. He may not always know which parts of a dance will prove to be easier or more challenging, so he wants his students to let him know where he can help.

Everyone is here simply because they love to dance, Kenan says. Not to compete, but to grow. And he considers himself also still tremendously learning and growing as an artist. In his class, Kenan hopes dancers will join him in opening up and exploring their artistic side, and just soak up all they can.

Kenan appreciates his students, and he considers it a true compliment when dancers who drop in keep coming back for more, becoming regulars.

"As a teacher," he says, "one of the greatest feelings is knowing that people are looking forward to what you have to share."

A Choreographer’s Beginnings

Though he tends to teach to grimier music in hip-hop class, Kenan also has a profound affinity for R&B. A lot of R&B songs from back in the day, he says, contain deeper meaning that enhances his ability to connect with and physically relate to the music, bringing out the best in him as a choreographer.

Kenan enjoyed both hip hop and R&B growing up in Chicago, influenced by his older sister's taste in music. He also watched Michael Jackson's videos, he says, and "practiced in my living room until the VHS was just totally worn out."

One day Kenan saw an ABC TV special, a collaboration between renowned tap-dancer Savion Glover and Stevie Wonder. Still a young boy, he was so moved that he wanted to take tap lessons.

Kenan gave up tap when his basketball season started, and his heavy involvement in sports kept him busy all the way through high school. But the summer before he started college, Kenan devoted himself to hip-hop freestyle dancing. His freshman year, he joined Iowa State University's Hip Hop Club, known as Dub-H. Soon he was choreographing for the club and taking lots of different classes, making up for lost time.

After a couple of years with Dub-H, Kenan was motivated to spread awareness of hip hop, which he saw as lacking in Iowa. Through teaching classes and workshops, he envisioned portraying hip hop as something cool, fun, and exciting, and breaking through any negative stereotypes about the dance style or the culture.

It was a challenge to gain acceptance for hip hop, Kenan says, but he promoted himself actively, booking workshops and reaching out to dance teams. Next, he contacted studios about starting a class. He got his first real break at the Behn Dance Center in Boone, IA, and taught there for three years. About a year later, Kenan made the move to L.A.

Making Time for Freestyle

Growing up, Kenan picked up hip-hop style and movement from watching music videos. But he never really trained in hip-hop freestyle.

Then one night the summer before he started college, Kenan went out to an 18-and-over dance club. When he saw that the club had a freestyle circle, he jumped in, thinking he might be able to keep up.

"I got killed," he says. "It was just embarrassing . . . it was that bad!"

But it was the catalyst that motivated him to put work into his freestyle. And ultimately, Kenan's experience as a saxophone player helped him break through.

Using a freestyle instructional video by legendary hip-hop dancer Mr. Wiggles, Kenan broke down and dissected the mechanics of dance steps, practicing in his basement for hours on end. Eventually, he mastered the fundamentals of waving, ticking, popping, and boogaloo (just as in music, before he could play, he had to learn the basic chords).

Then, once he was able to connect his dancing with his experience with jazz improvisation, Kenan says, freestyle became a very natural thing for him.

"I remember the first time I had to stand up in front of a bar and do a solo. When my band teacher pointed at me and said, 'All right, you're up!'" Kenan says. ". . . You just have to go. And that is so similar and so reminiscent of when I freestyle on the dance floor."

Kenan is a self-described music junkie.

"While I'm at work, while I'm driving, while I'm walking from my car to work or from my car to my apartment, music is constantly going. So as much as I would love to just randomly break out in dance in the middle of the street," he laughs, "I don't."

Instead, he mostly saves it for home—and the studio. After class, when Kenan finishes talking with students, you'll usually see him throw on a song and just start dancing.

Hip Hop

Class in Brief

Aimed primarily for beginners, Kenan Peters' Hip Hop offers a comfortable, noncompetitive space for dancers. Kenan encourages questions in class, and he likes to teach each of his routines multiple times—so students can grasp it more fully and feel accomplished.

Trained in classical and jazz alto saxophone, Kenan has a passion for expressing the subtleties of music through movement. Throughout class, he breaks down the mechanics of his moves and shows where they match up with the music, allowing students to hear what he hears in a song. In addition to precise musicality, his dances usually have a story or premise behind them, which he explains before teaching the steps.

Everyone is in his class simply because they love to dance, Kenan says. Not to compete, but to grow. Kenan hopes students will join him in opening up and exploring their artistic side, and just soak up all they can.