2023 has a special importance for me and JJ-Street Dance Company, because it is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Over the years, many traditions have been born and many events have been brought to life, from which both students and trainers have gained new knowledge. One of these events is undoubtedly my training series Back To The Basics, which once traveled across Estonia. How did it all start and why is it special?
The first Back To The Basics took place in 2014 in seven different cities and directly translates to “Back to the beginning!”. The goal of the seminar was to share valuable, true and important information about street culture based on my life experience and examples. At that time, I said that I wanted to take today’s youth back to the past, where my peers gathered in abandoned halls to find the soul of hip-hop dance on their own. “Young people can get an idea of what clothes were a part of dancing, what kind of music gave them momentum, or how they started rapping and making graffiti.”
Know where you’re coming from – before you go
Janeli Kunnberg, who is now a trainer in JJ-Street, remembers the first training very well. “It took place in Keila and Joel showed a picture of boys, who were, so to speak, today’s generation hip-hoppers in comparison with the Kris Kross guys, to analyze old and new hip-hop. I still remember that we lit candles there and that this event completely opened my eyes on how hip-hop has developed in Estonia and elsewhere,” said Janeli. She has attended every subsequent seminar since then.
Theory and the history of street dance has always been one focus. “We didn’t have material to create street dance culture from, we started on our own,” I said in 2014. In my opinion, back then young people needed to be encouraged to find something new in dance, so that they didn’t just copy the skills that others had already discovered. Since learning has now become widespread, it is easier to find a way to learners by going to them.
A year later, a then 12-year old student Anita Toomere, came to Back To The Basics for the first time. “I remember that the first emotion was that wow, so many people are here. I had been training for half a year back then. Another thought was that everyone looked so cool and I understood the style of street culture, even when dressing. I remember Joel teaching a choreography that everyone was eager to learn and when the question round started, the students had so much to ask. I was amazed that even the younger students were listening attentively and that inspired me as well,” Anita described.
Sharing unique video footage from the 1990s has played a big role in Back To The Basics seminar. Over the years, footage has been seen that cannot be found on YouTube or Google. Today’s assistant trainer, Geia Jõemets, participated in the training for the first time in 2016 and did not know much about the history and background of street dance then. “This is what makes this event special, that nowadays we have a complete abundance of information, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish what is real information and what is not. I always get reliable knowledge from there,” she added.
Brought young people closer to charity
For several years in a row, the training toured all over Estonia, for example in 2016 it took place in Rakvere, Rapla, Tartu and Tallinn. The final day was in Tallinn, where the training was held that year, but in addition dance battles were also brought to life, and I jumped behind the DJ-table to spin vinyles.
In 2019, Back To The Basics took place only in Tartu and Tallinn, and the seminar with JJ-Street Children and Family Foundation made a big contribution, a 1000-euro donation, to the Estonian Association of Parents of Children with Cancer.
The representative of the association Kaili Lellep was very surprised. “It is a very, very large amount for our union, for what we can do a lot for the well-being of children with cancer. In recent years, young people have begun to pay more attention to charity work and donations, including our union, but they do not form the main group of donors in our association. Therefore it was even more surprising to me to see the sincere and immediate reaction of the young people who participated in the event when they heard that they contributed to a good deed – it was a powerful and memorable emotion,” she described the importance of a good deed done in Tartu in 2019.
A year later, I leveled up the seminar even more, when Henry Link, the founder of the famous dance troupe Elite Force Crew, carried out the training for four hours. Link has worked with Michael Jackson, Will Smith, TLC and Mariah Carey and opened the eyes of Estonian street dancers even more in terms of foundation and real hip-hop.
While the practical part of the seminar has been related to dance, the theoretical part has provided a lot of necessary knowledge and advice for everyday life. For example, time planning and valuing time, effective action, setting goals, maintaining a positive attitude towards life, etc. have been discussed. During the Covid-pandemic the seminar had to be postponed several times, but that only made the last two seminars that much more memorable.
This January, Back To The Basics took place for the eighth time and this time in Pärnu. The focus topic was “Dance wisely”, the purpose of which was to talk about the development of professional dance work and the choices a dancer has in his career. I believe, it’s one thing to just dance, but it’s another thing to see the big picture. Movements alone are not enough, you also need the mind.
Stories about life itself have a different effect
What do the participants find most necessary? “Since the information from the trainers does not always reach the students so accurately, because there is not enough time to touch everything during trainings or there is no such experience, this training is an additional opportunity for both students and trainers. The whole dance school comes together and does something awesome together,” explained Janeli. “When I came back from there, I got more reasons to train myself and discovered new and interesting things about dance,” said student Evert Markus Sirendi.
Stories and examples from this real life sow excitement. “This is information that I know you can’t get anywhere else, we hear many stories and examples from behind the scenes, so to speak. I see that the people who go there have the will and desire to develop, and the experiences of the trainings connect them in a different way,” confirmed Anita.
“The last impressions of the Back To The Basics training are fresh in my mind from the theoretical part that took place at the Liipa Talu in November, where Joel had searched for even older videos and pictures from his archive, which gave many answers about the development of street dance in Estonia,” she said.
Now there are a few weeks left until January 21, when the practical part will take place in Tallinn. For the first time, the participants are divided into two llevels, so that learning is suitable for everyone.
Nine years of dancing, savings and knowledge in just one event!
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