Half-a-century of hip hop: Am I really that old?

According to urban legend, the origins of Hip hop can be traced to a block party in a Bronx apartment back in 1973; today it is a global genre of music, dance, art and lifestyle. And it is well-established in regional Victoria.

Sarah (Sas) Cook is an award-winning dance professional with 25 years’ of experience in performing arts, choreography, community development, youth work and business. Sas runs the Movement Zone dance studio in Castlemaine which has been leading the way in dance in Central Victoria for the past 20 years.

graphic with text "hip hop at 50 are you feeling old?

Ausdance VIC: Hi Sas, thank you very much for joining us today. Half-a-century of hip hop! When I saw that the other week, I was like, hang on, am I really that old? I don’t remember hip hop as a teen. My first taste of hip hop was the “Walk this way” collaboration between Run DMC and Aerosmith in 1986.

Sas Cook: It started in the Bronx and with the DJs over there like Grandmaster Flash. Then you slowly saw this migration. But it didn’t reach us till the 80s. Then in the 90s, I think hip hop just exploded in Australia. I reckon the hip hop of the 90s is probably some of the best. I think that’s when I really got hooked on it.

Ausdance VIC: It has really become a global phenomenon, hasn’t it? And in lots of places, there’s a massive urban dance culture that still takes place in the social shadows. It’s got a funny kind of relationship with mainstream culture.

Sas Cook: It’s a whole culture, it’s about the music, it’s about the art, it’s about the streetwear. It’s everything. I think urban dancers actually do a lot better in certain aspects and I think urban styles have got more credibility now.

the logo for breakdancing (breaking) at the 2024 Olympics

Breakdance is in the Olympics, and there’s a real reason for that. To do almost-gymnastics and hit it on a beat takes skill as an athlete.

A lot of my dancers, who have classical backgrounds as well, are doing better at auditions than someone who’s just been to a dance school focused on classical and contemporary.

All those dancers have learned to do is follow a teacher; whereas in the culture of hip hop, you have to freestyle, you have to just jump in and hit a beat and have that confidence. In an audition this can mean getting the gig over someone who’s technically right.

Ausdance VIC: How did you find hip hop as a dancer?

Sas Cook: I went to study dance full time in Melbourne, classical and contemporary, but I always had this urge to provide something like it (Movement Zone) in the hip hop or urban genre. Mainly because anyone can do it. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, tall or short. It really is for everyone and I love that aspect.

Sarah (Sas) Cook, owner of Movement Zone dance studio in Castlemaine Victoria

Ausdance VIC: Movement Zone is different and a bit quirky for a regional dance studio. Tell us how it came about?

Sas Cook: I was in Melbourne for a long time but I moved back to Castlemaine when I was 25. Then I met somebody else who had moved into town and had a background in breakdance. We used to hang out a bit and I really launched (Movement Zone) around this time. I wanted to bring hip hop and that culture to Castlemaine and I just thought I’m going to make this a school that’s accessible to everyone.

Ausdance VIC: So, are you celebrating 50 years of hip hop in Castlemaine?

Sas Cook: (When) I went to school and studied dance here, there was only ballet, and maybe some contemporary being introduced and there’s still a lot of “old timey” dancing in Castlemaine, but yes, we’re celebrating 50 years of hip hop.

You can check out the Movement Zone website and socials for a taste of their unique and inclusive approach to urban dance.