Dance is hip (hop)

In between seasonal work with the Blazer Dancers and work with private dance teams in Portland, Andre Baker takes time twice a week to teach anyone from the Portland community hip-hop dance.

In between seasonal work with the Blazer Dancers and work with private dance teams in Portland, Andre Baker takes time twice a week to teach anyone from the Portland community hip-hop dance.

Every Tuesday and Thursday evening this term from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., members of the Portland community can drop into Room 207 of the Stott Center for a class with Baker, a long-term professional dancer.

Baker is well known among the Portland dance community, a community he describes as, “very small overall with a hip-hop community that’s even smaller.” A semi-Portland native, Baker spent the other half of his youth in St. Paul, Minnesota, with his grandparents and mother, all of whom are lifelong dancers. He said his style of dance is different from what many may think of as hip-hop.

Baker, who was raised performing many forms of dance, describes his style as “street hip-hop,” although he said a style of African-based dance has always been close to his heart.

“A lot of the dance out there right now is what I like to call hip-pop,” he said.

The style of hip-hop that Baker teaches is based on rhythm, rather than counting beats like most contemporary dance, he said. “It’s more fluent and less technical.”

Baker remains relaxed in his classes, laughing with students. Even so, he always is ready to make up a new dance move.

“I am making this up as I go along,” he said during one class with students, “but don’t worry, I won’t forget next class, we will keep working on this.”

April Mullen, student coordinator of the World Dance Office (WDO), said that the class builds community and awareness.

“It’s awesome because it pulls people from the community, people from broad age ranges and experiences, and allows them to dance in a very supportive environment,” she said.

Mullen said that a supportive environment is the key to a successful learning experience, especially in a dance class. It can be difficult for dancers, even those with experience, to take on a new form of movement.

Although knowledgeable in forms of Latin Dance, like Salsa and Samba, Mullen said that she was, “completely intimidated by hip-hop and its choreography.”

Baker’s skill, experience and interactive teaching style help eliminate the fear of first time dancers, Mullen said.

“Andr퀌� is very good at breaking things down and making it easy,” said Mullen, who heard about Baker’s ability through word of mouth and hired him through the WDO last month. “He can really cater to anyone’s level of experience. “

Although he relies on memory and natural feeling for hip-hop, he has worked in more choreographed environments, such as his seasonal work with the Trail Blazers’ dance team and various other dance teams in the city. He said his time with the Blazers, referring to them affectionately as “the pop squad,” was fun and full of excitement.

“It was also cool to meet NBA players and work with other dancers,” he said.

Although he auditioned for the Blazers’ dance team, Baker said his first “high pressure audition” was a few months ago in Los Angeles on the set of So You Think You Can Dance, a TV show about competitive and highly synchronized dancing. After making it to the top 30 out of hundreds of contestants, Baker returned to Portland to continue working on hip-hop dance.

In addition to teaching classes twice a week at Portland State, Baker teaches people ages five and up at Center Space, a studio he rents on Southeast Sixth Avenue and Stark Street. He also leads an 18-and-older dance group called Liquid Moves.

Motivated by his love of dance, he said he hopes to own his own studio in the future.

“Dancing is just something I like to do all the time. It’s in me and I can’t really explain it,” Baker said. “I like to entertain and give people something to enjoy.”

Baker’s hip-hop class is $4 for PSU students, $6 for PSU faculty and $8 for the general public. The open-to-the-public, drop-in nature of the class makes it different from most classes on campus, in which only students are allowed to enroll.