“This is not hip-hop. This is dancehall,” Brian Herman shouts into the room-length mirror of Double Up Dance Studio, while ten sets of eyes stare back, some confused, some frustrated, some beginning to show the spark of understanding. Exuding a laid-back authority indicative of his expertise in the nuances of both styles, he explains himself without words or music. He steps, stomps, and claps out a rhythm, gyrating his body and waving his arms in time. The confused stares soften, the music restarts, and the dance resumes.
Double Up Dance, founded in September 2014, is the creation of brothers Brian and Paul Herman, specializing in hip-hop and other urban dance forms, such as break, dancehall, and hip-hop fusion. The Hermans were born in the South Bronx—the hypocenter from which the shock waves of hip-hop disseminated throughout the world. This was only a few years after Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” flooded national airways and right around the time that Boogie Down Productions’ South Bronx was starting to clue in listeners, from the inner city to the suburbs, to the imminent cresting of the hip-hop tidal wave.
As children, their Jamaican mother and St. Lucian father had music playing all the time. “Music is a big part of their culture,” says Paul. “Doing chores around the house, you found a way to move and make it fun.”
The Hermans first fell in love with dancehall, a style of music and dance with Afro-Caribbean origins. As the boys got older they took their talents to the neighborhood streets, where break dancing—or B-boying—was the main form of cultural currency for aspiring dancers. Gathered around a makeshift cardboard stage, B-boys would press play on a boom box and battle one-on-one, popping, locking, and whirling like dervishes for supremacy and respect.
But the fierce individuality and improvisational nature of B-boy culture did little to satiate a growing desire in the Hermans to dance with others. Away from the battles, Brian and Paul studied videos of the Supremes, the Temptations, Justin Timberlake, and Usher. The brothers were entranced by the cumulative power of bodies moving in unison, and they decided to invest their talents in choreography. They have since danced with, and choreographed for, some of pop’s biggest names, including Alicia Keys, Chris Brown, and Sean Paul.
The Hermans began leading classes at local gyms when they came to Fairfield to attend college. Paul graduated from Sacred Heart, and Brian is currently at Fairfield University. When they learned of a vacancy at the Sportsplex of Fairfield, Double Up Dance was born.
Over 500 students have come through their door in just over a year. “I’ve taken classes at the big dance schools in New York City,” says Jacqueline Touby, a Double Up devotee. “Double Up’s teachers and classes are better. And there’s a sense of community that you don’t get anywhere else.”
Another goal is to encourage an appreciation of dance across a range of styles. “The raw deal hip-hop helps students get that aggression, those hard hits,” says Paul. You go to contemporary, and it smoothes you out. Then you go to ballet and it teaches you discipline. Dancehall teaches you to be groovy.”
Not surprisingly, other dance schools in the area also teach hip-hop. In Norwalk, Just Dance Studio’s faculty includes nationally ranked female break dancer Nicole Whittaker and a former dancer and choreographer on America’s Best Dance Crew, Jake Pesquira. Also in Fairfield, and attesting to the international reach of the hip-hop aesthetic, is Filip Lacina, one of Flash Pointe Dance’s four hip-hop instructors. Lacina learned the style in his native Czech Republic.
“Even if you can’t speak to someone, you can communicate through dance,” says Paul Herman.
TEAM LEGGO That’s DUDS touring company, which competes in national showcases. Leggo alums have appeared in Bloomingdale’s and Staples commercials, and have become Brooklyn Nets’ dancers. “We build résumés,” says Paul.
This article appears in the Holiday 2015 issue of TownVibe Fairfield