By Sue Botos
The young man in baggy pants and oversized South Park baseball cap, standard hip-hop gear, looked out over the rapt audience of student dancers, explaining the motivation for the dance they were practicing with the theme of “Evolution.”
“I want the most awkward, weird pose you can get into. Your challenge is to start slowly growing until you start dancing,” internationally known hip-hop artist Gev Manoukian told the class at The Dance Centre in Rocky River. The 9- through 12-year-olds complied by twisting torsos and limbs into various joint-defying contortions, gradually unwinding as the music picked up the beat.
Manoukian, a top 10 finalist in the 2008 season of the Fox reality show “So You Think You Can Dance,” bopped into town recently for a two-day master class session at The Dance Centre. Originally from Kazakhstan, Manoukian was born into a family of professional figure skaters and took to the ice at a young age. Discovering dance at age 16, he began his career when he was cast as a featured dancer in “High School Musical 2.” He has also appeared in numerous commercials and music videos, as well as ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” and the 2010 American Music Awards.
He’s also known for blending street dance and skating into hip-hop on ice routines. It was that combination of skating and dance that led to a meeting between Manoukian and Dance Centre founder Heidi Glynias.
Glynias said that she met Manoukian in May, when he worked with her troupe during a performance of “Skate Dance Dream” at Winterhurst Ice Rink in Lakewood. The nationally touring figure skating and dance show gives young skaters and dancers the opportunity to share the spotlight with accomplished stars in the two disciplines.”Gev loved the kids and wanted to work with them again, and we just loved having him here,” she stated. Manoukian, who has worked with celebrities like Whitney Houston, Ludacris, Ellen Degeneres, Pink and LeAnn Rimes, also choreographed a competition piece for Glynias’ students for the upcoming season.
The workout was intense, but students seemed to be having fun amid all the “breaking, popping and locking.” They laughed as they followed Manoukian’s instructions to pose like a “weird fish” or like they were taking a breath of fresh air or “riding on Pegasus.” Katie Pietrangelo balanced using just her hands at the direction to pose without feet on the ground, while Gavin Dallas attempted a handstand.
“Use your freestyle to get out of the quicksand,” Manoukian encouraged, having as much fun as his students. He even busted a few moves for the class, demonstrating a “power move” by doing a one-handed handstand spin.
Aside from power moves, the students learned about the other basic elements of hip-hop, including “top rock,” upright moves and shuffles, footwork, which includes support from hands as well as feet, and “freezes,” holding a pose, often upside down, using flexibility, balance and strength.
As the class wound down, the next group of older students filed in and clustered around the windows looking into the studio. “We’ve learned so much. He’s the best hip-hop teacher I’ve ever had,” Ingrid Sullivan commented.