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Students can 'get hip' with a variety of urban arts classes and organizations

From classes to clubs, ASU is full of opportunities for students to get involved in the Urban Arts

Students dance at the Urban Sol event near the ASU Art Museum in Tempe, Arizona, on March 18, 2018. Tim Trimble

The large community within ASU acts as a base for many cultures to come together and grow. Hip-hop is no exception to that.

Students can explore the hip-hop community at ASU through a wide variety of urban arts classes and events offered by the School of Film, Dance and Theatre as well as various student organizations. 

The Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts, which houses the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, offers a degree called “Performance and Movement" which allows different focuses in areas of dance and theater including urban arts, which explores hip-hop and the role urban arts play in popular culture. 

Marcus White, an assistant professor of dance, said that ASU has a very unique focus on the urban arts.

White said ASU is one of the few universities in the country that gives students the opportunity to academically connect with hip-hop through several levels of classes. 

"In the United States, this is one of the only programs that offers a sequence of classes that you can take looking at hip-hop or looking at urban movement," White said. "It's multiple tiered and it's really exciting to be able to work at a space like ASU that's trying to make that happen."

White teaches the Urban Movement Practices class, which focuses on educating students about the elemental aspects of the urban arts and current events in hip-hop culture. 

The school also offers other classes such as Urban Letterforms, a writing course focused on graffiti art; Dance in U.S. Popular Culture, which focuses on the history of urban movement and multiple in-studio classes for hip-hop and urban dancers. 

White said the school is planning on expanding the urban arts program and that it has just closed its search for more faculty members whose work and research interests include cultural studies through an urban lens. 

Outside the classroom, there are also a variety of clubs that give students the opportunity to explore urban arts culture. 

The Urban Arts Club, which is dedicated to giving students an outlet for their passions in the urban arts, offers events for students to explore hip-hop culture at ASU. 

The club opens a dance studio in the Nelson Fine Arts Center every Friday night for its "Get Down Sessions." The sessions provide a space for people to unwind through hip-hop and a platform for dancers to de-stress after a long week.

Ruby Morales, a senior dance major and president of the Urban Arts Club, said the club tries to include as many people as possible at its sessions.

"It’s a moment for community members and students to just jam out; we play music and you can write, dance or draw,” Morales said. “We're just trying to involve all the aspects of hip-hop and provide an open space that anyone can walk into and be apart of.”

Alexus Purnell, a junior studying dance and justice studies and vice president of the Urban Arts Club, said the club is aiming to get more involvement in the coming years, whether it be from artists or non-artists. 

"We want to have as many people as possible to come and open their awareness to what hip-hop really is in an education system and at a university level," Purnell said. 

Other ASU urban dance initiatives like Urban Sol connect resources from the Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts to artists outside of the ASU community for an event that brings urban artists together. 

At the end of every semester, the in-class and extracurricular aspects of hip-hop at ASU collaborate to present an event of urban art appreciation called the EXPO.

The EXPO includes performances from dance classes, short film showings, a writing workshop and informative discussions with the various urban art-involved clubs and classes. 

The second ever EXPO was held on April 25, 2018. White said it is a way to exchange a dialogue between urban arts groups at ASU. 

"The EXPO is a moment to have students come together and exchange with each other, but it's also a moment for folks to stay connected and rooted to urban arts and hip-hop as a artistic practice rooted in thinking about geography and history,” White said. 

The concept of hip-hop being taught in an academic setting is still fairly new to the world of education.

White said that although ASU's program is almost a decade old, the school is making continuous efforts to add clarity to what hip-hop curriculum means at a university level.

"Academic institutions did not create hip-hop - hip-hop comes from the people. How to negotiate that is something we're working through," White said.

Reach the reporter at and follow @meganbarbera_ on Twitter. 

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