Hip hop at Haines

By AUBRIE GEORGE

Fred Vassallo grew up in Medford Township and has been dancing from as far back as he can remember.

Today, the Cranberry Pins Elementary School through Shawnee High School graduate has taken his passion to a professional level.

With over 12 years of experience as a professional hip-hop dancer and instructor, Vassallo has appeared in music videos for artists like Will Smith, has worked as a backup dancer, has been featured in a Nike commercial, and, most recently appeared with his dance group on Paula Abdul’s “Live to Dance.”

Last week, Vassallo brought his passion for dance back to his Medford roots, teaching hip-hop to every student at Haines Sixth Grade Center over the course of two days.

“I developed a program that goes into schools with a mission to combat childhood obesity through dance,” Vassallo said. “The vehicle that I use is hip-hop. It’s something kids immediately engage in, it’s relevant in our culture. Kids literally leave the room dancing.”

During last week’s program, Haines students gathered in the school’s auditorium in groups of about 30.

The program started out with Vassallo demonstrating some of the basics of hip hop dancing — popping and locking, break dancing, moonwalking and gliding, just to name a few.

As Vassallo went through the moves, he threw in information about the culture of hip-hop.

For example, Vassallo tells students that hip-hop is deeply rooted in traditional African dance and most of the moves require keeping your knees bent.

Then, students got moving themselves. With Vassallo’s guidance, they warmed up and then learned a combination that they performed at the end of the program.

Students also participated in a freestyle circle during each session.

Haines School Health and Physical Education Teacher Chip Candy said students enjoyed and reacted well to Vassallo’s program, especially because an upcoming school dance had them excited.

Vassallo, a former student of Candy’s, drew a lot of attention from Haines staff because many of them were his classmates or teachers throughout his elementary school through high school run in Medford public schools.

“We’re proud of the fact that he’s one of our own,” Candy said.

Candy said Vassallo sets a great example for students.

“This is a great way for the kids to see a self-made man from Medford who’s doing what he loves to do as a profession,” Candy said

Vassallo is the founder and director of REMIX Theater, which takes classic stories, fables, dramatic plays and musicals and re-tells them through a combination of drama, music, and urban dance.

Vassallo said the goal of his school program is to get students excited about dance, a movement he wants to take nationwide.

“My goal is to get them motivated to dance, let them know it’s fun and something you can do any time, anywhere,” Vassallo said.

For more information about Vassallo, visit his company’s Web site at www.remixtheater.com.