Photo by Alice Gebura
Jason Noer at the Cowles Center
At 40, Jason Noer is the second-oldest active B-Boy—breaker, or break dancer—in Minnesota. He is also the first (and only) person to use dance to talk about hip hop in a University of Minnesota master’s thesis.
Through his years as a breaker, a student, and a teacher, Noer—known as B-Boy J-Sun to the hip hop community—believes teaching hip hop can increase engagement and independent thinking in students, and now he’s out to show you the why and how of it. His thesis, Music, Moves, and Mindsets: A Practical Application of Hip Hop Pedagogy for K-12 Education, is part dance, part explanation, and part teaching instruction, a perfect mix for newcomers to learn more and for practitioners to dig a little deeper.
His thesis isn’t the start of his work in hip hop teaching; it’s just another milestone. In the University dance class he has taught since 2013, for instance, his teaching methodology already plays out as students learn different styles of hip hop, and watch and discuss documentaries on the history of hip hop culture. Oftentimes, conversations evolve into questions about Noer’s firsthand experiences as a breaker—it’s difficult not to want to hear more about his experiences battling, learning, and sharing the stage with some of hip hop’s most influential figures during the culture’s evolution and growth.
“A hip hop pedagogy is not simply the music or the dance,” says Noer. “It’s more from the lessons as a breaker and a cypher.” (A cypher is a setting that brings people into a community and helps to release creativity.)
No matter the age of the student, Noer believes learning hip hop dance and hip hop culture helps students think critically and become confident. The dancing in itself teaches lessons on adaptability, balance (literally and figuratively), and show and prove—the idea that you can’t just talk about something to know it; you have to show commitment and proficiency.
Noer has seen hip hop appropriated in many ways, so he knew that as a teacher, he wanted to create an authentic foundation and act as an access point to the community.
“I had to know a lot about each form of hip hop art, at least traditionally, and then I had to know its history,” he says. “I had to be able to talk about the hard parts of hip hop with the youngest. I had to figure out how to talk about graffiti art, and I had to figure out how to talk about oppression, and I had to be able to teach a six step to, like, a six-year-old. I had to be able to figure out how to break it all down to different levels and different students.”
Noer will be breaking down his thesis in a similar way, starting the audience with rocking, one of hip hop’s foundational styles, and then breaking, tying its aesthetics to Paulo Freire’s Pedagogies of the Oppressed, Gloria Ladson-Billings’ thoughts on culturally relevant pedagogy, and other scholars’ ideas. Follow that up with the hip hop style new jack swing, and you have a performance spanning hip hop history and a discussion that makes you realize what teaching hip hop can really do.
Music, Moves, and Mindsets: A Practical Application of Hip Hop Pedagogy for K-12 Education. March 10 at 6:30 p.m.; free; Bell Museum Auditorium, 10 Church St. SE, Mpls.; facebook.com/events/1677120672580651/