Choreographing Using Urban Dance Foundations




Introduction: Choreographing Using Urban Dance Foundations

Choreographing a Dance

Whether you're a new dancer or a seasoned expert, urban dance foundations are essential to building a piece of urban choreography. By learning these basic moves, you will choreograph a 30 second piece by the end of this tutorial. The foundations covered in this Instructable includes Waacking, Popping, and Locking. Never heard of these? Check the glossary at the bottom of this introduction for a short history and definition of these terms. Let's get our creative thinking caps on and get started!


  • Clothes you feel comfortable moving in
  • An open floor
  • Something to play music on (i.e. laptop, speaker, cell phone)


  • WAACKING: An urban dance foundation born from gay clubs in the 1970's that involves movement of arms over different contact points located across the shoulders.
  • POPPING: An urban dance foundation that involves quick contraction and release of certain muscles to appear to burst to the beat.
  • LOCKING: A style of funk dance originating from the 1960's that involves exaggerated but tight movement of the shoulders and arms, with the legs in more relaxed and groovy positions.

Step 1: Selecting Music

Before you begin to choreograph any steps, select a song you enjoy and would like to dance to. The song you select should have easily countable beats. Common music genres associated with urban dance choreography includes hip-hop, rap, and R&B. However, don't feel the need to limit yourself to these genres - experiment with other genres like disco, EDM, or funk!

Once you select a song, listen to it and pick a specific section you would like to dance to. Maybe there's a verse, chorus, or breakdown that you particularly enjoy - listen to it intently for the full spectrum of beats and lyrics.

Step 2: Breakdown of Waacking

The first foundation covered in this Instructable is WAACKING. The most important part of waacking is to keep a good posture and a tight core. In a standing position, lightly flex your abdominal muscles and tuck your tailbone into your body. This will give your body a flat and strong plane to base your arms off of. The center of waacking is located at your shoulders - we'll call this the default point.

The "whack" involved with waacking is from lifting your arms from the default point and applying a sharp, hit-movement to your shoulderblades. Aim to have your hands meet your shoulders, rise up in the air, and "whack" with your hands touching your shoulderblades.

For beginner waackers, you may want to keep your hand in a loose fist to keep your movements clean. Advanced waackers can choreograph hand and finger placements to make the movement more dynamic.

For some demonstration, watch this waacking battle. The dancers in this video are experienced waackers and perform many intricate movements, but notice how often they reset their movement to the default point.

Step 3: Breakdown of Popping

The second foundation covered is POPPING. There is a misconception that you must be very muscular and strong to pop well, due to the intense, sharp movement. However, popping heavily relies on contrast more than strength.

In a standing position, with your left arm over your chest and your right arm at a 90 degree angle, flex the entirety of your arm and shoulder muscles as hard as you can for one second, then relax for one second. Notice how this movement appears to have "punctuation" - a clear start and end point. Switch arm positions and repeat on the other side. Put on music of varying tempos and practice the movement to see how it can appear different.

The beauty of popping is that you can do it anywhere on your body that has a muscle you can contract. Some advanced poppers can exhibit clear popping movement in their neck or leg. Don't be afraid to get creative with the pops you can create.

For beginner poppers, practice with the movement indicated above. If you are comfortable with this movement, try popping with extended arms. For advanced poppers, add simple footwork into your pops - you can enhance your popping by throwing in a level change like a lunge.

For some demonstration, watch this popping class. This popping class for beginners is a good template for the basics of popping movement. Watch how the dancers go from resting their bodies to creating that contrast from tensing their muscles.

Step 4: Breakdown of Locking (Basic Lock)

The final foundation featured in this Instructable is LOCKING. Locking is more complex than waacking and popping because it involves specific, whole-body movements. However, the arm movements of waacking and the punctual strength in popping are extremely helpful skills to have before you begin locking.

The basic locking movement featured in this tutorial includes the Basic Lock, the Uplock, and the Wrist Twirl. This is by no means an all-encompassing tutorial of locking moves, but you can explore the list found on this Wiki page (, which is surprisingly extensive and helpful.

The Basic Lock involves going from a standing position to a "locked" position where you lean into your left hip and hold your fists out like you're holding a horizontal pole. As you move from the standing position, sink into your left hip and pop your right toe, while leaning your body over in a 45 degree angle. Reach your fists out like you're holding a horizontal pole and "lock" into the position. Recover into a standing position and repeat.

Step 5: Breakdown of Locking: Uplock

The Uplock is also known as the "Muscle Man Lock" and it's pretty clear why.

To perform an Uplock, lean over slightly with your arms crossed over each other and your hands in fists. The "lock" of this move involves bringing your arms up into a "muscle man" position and sticking your chest out. Repeat by going back and forth between the crossed movement and the "muscle man" position.

Step 6: Breakdown of Locking: Wrist Twirl

The final locking move we will be covering is the Wrist Twirl. The Wrist Twirl is essentially a smaller version of waacking; instead of using your whole arm to create the "whack" movement, use your wrist.

In a standing position, bring your fist up to your shoulder, with your elbow at a 90 degree angle. Twirl your wrist so that it taps the back of your default point, then twirl it back forward. Practice rotating your wrists first, then practice the entire movement - from bringing your arm up to twirling your wrist back.

For some demonstration, watch this locking class. Watch how these advanced dancers use these simple moves to transition into more complicated ones. Pay attention to how firmly they hit each pose. Their unique song choice shows that you can really dance to anything with enough passion and creativity!

Step 7: Conduct a Constructive Freestyle

Freestyle?! Even the most advanced dancers are afraid to freestyle, but it represents the fundamental experience of dance that helps us discover the way we like to move. Remember that song section you picked earlier in this tutorial? Tune your device to the song and begin to practice the moves learned in this tutorial, but dance freely with the spectrum of your movement. Try the moves at a slower tempo first, making sure to keep your core tight. There is no need for a specific order of movement - this is where the freestyle comes in.

As you get comfortable with the movement and the music, add some variation to your movement. As a beginner, this could be simply mean changing your body level (via bending your legs or going up on your toes). If you're more advanced, try adding head movements, footwork, or even floorwork. These foundations are flexible no matter your skill level, so enjoy the creative process of getting to know the cool ways that you move.

Step 8: Find Memorable Parts of the Music

As you're freestyling to your song choice, you may notice parts of the music that stick out to you, whether that's a poetic lyric, an intonation in the artist's voice, a triplet of beats, or a smooth synth. Find the parts of the music you vibe with and begin building your choreography using your favorite parts of the music. For example, a loud snare drum in the music might inspire you to add a pop. Do you want this pop to go through your whole body, or only hit it with your arms? Do you want to squat, land a lunge, or stand upright during this pop? The sky is the limit with what you can create.

As you're adding these moves and building your choreography, remember that there are no wrong moves in dance and you can be as simple or as complex as you want with your movement.

Struggling with finding musicality in the song you chose? Check out this article for an easy breakdown of how meaty your music can be.

Step 9: Choreograph!

Woah! You just had a killer constructive freestyle session and you realize that you like the drums in the beginning of the song section, but love the lyrics towards the end. You have the blueprints to choreograph now.

Part of finding your dance style is also finding your choreography style. The most obvious way to choreograph is to go from beginning to end, but remember there is no one way to choreograph. Many dancers hear specific parts of the music that appeal to their movement, so they hit those notes first and fill in the gaps. With your choreography, you could begin from the middle, the end, dabble around in different parts of the song, etc. Do whatever feels right to the song and your preferred movement.

Make sure you select a starting and an ending point in your music so you have a clear canvas to work with.

If you have choreography block, take a break or come back to these moves and practice them in their simplest form, then build upon them again.

Choreography is a lot like writing. Most dancers don't publish their first draft. Make edits as needed. Record videos to see what you look like. Take record of your progress as you move to your final product.

Step 10: Perform Your Piece

This step is semi-optional. Many of you learning these foundations may have never performed in front of an audience before - and that's perfectly fine! The goal isn't to put you in next Beyonce video immediately after this tutorial (as much as we wish we could teach you how to do that). Dance is a performing and visual art, so sharing your new piece with the world might inspire others to create something as well.

Prone to stage fright? Take a video and post it to Instagram or Facebook. Camera shy? Show some of your closest friends what you created in a smaller setting. If you're a spotlight junkie, use your love of performance and present this piece to friends, family, whoever!

The best part of dance isn't about who can do the best tricks or who can get the most Instagram video likes - it's about sharing your emotions and art with a supportive community.

Go out and share your art with others!

Step 11:

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    Looks like a great way to keep kids focused on something constructive.