Quentin Robinson’s been throwing it down since he was 12 years old, skipping school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to attend dance battles against rivals from other schools during lunch hour.
“For the next week, that’s all you'd hear about,” he said. “That’s how we grew up.”
Sunday he taught some moves that helped him win those dance-offs (and keep his nickname — SpecialFX) at his first regular hip-hop dance class, held at the Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre.
Eight students, from 7 years old to some more experienced dancers in their 20s, learned basics of popping, krumping, tutting, glide and wave, as well as some of Robinson’s original choreography in the two-hour introductory session.
At the start of the class, Robinson made one thing clear: When he demonstrated a move, you didn’t have to repeat it perfectly.
“It’s hip-hop,” he said. “It’s you, it’s your style, it’s who you are.”
And to demonstrate, he showed off some moves.
“Don’t be alarmed. This is me,” he said.
Sunday’s class started with Robinson’s favorite style of hip-hop: popping.
Popping largely involves quick muscle flexes in five areas of the body: upper arms, forearms, chest, stomach and thighs.
“You’re going to make a muscle as fast as you can and let it go as fast as you can,” he told the class, having each student hold their arms out and pop their biceps.
Robinson moved in this way through the class, taking moments to slow things down and teach intricate moves, never hesitating to take a few moments with one student until they got it right.
He taught the class a wave movement with the arms, airwalk and glide moves with the feet (smooth, so the shoes don’t squeak across the floor).
“You don’t wanna hear that squeak,” he said “Not in the middle of a song.”
Then the students learned some moves to Robinson’s happy dance, choreography that he’s taught to people all over the world for a documentary on dance.
The swing jazz moves came quickly during instruction, but when Robinson turned on the music, a double-time funk song, about half the class looked stunned by the speed they were suddenly expected to dance at.
Robinson grinned at them after the first try and by the third, fourth and fifth, it started to come together.
“If you don’t bounce, you will fall over,” he reminded during a pause. “It’s a constant bounce to this entire routine.”
Sure enough, on every beat, feet were leaving the floor, legs kicking, turning, sliding. It was impossible to be caught flat-footed.
They covered krumping, an “angry” type of dancing that involved some popping, as well as plenty of stomping with the thunderous bass and snare hits that gave the ballet theatre’s sound system a workout.
After a while, Robinson let the class go at it freestyle.
Seven-year-old Indy Dodge showed off some moves, light-up shoes flashing. Brandy La Roux, a trained belly dancer, incorporated a lithe arm wave into her dance.
La Roux said afterwards she came to Robinson’s class looking to diversify her dance experience.
"It was awesome,” she said, a great way to “break away from the gym.”
After a decade serving in the Marine Corps, Robinson made his way to Missoula and worked on getting his documentary, “The Happy Project,” off the ground.
The movie follows Robinson as he travels around the world to places like Uganda, Israel, Jordan and Indonesia to teach and learn dance moves, showing a common love of dance between people everywhere on Earth.
“Every time we had some kind of function with music…there was no problems at all,” he said. “We’re all tied in that way.”
Robinson hopes to hold video chats with people he meets overseas and students in Missoula, bringing together different experiences to find common ground.
“This kid on the other side of the world woke up this morning and did exactly what you did, just in different circumstances,” he said.
Robinson got to know the dance scene in Missoula by moving between different groups and studios, working with anyone and everyone who’s got the moves he’s looking for.
He’s excited to teach regular classes not just to share his talents, but to build a community; he can work students into future events and shows as they learn and get better at dancing.
“The experience is learning it and being in a room and bouncing around with everybody enjoying the music,” he said. “I want to be able to build a platform. So it’s not just a hip-hop class and go home.”
DanceFX classes are scheduled every Sunday at noon at the Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre. Students are welcome to attend single classes or multiple sessions at a discounted rate.