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Popmaster Fabel teaches community to pop and lock

“All of this beautiful space around you is space for you to dance in and explore,” instructed Jorge “Popmaster Fabel” Pabon, as funk music played and around 60 undergraduates, graduate students, Cornell staff, Ithaca residents and high school students spread out and experimented with popping moves.

Pabon, a renowned hip-hop dancer and longtime advisory board member of the Cornell Hip Hop Collection, was leading the first of five workshops this semester at the Schwartz Center in the popping style he’s famous for. The series, sponsored by the Hip Hop Collection and the Department of Performing and Media Arts, will continue in the spring with five sessions taught by dancer Richard “Crazy Legs” Colon.

“Hip-hop is so multifaceted and multidimensional,” said Katherine Reagan, curator of rare books and manuscripts at Cornell University Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, which includes the Hip Hop Collection. “Previously we’ve brought hip-hop artists to work with the Africana and music departments, and this time we wanted to focus on dance. We’re honored to bring Fabel’s skills and gifts to the Cornell community.”

Pabon, of the world-famous Rock Steady Crew, was born and raised in Spanish Harlem and is a master of hip-hop dance. He has taught at New York University’s Experimental Theatre Wing for 16 years.

Wednesday night, Pabon told the dancers at the workshop that he mostly practices what’s known as the electric boogaloo style of popping – “jerky moves combined with smooth flows.” Popping, which originated in California but quickly caught on in New York City, involves the quick contraction and relaxation of a dancer’s muscles.

“I’m just completely excited to share my first love – dance forms associated with hip-hop culture – and spread the knowledge and spread the richness of the culture, everywhere and anywhere but especially at an institution of higher learning,” Pabon said.

The dancers assembled for the first workshop included both beginners who had never before heard of popping and locking and experienced hip-hop dancers, some of whom belong to Cornell’s breakdancing club.

“I’m here to help support the Hip Hop collection, and because I’m personally interested in learning these styles,” said Andrew Klapproth ’18, a student in the College of Engineering and a member of the breakdancing club, the Absolute Zero Crew. “Learning from someone like Fabel is a great opportunity.”

Said Ben Ortiz, assistant curator of the Cornell Hip Hop Collection: “There’s a deep history that’s going to be taught along with the dance. It’s not just about having fun – it’s about how an entire culture expresses itself.”

The workshops, also supported by Ronni Lacroute ’66, will be held Wednesdays from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in Room SB10 at the Schwartz Center through Oct. 5. They’re free and open to the public, but participants are asked to pre-register here.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.