Aiming for Las Vegas – world’s oldest hip hop group, from Waiheke Island

Press Release – Hip-Operation
The world’s oldest Hip Hop dance group is aiming to perform at the World Hip-Hop Dance Championships in Las Vegas in August. The dance troupe consists of 45 Waiheke Islanders aged between 66 and 96 years old. They have spent the past six months doing Flash Mob performances around Auckland and have now set themselves up as an official Hip Hop dance group called ‘The Hip Op-eration Crew’.

Rehearsals for the Auckland Regional Hip Hop Championships, to be held in March, began this week with the group of senior citizens learning raunchy Hip Hop moves to a music track produced by two young Waiheke Hip Hop artists.

Hip Op-eration Crew Manager Billie Jordan, aged 43, says that although the overall aim of The Hip Op-eration Crew is to help reduce the stigma of aging, it’s very much focused on bringing youth cultures and senior citizens closer together.

“Our senior citizens have an enormous amount of respect for Hip Hop culture and want to pay tribute to Hip Hop artists all over the globe by learning and performing Hip Hop dance moves. By entering the world of Hip Hop and demonstrating they have the upmost respect for what they do, they hope to build a stronger connection with young people. Just like youth, older people are often mis-understood and undervalued by society; they have a lot in common,” says Jordan.

The Hip Op-eration Crew members include a 96 year old in a wheelchair, four people who use other types of mobility aids including zimmerframes and walking sticks, ten members in their late 80s and early 90s, many people who are deaf, and one member who is legally blind. The average age is 76 years old and there are nine men and 36 women in the Crew – including a mother (96 years old) and son (69 years old). They are the oldest Hip Hop dance group in the world.

“Although we’ve certainly got our work cut out for us, we are really inspired by the founders of Hip Hop from the Bronx who believed it’s not about limitations, it’s about possibilities. Regardless of their age and physical ability, The Hip Op-eration Crew is not letting those limitations get in the way of learning Hip Hop. They are really driven to try and prove themselves as performers and want nothing more than the chance to showcase the respect they have for the global Hip Hop community,” says Jordan.

“Due to their age, safety is a big factor for many members of the Crew. One bad move and they could suffer a very serious injury or die. Also, the pace of their dancing has to be at a rate that won’t provoke a heart-attack or stroke. We have four dance crew members who used to be nurses that act as the emergency paramedics for the Crew.

If successful at the Auckland Regional Championships, The Hip Op-eration Crew will then proceed to the New Zealand Championships in April. If they win at the Nationals they will then be eligible to enter the World Hip-Hop Championships in Las Vegas in August.

“Although The Hip Op-eration Crew may not be considered skilled enough to advance on to the New Zealand National Championships, they still hope to be able to go to Las Vegas to perform at the World Hip -Hop Championships.

“Hip Hop International, the event organisers of the World Hip-Hop Championships, sometimes invite or allow non-qualifying dance crews to perform at the championships. So we are hoping they will let our dancers do a performance at the event to show that, no matter what your age, you can still embrace, respect and celebrate the culture of Hip Hop.
“The people in the international Hip Hop community may think we’re a bit of an oddity; a group of senior citizens living on a small island off the East Coast of New Zealand in the middle of the South Pacific. But we’ve got a lot of heart and, like Hip Hop artists all over the world, have a real desire to connect with others regardless of race, creed or religion. Since its very beginning in the Ghetto’s of the Bronx, Hip Hop has been a platform that enabled different people to have a dialogue with each other. We want to honour and contribute to that great tradition.

“Because everyone is a pensioner, we don’t have the money for rehearsals in fancy dance studios or a proper Choreographer. Instead we have just made up the dance routine ourselves by adapting and changing moves inspired by other Hip Hop artists on YouTube. We rehearse for 90 minutes once a week in our Community Hall. Although this is only a fraction of the time spent by other Hip Hop dance groups who perform at competition level, some of the more senior members in our Crew start to go to sleep or get too tired if the rehearsals are any longer than an hour and a half.

“Hip Hop dancing is not easy; it takes a great deal of skill, talent and endurance. It’s just as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. You don’t know what your body can do until you try it. Our Crew is learning that first hand,” says Jordan.

“Ageism is a real issue in western society. A lot of people automatically presume that just because you’re a senior citizen you must be old fashioned, feeble, no longer able to contribute to society, can’t learn new things, aren’t engaged in technology, and don’t like doing any activity that is supposedly outside of your comfort zone. Part of our aim is to address those misperceptions and prejudices in an engaging way through Hip Hop and the use of social marketing,” says Jordan.

A documentary about The Hip Op-eration Crew is currently being developed to follow the adventures of the Crew. The filming over the documentary has already begun on Waiheke Island and is expected to continue over the next eight months.

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