José Velasquez

Artist spotlight: Meet hip hop and breakdance instructor José Velasquez

Author: Kyesha Jennings

The North Carolina Arts Council celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month. This national celebration, which runs September 15–October 15t, honors the history, culture, and influence of past generations that came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. The N.C. Arts Council remains committed to uplifting and supporting the inclusion of North Carolina's diverse Hispanic, Latino, and Latinx communities and their equitable access to resources. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we are shining a spotlight on the talented Hispanic/Latinx artists who help to make our state’s arts community dynamic.

Meet Hip Hop and Breakdance Instructor José Velasquez

José Velasquez is a hip hop and breakdance instructor based in Durham. He has been teaching dance for more than 15 years at Duke University, N.C. State University, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the American Dance Festival (ADF), and Carolina Ballet. His organization and dance company, Soul Struck, performs and teaches the foundation and techniques of hip hop dance, history, and culture. This past June, Unwanted Heroes, Jose’s choreographed piece commissioned by ADF, received a five-star review from Chatham Life and Style magazine. “Unwanted Heroes was the perfect note to end the night. The piece displayed the most impressive physical feats while expressing a storyline that was both mythological in its scope, and deeply personal in its delivery,” said staff writer Serayah Silver.

The North Carolina Arts Council spoke with José to learn more about his identity as a dancer and how his culture influences his work.

Dance Instructor José Velasquez in a freeze pose
Dance Instructor José Velasquez in a freeze pose

What inspires you?

Many things have inspired me at different points in my life, but the one thing that has remained consistent is the music. Music has a way that makes people want to take action, whether that is a dance step or a call to unite for a greater purpose. Music has always moved me to want to do better, not only for myself but also for those around me.

What is your most important artistic tool?

This is a tough one because, as a dancer, you need quite a few things. I think once you have acquired the basics in any art form, the next thing is finding your own style. That requires a certain amount of vulnerability, because it takes courage to be you. Style is nothing more than how you do something. It's the reason we can all learn the same step and look different doing it. Now, how you put it together is where your creativity stands out. The combination of these two, if executed well, will start to get you noticed.

When did you start dancing?

I started dancing as a very young kid. It started with my dad randomly showing me "the robot" dance one day. He put on “Let's Groove,” by Earth, Wind & Fire, and just started doing the robot. I didn't know him ever to dance and that was the first and last time I saw him do it, but it was enough for me to want to learn and continue with the dance. I love dancing. Being able to illustrate the music with your body is one of the greatest feelings in the world.

What does your dance style/choreography represent?

My good friend Tyler "Blaqlestat" McNeil once said, "It's not about the movements; it's about what the MOVES MEANT." As a street dancer, I can only hope to represent myself to the fullest. We dance to express, not impress. The importance of finding yourself is so important that we should be able to tell who you are from far away, just by the way you're dancing. I am a combination of all the knowledge acquired and passed on to me. From my Latin influences of salsa, merengue, bachata, and cumbia to the breakin’, poppin’, and party dances that stem from hip hop. My anger, my sadness, my love, my happiness, my struggles, my ups and downs, my failures, and my success—I am a representation of all these when I dance.