Hip hop school? Yup, and it's getting top marks with students

The 519 School of Hip Hop in London, Ont. is on a mission to bring hip hop dance, art, poetry, music and history of the culture to the city.

The London, Ont. school focuses on all aspects of hip hop culture

London dance school focuses on hip hop culture

2 years ago
Duration 3:29
The 519 School of Hip Hop in London, Ont. is exploring the culture of hip hop beyond break dancing, with a focus on art, poetry, music and history.

A dance school in London, Ont., is bringing its passion for all things hip hop to the community. The 519 School of Hip Hop is expanding its curriculum beyond dance to include art, poetry, music, and hip hop culture history.

"We always emphasize the importance of teaching about the hip hop culture beyond just a dance and also other artistic elements like graffiti, DJing and rapping, as well as the artistic aspect behind the culture of hip hop," said Jim "JFX" Han, the founder and director of the 519 School of Hip Hop.

Han and his wife, Mari, opened a joint venture at 760 Little Simcoe Street one month before the pandemic hit the city in March 2020. They managed to keep the businesses afloat through multiple lockdowns with Zoom classes and online outreach, and are looking forward to picking up on their pre-pandemic ambitions.

"[The pandemic] gave myself and our community the opportunity to dig deeper into the culture and do a lot of deep-diving into the history and what's happening around the world, so I look at that as a bit of a blessing, too," he said. 

David Ortiz leads a breaking dance instruction at 519 School of Hip Hop in London, Ont. (Travis Dolynny/CBC)

With a focus on culture and wellness, the hub features a physiotherapy clinic ran by Mari, which also spills into an art exhibit space to support and showcase local talent. On the dance studio side, there's an art studio, DJ mixing and beat-making station, and a large dance floor.

"If you look back at the roots of hip hop, it all started as a community social thing," said Greg "Gizmo" Thane, a hip hop and popping instructor.

"So, it was a way to for people to express themselves outside of the social means. And then essentially, that obviously gives way to a lot of different ways of expression."

Those expressions come through in various different forms of hip hop dance styles, graffiti, music, apparel and shoes.

Jim "JFX" Han shows Clark Beatty the basics of scratching on a turntable at 519 Hip Hop School in London, Ont. (Travis Dolynny/CBC)

The school hosts dance classes for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.

"It revolves around the youth culture and it revolves around everybody having their own voice," said Connor "Wildstyle" McPhail, a breaking instructor.

"It doesn't matter what your background is, where you come from. If we're speaking kind of the same language, whether it be graffiti, DJing and singing, dancing, we can vibe back and forth. We can have exchanges, conversations through our art and anybody can participate."

Fresh graffiti on display by students and instructors at 519 School of Hip Hop in London, Ont. (Travis Dolynny/CBC)

Willow Patrick has been taking classes at the school for over a year and says the art and music really resonate with her.

"You can learn more than dance," she said. "You can learn graffiti, which I love and that makes it really fun, it's like a different style. And I like playing around with the music, it helps with the beat too, when I'm dancing."

The school offers dance classes through the week and is also involved in community events and hosting cultural and art exhibits such as Fem Jam. There are also summer camps for kids in elementary and high school that will be in person this year.

Han says he hopes the work they're doing at 519 School of Hip Hop will have a lasting impact on the city.

"When you dig back into the roots in the past, it gives you that kind of confidence to know where it is that you're headed," he said. "I'm hoping that more of us can feel that appreciation and our students can start to come out to our community engagements at public parks and school visits and create this spark, and the ripple effect so that everyone can see a little hint of hip hop."

The 519 School of Hip Hop is located at 760 Little Simcoe Street in London, Ont. (Travis Dolynny/CBC)