Connecticut may be a small state but it’s brimming with a lot of creative minds champing at the bit to break out and show the world their raw talent and Bloomfield, CT native Justin Hughes is no exception. Affable, ambitious, and extraordinarily passionate and knowledgeable about his chosen artform—dance—Justin is primed and ready to not only show Connecticut the art of being free and original but to help encourage and cultivate young talent.
Justin is not only emphatic about his mission, but he is clear about the nuances of performance, rhythm, and dance.
“There’s a difference between dancers and movers,” Justin, who incorporates Krump, hip-hop, pop and break in his workshops and choreography, insists. “Classically trained dancers are limited and confined to their specific style of dance, movers are versatile and can adapt to any style.”
Wise words from a man who put his body through the ringer and rigorous exercises to master his craft.
Justin, who became fascinated by movement at a very young age and dabbled in tap and African dance between the ages of 6 and 10, was inspired to pursue hip-hop as a dance form by one of his brothers, who owned an event promotions company called Dynamic Force Productions and threw parties at the (now defunct) Lodge in Bloomfield.
“Back then, parties were all-ages. There was a crew called the Break-a-holics performing one night, and my brother made me get in the middle of the dance floor and told me to watch. I was 10 years old,” he says. “I was so fascinated by this form of [break] dancing. I thought it was weird and was like, ‘what is this!?’ “
Shortly after that experience, Justin convinced a neighbor to teach him how to move. While his neighbor reenacted some of the movements in his basement, Justin was a bit discouraged because he felt he wasn’t really being thoroughly taught the mechanics of hip-hop dancing.
“He told me he would show me the basics but that I had to develop my own style of doing them. That I shouldn’t just copy what he was doing.”
So, determined to master the art of breakdancing, Justin started practicing and came up with some moves of his own. Three years later, a blunt critique at a high-school party would change his life forever after he showed off his moves and was told his technique needed work. “I told myself that I would never hear those words or be a mediocre dancer again,” he said.
Justin dedicated 6 months to teaching himself hip-hop dancing and challenged his body in unimaginable ways—injuring himself in the process–training and conditioning it to move the way he needed it to, and working to “feel his body doing the movements” to recognize his progress and know whether he was truly onto something genuine and unique in developing his own signature style. That dedication didn’t always jibe with other pressing matters, like school. His passion for dance and the time he spent developing his style got him in trouble, but he is sans regrets.
Before the age of YouTube and the emergence of social media, VHS tapes were de rigueur for folks in need of visual tutorials, so he rented videotapes of legendary hip-hop and breakdancing pioneers, studied and deconstructed the formality of their movements and modeled his style after theirs, putting his own spin on it and creating moves extempore.
Justin is clear that he never copied what his dance predecessors did and is a staunch advocate for raw freestyle movement, the discipline it takes to train as a dancer, and choreographers flipping moves and developing their own unique style, and building a literal body of work from there. And it’s why he’s not a huge fan of viral dance trends and is also why Justin centers authenticity in his studio, refusing to incorporate dance crazes like the Whip, Nae-Nae, or Milly Roc in his workshops’ repertoire, much to his students’ chagrin.
“For people who don’t know [the fundamentals of] dance, those trends are cool. But when I tell my students that we won’t be learning any of the popular dance crazes they’re shocked at first,” Justin said of his class attendees. “But once they start learning original dances, they want to learn more and it encourages them to go home and practice and it increases their confidence.”
And confidence was something Justin didn’t always have in spades as he was coming of age. He had to cultivate it, drown out naysayers and keep self-doubt at bay.
“I had no rhythm when I was a kid. My brother used to tease me,” he laughed. “Hip-Hop gave me my rhythm.”
Growing into his self-awareness was what enabled Justin to travel and pursue opportunities as a self-taught choreographer and performer at the tender age of 15-years-old before heading to the Berklee College of Music to hone his craft.
“I was spoiled rotten in college. I had dedicated performers at my disposal. The dedication of the students [at Berklee] blew my mind. I was surrounded by students who would eat, breathe, and sleep their craft. I was used to being around that mindset.”
Moving back home to Connecticut left Justin smarting a bit because he had difficulty connecting with fellow creatives and studios that expressed the same level of dedication and honesty he noted and experienced at Berklee.
“I just noticed a lot of mediocrity here in Connecticut and I didn’t like it. People were praising mediocre performers and being dishonest [with their critiques]. There was no work ethic. I reserved judgment and decided to try different studios just to see. I worked at several different studios in Hartford, Bloomfield, Glastonbury, and Wethersfield and it was the same nonsense and mediocrity,” Justin recalls. “Being exposed to excellence, I couldn’t revert back to being mediocre.”
Justin’s frustration prompted him to eke out his dance and performance company Jus Move Studios which he currently runs out of the 224 EcoSpace on Farmington Avenue in Hartford. Jus Move Studios not only cultivates elite dancers and performers and holds workshops for aspiring dancers, but also develops vocal talent (Justin is also a singer, vocal coach, and pianist) and actors.
“I know I can help kids and train them properly and help them think beyond the small mindsets of other studios that hoard kids and don’t encourage them to expand or branch out for exposure to receive more,” Justin promises. “It’s why I do what I do. I had a student email me recently to thank me for encouraging her [to think outside her comfort zone] and audition in New York. She said it was the best thing she’s ever done, and she feels more encouraged.”
Not bad for a self-described street dancer and freestyle dancing enthusiast with a strong work ethic, an immense appreciation for rhythm and a keen ear for music, who initially hated the more disciplined routine of choreographed movements. But Justin is here to expand the mind and imagination of his students and encourage them to be confident, dedicated, and free to be themselves with no apologies.
“Kids don’t actually listen to song or rhythm, they just hear it. There are a lot of triplets, and half notes, and duplets that you can show through your body and movements when you really listen to the notes. I tell my kids to be free with who they are and not to care what people say or what the next person is doing. I also don’t want to hear the word ‘can’t.’ Can’t hinders and plants doubt without progression, and without progression, you can’t move forward and your body won’t want to learn. Dance is a feeling, not a mindset.”
Justin is currently gearing up and helping audition ‘elite’ hopefuls for the upcoming stage production, Ebony Annie, and pitching his production, From the Block to the Booth: The Evolution of Hip-Hop for funding.
Justin also teaches Hip-Hop Aerobics every Thursday at 6:15 PM at the YMCA-Downtown Hartford. Find him on Facebook at JusmoveStudios, on SoundCloud at JuSHues, and on Instagram: @jusmovestudios. For information on his workshops email him at email@example.com
Jus Move Studio’s mission is to “empower and bring forth the artist within you, demonstrating full comprehension and professional performance and instilling triple-threat, multitalented children, adolescents, and young adults.”
This article appears in the September 20, 2017 ‘The Creativity Edition” of Northend Agents Newspaper.
Tiffani Jones is the creator and writer of Coffee Rhetoric, a blog about women, pop-culture, film, and race. A frequent contributor to both print and digital media platforms, she is the Digital Content Editor for Northend Agents Newspaper and has offered commentary on HuffPost Live, in the NY Times, and on WNPR. More info about her work can be found on www.coffeerhetoric.com. Follow her on Twitter: @Coffey0072