The small island of Waiheke, just off the coast of Aukland, New Zealand, is home to the oldest dance group in the world. Their average age is 79. Their oldest member is 96. And they dance to hip-hop.
The Hip Op-eration Crew was founded in 2012 by Billie Jordan, then a 42-year-old newcomer to Waiheke who’d survived the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand and was searching for a more rewarding path in life than working as a corporate communications consultant.
Jordan taught herself hip-hop dancing by watching YouTube videos and was soon organizing flash mobs of her elderly neighbors. The success of these events, along with the unexpected widespread interest in hip-hop dancing among the older residents of Waiheke, inspired Jordan to form the Hip Op-eration Crew.
Within eight months, the crew was competing at the World Hip Hop Championships in Las Vegas, performing routines that Jordan choreographed. Their journey was documented in the film Hip Hop-eration.
Today, the Hip Op-eration Crew has seven members — two men and five women, including one married couple. Every member of the group has arthritis, and that’s just the start of the physical limitations they’ve had to overcome. The crew has its share of hearing impairments and artificial joints; one member is legally blind.
The crew has since competed in the New Zealand National Hip Hop Championships and performed in front of an audience of 15,000 in the Taipei Arena in Taiwan. The group’s performances have not only allowed them pursue their love of hip-hop dancing, but also to battle ageist stereotypes.
Keith Harris has written about music and pop culture for more than 20 years. His work has appeared in publications such as Rolling Stone, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Slate and Salon. He lives in Minneapolis and blogs at usefulnoise.wordpress.com.
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