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Is clean or challenging choreography more important?


Dance Teacher Talk : Clean vs Challenging Choreography on DanceKellyStyle.netYou’ve been there. The step is hard. A few of your dancers get it. And they get it right away. But sometimes, it feels like the back line isn’t quite big enough. So what side do you fall on — clean choreography or challenging choreography? Do you split the difference? Of course, it always depends on the class. Here’s what a few fellow dance teachers had to say when asked,

What’s more important, being clean or having challenging choreography?

Clean, clean, clean!
Miss Kathy 

This is a tough question! In the end I believe being clean is ultimately going to help your dancers score higher. However, the choreographing should be a challenge for your dancers when they first start their routine so they have something to push for. I’m never afraid to give them a challenge, but then edit things that don’t work out before heading to our first competition.
Eva M. 

I err on the side of challenging choreography although I try to hit that sweet spot in the middle! I want the students to have some new challenges but also to show what they are great at so they can have confident performances.
Elise H. 

I think what determines how difficult of choreography the dancers need is simply what level they currently are. Keeping them challenged always is essential, but reinforcing cleanliness and precision is equally as important. In terms of competition, I believe clean, less difficult choreography tends to score better than super difficult choreography that isn’t clean.
Mr. Brian 

How do you juggle clean vs. challenging choreography? When do you draw the line? Share your tips in the comments.

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Music for Contemporary : Bad Body Double by Imogen Heap

MusicToModern_BadBodyDouble_DKSAs dancers, we grow up hearing stories of other dancers, both boys and girls, with eating disorders. Maybe it was an older girl, a friend, or even ourself. It’s an awful aspect of our beautiful art. With so much pressure to look a certain way — or weight — these days, it unfortunately doesn’t look like it’ll subside soon.

“Bad Body Double” by Imogen Heap brings some of those ugly feelings and thoughts to light. And so, we as dancers can bring them into movement. We can tell the stories of with distorted body images and peer pressure.

This song does have the “B-word” in it, but since it’s so long, it might need cut down for a suitable length piece for performance or competition. There’s also an instrumental version, which could also be a great piece of music to experiment with in the studio.

Take a listen here or on your service of choice:
iTunes | Spotify | Amazon | Google Play
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Music for Tap: All Together Now by André 3000

Andre3000_AllTogetherNow_DKSI fell in love with Outkast in approximately the year 2000. It was before the hit “Hey Ya” came out, right around the time when they started becoming a little more mainstream. A lot of the group’s music has an incredible beat that you can really dig into. HOWEVER… most of the music has some questionable lyrics. Lucky for us, there are a few songs that are a great combo of clean words and dirty beats.

Nike featured this cover of The Beatles’ “All Together Now” by André 3000 in an NBA basketball commercial a few years ago. And now you can download it and tap the day away. It totally passes “the time step test” and it’s short enough (the full length is 2:14) that you can get by without editing it!

Can I get an A-MEN?!

Listen now on:
itunes | Amazon | Spotify
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How to Dance in Sync for Teachers

So, this video has been making it’s way through social media and I wanted to share it with you, in case you hadn’t seen it yet. It comes from Vibe Dance competition. And if you haven’t looked at the title yet, it’s the second place winner. Yes. Second.

So, how do you get your dancers to be this together? Well, there’s a lot to take into consideration, like the dancers’ ages, years danced together and the style of dance. But one thing is for sure. Your dancers cannot be this in sync if they are not practicing together and with you, their choreographer, teacher or leader.

I can’t say with certainty how this group came together so well, but I can share some of my tips for making your dancers dance as one.

Teach your choreography to counts.
I know that it’s not everyone’s style to choreograph to counts—some like words, others beats—but it can help dancers hit movements at the same time. Even if you don’t choreograph to counts, it can be helpful for you to go back and count out the choreography. Then, when teaching, be sure to use those counts to accent your movements.

Break it down, then speed it up. (“The Game”)
I play “the game” with students of all ages. It goes like this. Teach a step slowly, to counts (see above), then repeat, this time counting slightly faster. Continue this process gradually until the dancers are performing the step full speed.

Use the mirrors.
This seems like an obvious one, but use the mirrors you (or your studio owner) have invested so much in. Break down combinations piece by piece, having dancers check their arm placement and head movements in the mirror. 

Use your hands.
If a dancer isn’t getting their arm or head or body placement just right, physically (gently) put them in the correct position so they can feel what the correct position is. Some students learn by doing and won’t get there until they can feel it.

Turn it over to the dancers.
This works best with older dancers. Pull dancers out one or two at a time and have them watch the group perform the combination or routine. If they can see the mistakes others are making as well as watch others do steps they may be doing incorrectly, they can then self-correct.

Tell me, how do you get your dancers to get together? Any crucial tips I’ve left out? Let me know in the comments.

And, in case you’re wondering who won first at Vibe Dance Competition, here’s the winners. Warning, the music has some questionable language in it.

Now Dancing to: Bang Bang by will.i.am

In honor of the Oscars this weekend, I thought I’d share a track from one of last year’s top movies, The Great Gatsby. If you haven’t checked out the soundtrack yet, do. It’s loaded with some great upbeat pieces that are perfect for class or performance. The soundtrack was nominated for a few Grammys last year, so you can’t go wrong, right?

This piece from will.i.am is perfect for a jazz dance with a little attitude, a little 20s throwback and a lot of spunk. I’m thinking some Charlestons, kicks and a lot of fierce poses. It might even make a great production number as it could work for a variety of ages.

Take a listen and let me know I’m not alone. What do you envision? I’m seeing fringe. And sequins. Duh, of course sequins. Check out “Bang Bang” on your music service of choice:

iTunes | Amazon | GooglePlay

Now Dancing to: Tightrope by Janelle Monae

One of the things we challenge our college-aged students to do when working on new choreography is to come up with an idea for their dance. A concept. A story. We challenge them to create more than dance moves, but movement with feeling behind it. And if we challenge them to do it, I think we should have to do the same. Do as I say, do as I do… right?

And this song, Tightrope by Janelle Monae is a song you can use to tell a story. The beat is great and the lyrics can be interpreted in different ways, it just depends on your reference point. And the beat is great for tap or a pop jazz. For guys or girls or both. Watch the video and get inspired by Janelle’s quirky dance moves. Then, find it at your favorite source:

Amazon | iTunes | Spotify | Google Play

How to Choose Music : The Time Step Test

TimestepTestIt’s the early 90s. A warm day in Pittsburgh, PA. My mom, grandfather and I are on the back steps of his home. He smokes as I expend some extra energy running up and down the stairs alongside the house. It’s the day I first learned how to do time steps. My grandfather and mother—both dance teachers—were teaching me. “Pop-pop” took the tough love route and my mom let me get a taste of how she learned growing up.

And you know what, I haven’t stopped doing time steps since that day.

Nowadays, I know that there’s all kinds of time steps, but when trying to choose music for tap for intermediate levels and above, I’ll use a double-double or a triple-double to test new music. Based on the speed of the time steps I know whether that song might work for my tap group. Easy as that. And just because I use the time step test doesn’t meant those time steps are going in the final choreography. It’s just a baseline I use when finding just the right music.


How to Choose Music: Listen Outside Your Comfort Zone

Think Outside The Genre

As a dancer you hear your teacher correct the same mistakes over and over again. And as a teacher you say those same phrases over and over again.

“Point your toes.”
“Straighten your knees.”
“Stand up straight.”
“Don’t look down.”
These phrases become so much a part of our dance class that they start to go in one ear and out the other. They become a little cliche. Just like this music tip. “Think outside the genre.”

Gone are the days where we had to go to our list of “ballet music,” our stack of “tap records” or our old “jazz standards.” Once students are old enough to hear the music and keep their technique true to its style, there’s no reason to not shake things up enough. It’s easy to take a piece of music we would once stamp as a lovely instrumental ballet and turn it into an intricate rhythm tap number. Like this rendition of “Pumped Up Kicks” by the Vitamin String Quartet.

Or maybe turn an R&B piece into a funky ballet number. Like this remix of Janet Jackson’s “Someone to Call My Lover.”

Pair an offbeat track with classical movements. Or classical movements with an offbeat track. Either way, put your own spin on a not-so-traditional song and see what happens.

Dancing at the Olympics

I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve always been pretty into the Olympics. So, you could say, this is my favorite time of (every 2) years. Right now, it seems everyone else is talking about the opening ceremonies. And why wouldn’t you? They were exciting. And the dancing was phenomenal, right? Especially since it was choreographed by an American.

But what I want to talk about is the figure skating. I haven’t even seen that much of it yet but I have been so impressed with the choreography so far this year. Like the first video. That Fosse-inspired piece performed by Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada.

And the men were just as breathtaking. Great lines. Wonderful movement. Patrick Chan (Canada) and Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan) were two of my favorites, but I can’t seem to find video of their programs right now. I’ll update later if I do.

In the meantime, tell me, what’s your favorite event at the Olympics? Have you been inspired to create new movement based on the athletes’ performances?


Now Tapping to: American, Idle by Pigeon John

MusicForTapI’m not sure when it started. In fact, I’m not sure when I started noticing it. Featured artists. They’re everywhere. It seems like almost every song I hear on the radio has a list of artists a mile long. will.i.am featuring Britney with a special appearance by Fergie plus sampling from Michael Jackson. Am I right?

But sometimes, those featured artists are where the dance gems truly lie. “American, Idle” by Heath McNease & Pigeon John was one of those songs for me. I fell down a hole on iTunes so deep by clicking related artists, sampling their tracks and checking out featured musicians on those albums.

This track is perfect for an advanced tap level when you’re looking for something a little outside the traditional tap box. I used it for college-aged students and it was hit. Take a listen on your favorite.

Spotify | iTunes | MySpace | Amazon | Google Play