Should You Be Taking Online Dance Classes?
Dance technology has come a long way from ballet variations painstakingly learned by watching fuzzy VHS tapes. Over the last few years, a dizzying number of online training programs have cropped up, offering the chance to take class in contemporary, jazz, ballet, tap, hip hop and even ballroom from the comfort of your own living room or studio.
The Magic of Tech for Dance
Using an online dance training service has unique advantages:
- Take class whenever, wherever. "With the rigors of performance and rehearsal schedules, pros often don't have time to attend class," says Caitlin Trainor, founder of Dancio, a ballet-focused online training platform. Do a ballet barre in your kitchen, warm up backstage before a performance or screen a master class in your studio.
- Access to the best teachers. You don't need to travel to New York or Los Angeles to take class from your favorite teacher. Take ballet from Julie Kent with Dancio, contemporary from Kathryn McCormick via CLI Studios or tap from Anthony Morigerato with Operation: Tap.
- The ability to self-pace. The beauty of video, says Learntodance.com founder Leon Turetsky, is that "you can pause, rewind, fast-forward and watch it as many times as you like to get it into your muscle memory." Many classes are filmed from multiple viewpoints and offer the chance to switch seamlessly from one to the next, with options to change the speed or loop the video.
- A cornucopia of dance styles. Online programs offer access to every genre imaginable. Try a new style, brush up on a technique you haven't practiced in a while, glean some inspiration, test out pedagogical strategies or just be an absolute beginner in the privacy of your own home.
Pick the Platform That's Best for You
"Think about what your objectives are," says Trainor. "Do you want to try something new? Improve your skill level? Warm up, or simply find pleasure in moving?" Take a hard look at instructors' qualifications and artistry, too. "Don't just look for people with a lot of Instagram followers," says STEEZY co-founder Connor Lim.
Or maybe you're looking for a community more than a video archive. "The culture of tap dance is very communal," says Ayodele Casel, who co-founded Operation: Tap. "A lot of our younger users have really engaged with OPTAP, and that starts them engaging with each other."
The Key Word Is "Supplemental"
Julie Kent teaching a Dancio class. Photo courtesy Dancio
"Nothing will ever replace the chemistry and magic of the live class experience," says Trainor. As Lim points out, tactile instruction and live feedback are essential learning tools. Beginners in particular may not know if they're executing a step correctly or not. Online dance platforms are best used as a supplemental training tool: for a warm-up, during a break or when getting yourself to a live class just isn't feasible.
But don't underestimate the very real power of video, urges Casel. "I wanted to tap dance because I saw Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers on film," she says. "It never takes the place of in-person training, but it's an incredible source of inspiration."
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Michele Byrd-McPhee's uncle was a DJ for the local black radio station in Philadelphia, where she was born. As a kid she was always dancing to the latest music, including a new form of powerful poetry laid over pulsing beats that was the beginning of what we now call hip hop.
Byrd-McPhee became enamored of the form and went on to a career as a hip-hop dancer and choreographer, eventually founding the Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival and directing the New York City chapter of Everybody Dance Now!. Over the decades, she has experienced hip hop's growth from its roots in the black community into a global phenomenon—a trajectory she views with both pride and caution.
On one hand, the popularity of hip hop has "made a global impact," says Byrd-McPhee. "It's provided a voice for so many people around the world." The downside is "it's used globally in ways that the people who made the culture don't benefit from it."
Just four years ago, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomed its first class of BFA students. The program—which boasts world-class faculty and a revolutionary approach to training focused on collaboration and hybridity—immediately established itself as one of the country's most prestigious and most innovative.
Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:
Every dancer knows there's as much magic taking place backstage as there is in what the audience sees onstage. Behind the scenes, it takes a village, says American Ballet Theatre's wig and makeup supervisor, Rena Most. With wig and makeup preparations happening in a studio of their own as the dancers rehearse, Most and her team work to make sure not a single detail is lost.
Dance Magazine recently spoke to Most to find out what actually goes into the hair and makeup looks audiences see on the ABT stage.