Music for Class: Tough Love

Posted on September 30, 2010 by

Robin Dunn’s classes begin with what she calls “getting in the room.” Her students, relaxed with eyes closed, lie on the floor listening to soothing music, as she repeats inspirational words like, “You are the best there is. You are the best there is.” It’s instantly clear that this is no typical hip-hop class. “It’s almost like hip hop meets yoga,” she says. But don’t be fooled. Once the first song is over, this class is intense, incorporating popping, locking, footwork, cardio and an energetic freestyle combination. And if a dance battle, cipher or soul train line breaks out, Dunn often goes with it, always adding her own brand of comedy and charisma to keep the mood lighthearted. “I pattern myself after the way my mom brought me up, and that’s through tough love,” she says. “Some people might think, ‘Wow, she’s a bully,’ but at the Ailey studios, more people call me mom than call me Robin or Ms. Dunn.”

 

In addition to The Ailey School and Ailey Extension, Dunn teaches hip hop at Hunter College and Steps on Broadway in New York City. The list of clients that have sought out her choreography includes “Saturday Night Live,” “Sesame Street” and artists Missy Elliot, Sean Kingston and Heather Headley.

 

Her number-one goal in class is to inspire, so she’s developed her own F.A.C.E. method, which stands for focus, attitude, confidence, energy and eye contact, to help students feel that they are truly the best there is. Her strategy has been so successful in class that she’s taken it out of the studio, and she now gives motivational workshops to audiences ranging from performers to businesspeople on how to be comfortable in the public eye. To add an extra bit of inspiration to dance class, Dunn counts on the music that she chooses, usually based on student recommendations. “Anything that reinforces the message of self-empowerment,” she says, “that gets my vote.” DT

 

Artist: Chrisette Michele

Album/Song: I Am (Bonus Track), “I Am One”

“This is the opener and closer of my class. I use it for ‘getting in the room’ and then at the very end for a little quiet meditation. It’s soothing and relaxing, and I love the
message in the music.”

 

Artist: Laza Morgan

Song: “Wiggle”

“Laza is a Jamaican artist I worked with for a number of years, and I’ve seen him go through a lot to get to where he is now. His music is just fire. It really gets everyone’s energy going, even those who are not completely comfortable with hip hop.”

 

Artist: James Brown

Album/Song: Star Time, “Get Up, Get Into it, Get Involved”

“I use this for the drill section of my class. James Brown is the godfather of soul, and I would be remiss not to pay homage to his music. I play this to give respect to real hip hop. He motivates me. You just can’t lose with his music.”

 

Artist: Rihanna

Album/Song: Good Girl Gone Bad, “Don’t Stop the Music”

“This song makes you feel like you can do anything. It’s fun and upbeat. I use it in the middle of class while we’re taking a break or to get my students going during a drill.”

 

Artist: 50 Cent

Album/Song: Curtis (Bonus Track), “Peep Show”

“This song not only makes you want to dance, but it makes you feel sexy. Lately, I’ve been trying to stress that students in my class shouldn’t be so caught up with each 8-count that they lose the groove. They have no choice but to groove when they feel this beat.”

 

Photo by Arthur Coopchick, courtesy of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

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