Hip-hop choreographer and teacher Jonathan Lee has worked with recording artists as well-known as Madonna, Britney Spears and Pitbull, but that doesn't mean he can always connect to their music at first listen. “Sometimes I have to take away the lyrics and listen solely to the instruments," he says. But he still tries to remain true to the song's essence: “I approach choreography like a singer approaches a song," Lee explains. “If there are ad-libs or slow runs, I'll incorporate that into my choreography."


This kind of attention to detail also translates to Lee's teaching style, particularly when it comes to beginners. “I can break hip hop down for beginners and make them feel comfortable," he says. “I need to stand out from all the other hip-hop teachers out there, by making my class a no-judgment zone while still challenging my students. I want them to leave class thinking, 'That hurt so good.'"

Artist: Michael Jackson

Song: “Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" “I've used this in my warm-up—as soon as I play it, the room goes up. Every time I hear it, whether I'm in the club or it's on the radio, it gets me so hyped. It's timeless."

Artist: Michael Jackson

Song: “Smooth Criminal"

“I first saw the video for this song when I was 5 or 6, and when he did that lean, that was everything for me. I knew right away that's what I wanted to do when I grew up. I've remixed this song so it's slowed-down and more of an a cappella version, and I use it during stretches on the floor in my warm-up."

Artist: Missy Elliott

Song: “Work It"

“Missy changed the game of hip hop. There are so many things you can find to work with in her music. She plays with house rhythms and break beats, so sometimes I work in a little more popping and locking. It's so versatile."

Artist: Mary J. Blige

Song: “Real Love"

“There's a particular step Mary does in every one of her performances—she has this Mary groove. I've incorporated it into my choreography. I love her cadences as a singer: She has the flow of an emcee but the passion of a soul singer."

Artist: Bob Marley

Song: “Could You Be Loved"

“This song takes me back to my Jamaican roots—my mom was born in Jamaica. You hear that guitar solo first, and then when the reggae beat drops, the song totally changes. I love reggae and dance hall music. I grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and my first parties were all dance hall reggae.


Dancer Health

The Feldenkrais Method is a somatic technique created by Moshe Feldenkrais in the 1950s. The method has two parts: hands-on sessions with a Feldenkrais teacher (Functional Integration) or group classes comprised of verbal cues (Awareness Through Movement).

Mary Armentrout, a dance teacher, choreographer and Feldenkrais practitioner, shares three ways that this somatic practice can bolster your students' training.

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Your Studio

Oversexualizing young kids has been a hot topic among dance teachers in recent years. It's arguably the most controversial topic teachers and studio owners are faced with. Deciding which choreography, music or costumes are appropriate—or not—isn't always black and white and can be easily overlooked. Is showing the midriff too much for minis? Is this choreography too provocative? Is this popular song too suggestive for a competition piece? The questions can seem endless with no clear objective answers. Until now.

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Dancer Health
To make dancers stronger and less injury-prone, Burns Wilson suggest adding floor barre or conditioning classes. Photo courtesy of Burns Wilson

With a career spanning 30-plus years in the dance field, Anneliese Burns Wilson has cultivated a unique perspective on health and injury prevention for dancers. From teaching ballet to teaching anatomy, she then founded ABC for Dance, which publishes dance-teaching materials. Now through research for her next book, which will focus on training the female adolescent dancer, she's delving even deeper into topics many dance teachers have overlooked.

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Erdmann (left) on set for "Hairspray Live" (courtesy of Erdmann)

When Wicked ensemble member Kelli Erdman was training at Westlake Dance Center in Seattle, Washington, her teacher Kirsten Cooper taught her that focussed transitions would be pivotal to her success as a dancer. Now as a professional, she applies this advice to her daily performances, asserting that she will never let the details of her dancing get blurry.

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Teachers & Role Models
Khobdeh dancing Taylor's Speaking In Tongues. Photo courtesy of PTDC

For Parisa Khobdeh, music does more than set the tone for a piece—it's enabled her to connect with movement. And once she joined Paul Taylor Dance Company in 2003, Taylor's body of work deepened this connection. "His choreography showed me the music, the architecture and the space," she says. "I now see the music."

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Dance Buzz

We haven't been able to stop watching Lil' Mushroom since she popped and locked her way into Ellen's heart last week. We know you've got a long night of teaching ahead, and this is the dance inspiration you need to get you through. Check it out and tell us what you think about her killer moves over on our Facebook page! (She starts blowing minds at about 2:16.)

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How-To

Because the chassé is often neglected during the execution of this traveling step, Judy Rice asks her students to do a minimum of a six-inch chassé before transitioning into the pas de bourrée. She encourages dancers to pay close attention to their shoulders and hips in effacé, too. "Kids tend to open it up. They look like they're fencing," she says. "You don't want that." Both shoulders and hip bones should be facing the corner.

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