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5 Teaching Lessons I Learned From Galen Hooks' Master Class

DT's Haley Hilton with Hooks

The line to get into Galen Hooks' Night of Dance master class in New York City stretched far down 31st Street outside of Adelante Studios. Women and men, dressed in a variety of torn jeans, leggings, crop-tops and vibrant lipsticks, lined up for over an hour to learn from one of the commercial dance industry's living legends. By the end of the night, 300 people had experienced the four combinations that turned her choreography into an internet sensation.

Hooks, 31, has worked with more than 60 artists, including Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, Ne-Yo and Rihanna. She has successfully stepped into the roles of choreographer, director, actress and teacher. This year alone she's had four class videos go viral, with one reaching more than 6.3 million views on YouTube. She's even garnered the respect of New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck, who made a guest appearance at this evening's event. It's not Hooks' resumé alone that attracted such a large crowd on this unusually warm night in October, but her genuine concern for the futures of young performers and her uncanny ability to successfully impart her hard-earned knowledge to them.

Joining the dancers clad in heals high enough to break necks, I ventured into the first class of Hooks' Night of Dance, eager to learn the choreography I'd been binge-watching for months. Here are my five biggest takeaways.


1. Class is not about the teacher.

When Hooks demonstrated "River" for the class, the entire room erupted with cheers and whoops. To the outside eye, this performance might have seemed like a moment of self-indulgence, but the dancers in the room knew she was actually giving them the opportunity to watch and learn. This is what a working professional looks like.

"Class is never about me," she says. "Some choreographers use class to promote their own career, but for me, it's all about the student. Every detail of class is for them. I want each of them to feel that they are cared about and looked after. I'm rooting for their success, and I am teaching them with the goal of helping them achieve their dreams."

2. Teach holistically.

According to Hooks, 80 percent of the dancers who take her classes can execute her choreography well enough to book a job. Looking around at the lineup of stellar performers, I had to agree. Nearly everyone has the details of the movement down. She says she is hoping to teach these students how to tap into artistry, personalization, musicality and individuality.

"The tiniest adjustment in a person's facial expression will change everything for them," she says. "Teaching them to think about these small details, as well as who they are performing for and the story they are telling, is what they need, to take their dancing to the next level. That is my teaching philosophy right now—to teach holistically."

New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck came to observe Hooks' class. Photo by Haley Hilton

3. The way you give a correction is more important than the actual words you use.

"Tall girl with the long legs," Hooks calls out. "You're beautiful. I love what you are doing, but I'm going to give you a correction that 90 percent of the class needs to hear, so listen up everyone..." This is how Hooks begins most of her corrections. A positive sentiment that lets the students know she genuinely appreciates their effort, followed by a critique that will take their dancing to the next level.

"I don't have a pocket full of sound bites that I plan on giving to my students each class I teach," she says. "Because each class has different students with different needs, I customize my corrections to the people in the classroom once I get there. In the end, the way I communicate is what is most important. If I focus on encouraging my dancers and letting them know that I am invested in their success, it doesn't necessarily matter what I say to them. It will come out the right way, and I will help them improve."

Night of Dance included four of Hooks' most popular combos of the year, including "River," "Human," "Kiwi" and "Love on the Brain." Photo by Haley Hilton

4. Stop wasting time chasing virality—it can't be manufactured.

Despite the massive success of her four videos online, Hooks didn't choreograph them with the intent of going viral.

"If people knew what was needed to create viral videos, everyone would have a viral video," she says. "None of the components of these four pieces equal virality. They aren't set to particularly popular songs, and there is nothing gratuitously sexy about them. I have no idea what caught the eye of the world."

Instead of worrying about digital success, Hooks says she choreographs exclusively to the needs of the students who will be in the classroom with her. She plays with stillness, subtlety and weight changes, as she strives to challenge whoever will take her class that day.

Dancers prepare for Hooks' class. Photo by Haley Hilton

5. Provide opportunities for your dancers to learn from working professionals.

While Hooks recognizes all the good that studio owners and teachers are doing, she says there is one thing they could do to better prepare their dancers for professional careers.

"I think it's important that teachers bring in more working professionals to teach their students how to perform in a commercial environment," she says. "Bring in as many people as you know who have been through the fire, people who know what it's like to dance off of Janet Jackson's right shoulder. Don't just do generalized mock auditions. Actually bring in a dancer who books all the time, and let the students ask them, "Why do you think you book all the time?"

Dancers line up for Night of Dance outside of Adelante Studios. Photo by Haley Hilton

Hooks' class was amazing. She teaches in a way that elevates the morale and performance of her students. She's an artist who has experienced and excelled at every element of this industry. It was a pleasure to be a part of this exciting night.

Check out the recap video of the evening.👇

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