"Get dramatic about it!" Shoulder surgery didn't keep Friedman from teaching full-out in New York for The PULSE.

"Dance was my life–even before I was a dancer. My training started from osmosis. When I was 7 years old I would watch my mother teach at Scottsdale Community College and I knew what was going on with dance. I had an eye for it,” says Brian Friedman, dancer, choreographer, director, teacher and entrepreneur, about his passion for the artform. Now 33, Friedman commutes between Los Angeles and London, where he is creative director on “America’s Got Talent” and Simon Cowell’s TV show “The X Factor.” A virtual rock star of the dance world, he’s choreographed for pop icons Britney Spears and Beyoncé and also served as a judge and choreographer for three seasons on Fox’s hit television show “So You Think You Can Dance.” But, of everything Friedman does, including designing shoes and clothing, he says teaching is the most rewarding.

 

“As long as I can move and talk, I will teach,” says the shaved-headed dynamo. “For every person who’s trained their whole life, it’s their duty to give back and make sure the next generation is strong. It also helps other people achieve their dreams.”

 

Friedman began dreaming early on. With his father often away on business, the youngster formed a close bond with his mother, Judi Friedman, who taught him time steps, piqués and pirouettes before he actually enrolled in dance class at age 11. Shortly thereafter, he moved to L.A. with his mother to begin working as a dancer, landing roles in the musical Newsies, directed by Kenny Ortega (High School Musical), and the TV series “Kids Incorporated.” Friedman, who also attended the Dupree and Tremaine dance conventions, recalls his on-the-job training as invaluable.

 

“I learned so much on movie sets,” he says. “Working with Kenny and then with Twyla Tharp on I’ll Do Anything, I was able to soak in things at such a young age.” As a youth, he also worked with Michael Jackson, Paula Abdul and others.

 

Friedman makes up a verbal score full of whimsy and imagery as he demonstrates: "Whack it, drop it, shoo-shoo gaga woo; one two bam-bam tooga-tooga woo-ha; you hold here, crown of life, press it down, hugga bug." Friedman makes up a verbal score full of whimsy and imagery as he demonstrates: "Whack it, drop it, shoo-shoo gaga woo; one two bam-bam tooga-tooga woo-ha; you hold here, crown of life, press it down, hugga bug."

Friedman cites choreographer Marguerite Derricks (Fame) as his main dance teacher and Jamie King (director of Rihanna’s Last Girl on Earth Tour) as idol and mentor. “Marguerite took me under her wing and gave me the technical base. Jamie is the person who made me see a bigger picture and want to be more—a creative director and choreographer, not only a dancer.”

 

Then, at 16, the born multitasker opened a dance school with his mother in Scottsdale, where he taught jazz and hip-hop classes and she instructed ballet and tap. Although that school no longer exists, Friedman makes use of his teaching expertise by co-directing The PULSE On Tour, a national convention with classes featuring headlining choreographers Wade Robson and Mia Michaels, among others.

 

However he chooses to express himself, Friedman is commanding: six feet tall and sporting a tattoo on his right forearm with the Hebrew words for “to be free.” Charismatic onstage and off, he is articulate and self-possessed—but without a “divo” attitude. His enthusiasm is contagious, befitting his superstar status on YouTube, where his videos receive hundreds of thousands of hits. He’s also got more than 30,000 followers on Twitter. But charting his life in 140 characters doesn’t begin to tell the story, a big part of which is his work at The PULSE.

 

“Teaching up to 700 people at one time is difficult,” says Friedman, “but you make sure that every student feels connected to you. When I’m onstage, I make it a point to be personable so that each person feels I’m talking to them and that the note or correction is directed at them. I want them to feel that I understand who they are and that I’m on their level. Once you have that relationship, anything is possible.”

 

Regarding studio teaching, Friedman says it’s a different animal, with the hands-on approach to technique and routines helping make students better dancers. “You can be more thorough [in the studio],” he says, adding, “If it wasn’t for studio teachers, we wouldn’t have professional dancers.”

 

Friedman’s co-director at The PULSE is choreographer and “SYTYCD” judge Mia Michaels. The two met in the ’90s at a dance convention, and Michaels began working with him at The PULSE several years later. Together, the pair approves the whole faculty roster, as well as classes, the layout of production and the Protégé Program, which offers scholarships to young dancers.

 

“The kids love Brian, but they know they can’t pull any [stuff] with him,” says Michaels. “We’re old-school like that. They’ve got to do the work, and we let them know when they need to be better. As teachers, we’re bringing artistry to the kids, instead of a dance-school mentality.”

 

Friedman is particularly proud of his students who have gone on to have successful careers of their own, including Tucker Barkley, 20. A hip-hop dancer and choreographer, Barkley studied with Friedman at conventions for eight years. Singled out by Friedman at a Monsters of Hip-Hop event, Barkley has supported himself by dancing and choreographing since he was 15. He attributes much of his success to Friedman.

 

“In class you are pushed to the full extent of your ability,” says Barkley. “When you mess up, he’ll give you that look and you know you’re wrong. Then you have to pull up and fix yourself, and everything will work out. You have no choice but to grow and become a better dancer because Brian doesn’t take no for an answer. He won’t let you not give it everything you can.”

 

As for the cultural impact and über-popularity of shows like “So You Think You Can Dance,” Friedman opines freely, especially on the contestants’ “wow” factor—the spectacular jumps and turns that make audiences go wild.

 

“A lot of the dancers have trained like Olympic athletes,” he points out, “and you can’t look down on that. But there’s not a lot of artistry in, say, running track—it’s technical and falls under athleticism. I choose artistry with strong technique over tricks any day.”

 

“I enjoy a dancer who has it all: technique, artistry and athleticism,” Friedman adds. “Being able to push yourself further than what is expected is an amazing gift. That’s the wow factor for me.”

 

And while Friedman doesn’t have much downtime (he splits his time between London and L.A. and travels about 40 days annually with The PULSE), he’s happy to hang out at his Southern California home.

Besides, says Friedman, his work is fun and that’s what fuels him. Indeed, much of his work ethic stems from his philosophical attitude—that, essentially, nothing’s impossible. When he puts on his headset and commands those hundreds of dancers to “be an open canvas and paint this new movement into your space,” it is not only seductive, it seems within reach.

 

“It’s all about self-belief, determination and drive,” he says. “Immerse yourself and you can truly achieve anything.” DT

 

Victoria Looseleaf is an award-winning freelance arts journalist and regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times, Dance Magazine and other publications. She also teaches Dance as an Artform at Santa Monica College and the University of Southern California.

 

GETTING GANKY

 

This flamboyant, extravagant dance style, which Brian Friedman helped create and popularize, is all over the commercial dance scene. Friedman was one of the first choreographers to use the style and initially referred to it as “ganking.” Using Britney Spears as his muse, he created his own recipe for a “ganky stew,” which he describes as “a mixture of drag queen performance, vogueing, house and thrashy jazz.” He adds: “It has to be powerful and dominant, almost like you’re getting into a fight with a dance move. Mash it, stab it, kill it and then walk away with confidence.”

 

Though ganky seems like feminine movement, it’s definitely not just for females. “While it’s very girly dancing, sexism should be squashed,” Friedman says. “This style will continue to spread like wildfire,” he continues, “because it’s fun to watch and even more fun to do.” —Monica Levy

 

Click this link to watch clips from Brian Friedman's class for The PULSE On Tour in New York City.

Photo by Rachel Papo

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via YouTube

In its 14 years of existence, YouTube has been home to a world of competition dance videos that we have all consumed with heedless pleasure. Every battement, pirouette and trendy move has been archived somewhere, and we are all very thankful.

We decided it was time DT did a deep dive through those years of footage to show you the evolution of competition dance since the early days of YouTube.

From 2005 to 2019, styles have shifted a whole lot. Check them out, and let us know over on our Facebook page what you think the biggest differences are!

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Koelliker

Sick of doing the same old stuff in technique class? Needing some across-the-floor combo inspiration? We caught up with three teachers from different areas of the country to bring you some of their favorite material for their day-to-day classes.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: I have a very flexible spine and torso. My teachers tell me to use this flexibility during cambrés and port de bras, but when I do, I feel pain—mostly in my lower back. What should I change so I don't end up with back problems?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're a studio owner, the thought of raising your rates most likely makes you cringe. Despite ever-increasing overhead expenses you can't avoid—rent, salaries, insurance—you're probably wary of alienating your customers, losing students or inviting confrontation if you increase the price of your tuition or registration and recital fees. DT spoke with three veteran studio owners who suggest it's time to get past that. Here's how to give your business the revenue boost it needs and the value justification it (and you) deserve.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Margie Gillis (left); photo by Kyle Froman

Margie Gillis dances the human experience. Undulating naked in a field of billowing grass in Lessons from Nature 4, or whirling in a sweep of lilac fabric in her signature work Slipstream, her movement is free of flashy technique and tricks, but driven and defined by emotion. "There's a central philosophy in my work about what the experience of being human is," says Gillis, whose movement style is an alchemy of Isadora Duncan's uninhibited self-expression and Paul Taylor's musicality, blended with elements of dance theater into something utterly unique and immediately accessible. "I want an authenticity," she says. "I want to touch my audiences profoundly and deeply."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Teaching arabesque can be a challenge for educators and students alike. Differences in body types, flexibility and strength can leave dancers feeling dejected about the possibility of improving this essential position.

To help each of us in our quest for establishing beautiful arabesques in our students without bringing them to tears, we caught up with University of Utah ballet teacher Jennie Creer-King. After her professional career dancing with Ballet West and Oregon Ballet Theater and her years of teaching at the studio and college levels, she's become a bit of an arabesque expert.

Here she shares five important tips for increasing the height of your students' arabesques.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via Instagram

Happy Father's Day to all of the dance dads in the world! Whether you're professional dancers, dance teachers, dance directors or simply just dance supporters, you are a key ingredient to what makes the dance world such a happy, thriving place, and we love you!

To celebrate, here are our four favorite Instagram dance dads. Prepare to say "Awwwwwwwweeeeeee!!!!!!"

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox