"Popular music has an overall energy that lends itself to the street-jazz style," says Derek Mitchell. But over the last eight years or so, the choreographer, who also teaches contemporary, jazz funk and musical theater, has noticed a lack of great musicality and interesting lyrics. As a result, Mitchell's music searches often gravitate toward the classic hits from artists like Prince and Janet Jackson. "Rarely do I hear a new song that makes me go, 'Oh, I want to dance to that!'"
When the New York City–based teacher does come across the perfect track for class at Broadway Dance Center, a REVEL convention, or for a commercial project, he tends to teach choreography to the lyrics. "I'll use the counts for clarification," says Mitchell, "but I find that teaching with the counts keeps dancers in their minds rather than in their hearts." Using the lyrics as a guidepost helps students to create an emotional connection with the choreography. "I want dancers to tell a story with the movement," he adds.
Mitchell will break down his choreography slowly so dancers can execute correctly to faster music for street jazz, but he sometimes picks music with a slower vibe. "The work can be just as emotional as contemporary," he says.
Teaching street-based choreography to a more expressive song requires students to dig deeper. "I like to slow it down and say let's move today from this more thoughtful perspective instead of the self-absorbed default space most young dancers are in today," says Mitchell. "I always notice a difference in the movement."
Artist: Janet Jackson and Daddy Yankee
Song: "Made For Now"
"I love the general feel and groove of the song. Her vocals are smooth, and it provides amazing contrast to the intense pulsating beat."
Janet Jackson x Daddy Yankee - Made For Now [Official Video] www.youtube.com
Artist: Tove Lo
Song: "Cool Girl"
Album: Lady Wood
"There is something so great about her vocals. They provide an underlying warmth to the beat. The beat is great, but the primary focus is the message of the song: women's empowerment."
Tove Lo - Cool Girl (Part of Fairy Dust) www.youtube.com
Artist: Sofi Tukker
Song: "That's It 'I'm Crazy'"
"I love everything about this song. I love the intensity at the beginning, the deep masculine vocals and the fierce explosion of diva-ness and thumping beat."
Sofi Tukker - That's It (I'm Crazy) (LIVE 95.5) www.youtube.com
Song: "I Would Die 4U"
Album: Purple Rain
"It's Prince. His music, lyrics, sounds and vocals are pure genius. One of the easiest artists to choreograph to."
Prince - I Would Die 4 U (Official Music Video) (Live from Landover, MD - November 20, 1984) www.youtube.com
Artist: Years & Years
Album: Palo Santo
"My favorite band created an unbelievable R&B/hip-hop groove with great lyrics and message. This was definitely one of the highlights of last year!"