Listen to Al Blackstone's Epic Warm-Up Playlist

Al Blackstone leads a class at Steps on Broadway. Photo by Daryl Getman/Transmission-Roots to Branches, courtesy of Blackstone

"I totally manipulate the energy in the room with my warm-up music. I start with something really calm and then build to something energetic. I go with sweet songs for pliés, so people soften and are vulnerable. Then I go aggressive with high-energy music for abs, and soothing music for stretches on the floor.

"I finish warm-up with step-touches to a fun song that feels like a party, so everyone can feel good. I couldn't do my splits growing up, and that was always the last thing we did before center, so I would feel bad about myself. When I started teaching, I thought, "Wouldn't it be fun if we ended warm-up with a party instead?"

"Micro Melodies": The Album Leaf

"Next to Me": Emeli Sandé

"Stop This Train": John Mayer

"Hold Back the River": James Bay

"This Gift": Glen Hansard

"Crazy Love": Irene Diaz

"The Music": Hifi Sean (feat. Celeda)

"When I Come Around": Honeywagon

"All We Want Is Love": Ane Brun

"Work Song": Hozier

"Gonna Move": Paul Pena

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Cynthia Oliver in her office. Photo by Natalie Fiol

When it comes to Cynthia Oliver's classes, you always bring your A game. (As her student for the last two and a half years in the MFA program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I feel uniquely equipped to make this statement.) You never skip the reading she assigns; you turn in not your first draft but your third or fourth for her end-of-semester research paper; and you always do the final combination of her technique class full-out, even if you're exhausted.

Oliver's arrival at UIUC 20 years ago jolted new life into the dance department. "It may seem odd to think of this now, but the whole concept of an artist-scholar was new when she first arrived," says Sara Hook, who also joined the UIUC dance faculty in 2000. "You were either a technique teacher or a theory/history teacher. Cynthia's had to very patiently educate all of us about the nature of her work, and I think that has increased our passion for the kind of excavation she brings to her research."

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Clockwise from top left: Courtesy Ford Foundation; Christian Peacock; Nathan James, Courtesy Gibson; David Gonsier, courtesy Marshall; Bill Zemanek, courtesy King; Josefina Santos, courtesy Brown; Jayme Thornton; Ian Douglas, courtesy American Realness

Since 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards have celebrated the living legends of our field—from Martha Graham to Misty Copeland to Alvin Ailey to Gene Kelly.

This year is no different. But for the first time ever, the Dance Magazine Awards will be presented virtually—which is good news for aspiring dancers (and their teachers!) everywhere. (Plus, there's a special student rate of $25.)

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Leap! Executive Director Drew Vamosi (Courtesy Leap!)

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