When Matt Steffanina needs music inspiration for his class at Millennium Dance Complex or for a dance tutorial video, he asks his nearly 3 million Instagram followers. "I'll read through the comments of my post, listen to suggestions and pick whatever I'm vibing with that day," he says.
The hip-hop choreographer's democratic style, along with voraciously watching music videos and movies like You Got Served, is essentially how Steffanina learned to dance. Growing up with no formal hip-hop classes available in his small Virginia town, he rallied other local teens from the community interested in freestyling. "I was like, 'Look, I'm going to choreograph and teach, so let's just learn together,'" says Steffanina, who's since worked with commercial artists like Chris Brown, Taylor Swift and Busta Rhymes.
Now, with almost 10 million YouTube subscribers and sold-out conventions worldwide, his upbeat music choices are a huge part of what engages his loyal following. "I like my class to feel like a party," he says. "Most dancers are inspired by the music first. When they're into the music, they push themselves harder because it feels good."
When teaching choreography, he often switches from emphasizing the beats to focusing on the lyrics. This trains his students to not just count numbers, but to feel the sounds and textures of the beats. "If the movement is hitting a run in the singer's voice or the snare pattern in the drums," he explains, "I want them to hit it so clean that that's all the audience hears in that moment."
Here's a handful of Steffanina's music picks for class and choreography:
Artist: Lil Wayne
Song: "Up roar"
"He's one of my favorite rappers. This song is a great mix of the old-school energy with a new-school hip-hop feel. It's one of those songs that spans generations. No matter where I'm at and this song comes on, someone is dancing. The beat is just contagious."
Lil Wayne- Uproar (Official Audio) Carter V www.youtube.com
Artist: benny blanco, Halsey and Khalid
"This is a slower vibe than I usually dance to. It's easier for me to be hyped and full-out, so I like to also practice freestyling to slower, more lyrical-type songs. This is a great way to lead myself to find new movements."
benny blanco, Halsey & Khalid – Eastside (official video) www.youtube.com
Artist: Justin Timberlake
Song: "Like I Love You"
"This was the first music video I ever learned the choreography to, by play-stop-play-stop-rewind-pause-and-repeat. At the time, I had no idea you could take class from the guy who choreographed the video (Marty Kudelka), and so the first time I met him, I was shocked! To me that was one of the most iconic music videos. There's something about it that made me want to commit to dance."
Justin Timberlake - Like I Love You (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
"There were so many music videos from this album that influenced me as a dancer and choreographer. I remember trying to learn the routines and his solos by watching them over and over again."
Usher - Twork it out www.youtube.com
Album: More Monsters and Sprites
Song: "First of the Year (Equinox)"
"This was the first dubstep record I danced to and the first time that I combined commercial hip hop with animation and tutting (a popping move). The way Skrillex combined music styles inspired me to mix dance styles, which is something I still use in my choreography today."
Skrillex - First Of The Year (Equinox) [Official Music Video] www.youtube.com