Music for Class: Keeping the Beat

Tracks for hip-hop class

The inspiration for Nolan Padilla’s career in commercial hip hop came from his TV set. “There wasn’t a whole lot of dance in Wyoming, so I would lock myself in my room and watch ’80s and ’90s videos on MTV,” he says. After some formal training, Padilla beelined it to L.A. immediately following high school graduation, sleeping on his cousins’ couches until he got on his feet.

His persistence paid off. Padilla’s recent projects include touring with Katy Perry and playing a principal dancer in Step Up: Revolution, due in theaters July 27. He blends old and new styles in his classes at EDGE Performing Arts Center, which he describes as having an Usher feel. “I’m a product of the ’90s, so I like to dance and groove. I make party dances that touch on tons of different hip-hop styles.”

Because of his own path, Padilla understands his students’ struggles. “It took me a few years to realize that you’re the only one pushing yourself,” he says, which is why beyond encouraging dancers to develop their own style, he recommends that they learn all sides of the industry, including business aspects and networking, which are essential in becoming a savvy and marketable dancer. DT


Artist: Michael Jackson

Song: “Rock With You”

“I try to play as much popular music for the warm-up as possible, and Michael is a ‘go-to’ on any day. This is a song that everybody knows, and it puts a smile on your face. It gets class started with the right mood.” 

Artist: The Beatles

Album: LOVE Soundtrack

“I grew up listening to The Beatles in my house, so it has a place with me. This is a remix album of a bunch of their tracks from the Cirque du Soleil show (LOVE) in Las Vegas. Dancing hip hop to these songs is something that kids won’t expect, but they’ll quickly get into it and pick out fun rhythms.” 

Artist: The Weeknd

Album: Balloons of Haus (remixes by Chi Duly)

“This has a house vibe with intricate rhythms. I like to use it for my choreographed combinations. I really try to keep my students on their toes, and that means keeping myself on my own toes, because I teach best when I feel like I am fueling my own creativity as well.” 

Artist: Steve Aoki

Album: Wonderland

“This whole album has different styles of electronic, hip-hop and R&B rhythms. Depending on how I feel that day, I’ll use it for warm-up or choreography, or really any portion of class because it blends really well into different parts.” 

Artist: Miguel

Album: All I Want Is You

“He released this album a couple years ago but is just getting recognized now. It reminds me of my favorite mid-’90s R&B music with a twist. His grooves just really make me wanna move, which is what my class is all about.”

Teacher Voices
Getty Images

I often teach ballet over Zoom in the evenings, shortly after sunset. Without the natural light coming from my living room window, I drag a table lamp next to my portable barre so that the computer's camera can see me clearly enough. I prop the laptop on a chair taken from the kitchen and then spend the next few hours running back and forth between the computer screen of Zoom tiles and my makeshift dance floor.

Much of this setup is the result of my attempts to recreate the most important aspects of an in-person dance studio: I have a barre, a floor and as much space as I can reasonably give myself within a small apartment. I do not, however, have a mirror, and neither do most of my students.

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Allie Burke, courtesy Lo Cascio

If you'd hear it on the radio, you won't hear it in Anthony Lo Cascio's tap classes.

"If I play a song that my kids know, I'm kind of disappointed in myself," he says. "I either want to be on the cutting edge or playing the classics."

He finds that most of today's trendy tracks lack the depth needed for tap, and that there's a disconnect between kids and popular music. "They have trouble finding the beat compared to older genres," he says.

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Courtesy Lovely Leaps

After the birth of her daughter in 2018, engineer Lisa McCabe had reservations about returning to the workforce full-time. And while she wanted to stay home with the new baby, she wasn't ready to stop contributing financially to her family (after all, she'd had a successful career designing cables for government drones). So, when she got a call that September from an area preschool to lead its dance program, she saw an opportunity.

The invitation to teach wasn't completely out of the blue. McCabe had grown up dancing in Southern California and had a great reputation from serving as her church's dance teacher and team coach the previous three years (stopping only to take a break as a new mother). She agreed to teach ballet and jazz at the preschool on Fridays and from there created an age-appropriate class based on her own training in the Cecchetti and RAD methods. It was a success: In three months, class enrollment went from six to 24 students, and just one year later, McCabe's blossoming Lovely Leaps brand had contracts with eight preschools and three additional teachers.

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