Music
Evolve Photography, courtesy Buckley

With the exception of heavy metal, Grace Buckley has choreographed to almost every genre of music—from pop to country, soulful indie rock to R&B.

Buckley, who's been a New York City Dance Alliance faculty member since 2012, describes her tastes as a "mixed bag," with one caveat: She prefers lyrics.

When she first started teaching at her hometown studio in Westchester County, New York, this instinct seemed unfounded and simplistic.

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Music
Mary Mallaney/USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

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Music
Courtesy Alsop

For choreographer and teacher James Alsop to choose a piece of music for class, it has to make her groove.

"You're sitting down and your body can't help but to move," she says. A heel tap or a subtle sway of the hips—any organic movement that manifests from her gut—is the sign of a stellar, dance-worthy song.

This visceral reaction to music can be unpredictable, says Alsop, who's choreographed for artists like J. Lo and Beyoncé, for the Netflix series "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" and "Soundtrack," and for The Devil Wears Prada, set to open on Broadway in 2021. "It can happen with Kimbra or something real hood. It just depends on what moves me. Right now, it's Afrobeats," she says.

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Music
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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Music
Getty Images

Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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