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Photo by spinkickpictures.com, courtesy of Mitchell

"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!'"

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Mel Mah (left) and Kim Gringas hosted the event at Playground L.A. in West Hollywood.

At the end of last month, YOU GOT THIS, GIRL! (YGTG), a workshop to encourage young dancers to go after their dreams, threw the event YOU GOT THIS, L.A.!, held at L.A.'s newest studio, Playground L.A. YGTG was founded in September 2015 by professional dancers Mel Mah (Janet Jackson, Justin Bieber, Kanye West) and Kim Gringas (Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Chris Brown). Both women made the move from Canada to L.A. in 2011, and after accomplishing their dance goals wanted to give back to the next generation of aspiring professional dancers.

An all-female panel of industry experts, including Tiana Brown, Brittany Perry-Russell, Robin Antin, and Randi Kemper, shared their unique success stories and how they've navigated the entertainment industry. The night also included performances by Dana Foglia Dance, the band Bennett and spoken-word by dancer Tajana Bunton-Williams.

"It was really incredible seeing so many people show up at The Playground; we had around 130 attend the event," said YGTG co-founder Mel Mah. "Each person there was so invested in bringing positive energy into that space, and it was an incredible moment for the L.A. dance community."

She added: "It was motivating to see so many L.A. people from different industries gather and talk about how we can all make an impact, how to focus on the positive, the wage gap and sexism, how to stay inspired, and how we can empower others."

For more info about YFTG, visit ygtgofficial.com.

Photos by Ja Tecson; featured image by Wes Klain

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For dancing in heels, Quigley (right) prefers high boots.

Teachers share the philosophies and materials that make them successful in their careers and classes.

You’d think a “Stiletto Heels” class would be excruciatingly painful. Surely spending an hour or more in a pair of sky-high heels, performing Beyoncé-esque choreography full-out can’t feel good. And yet, New York City–based instructor Shirlene Quigley says her classes are all about comfort.

Quigley, who has danced for Beyoncé, Rihanna, Missy Elliott and Chris Brown, wants her students at Broadway Dance Center and Peridance—mostly females 16 or older—to feel good physically and emotionally during her classes. That means not just finding shoes that will help them dance their best (Quigley recommends tight, thigh-high boots for ankle support and stability), but also creating a classroom environment where the dancers aren’t worried about performing overly sexual or suggestive choreography just because they’re dancing in high heels.

Quigley telling students they are “all created for greatness”

“We start class with a warm-up filled with core strength, leg exercises and stretching,” says Quigley. “Then we circle up for a quick chat to bring unity into the room and to create a safe environment for people to grow and take risks.” From there, she leads the students in across-the-floor drills, followed by a combination in her girly, feminine style. “At the end, everyone performs the routine in small groups while we cheer each other on,” she says. “My rule in class is to treat each other with kindness, love and respect at all times. Dancing in heels is scary, but it’s such a mental thing, like, ‘You want me to do what?!’ Women can give birth, but it’s scary to dance in a high heel. I want to help my students be less scared.” DT

What she wears to teach: “I always dress the part. If I’m going for a more hip-hop street stiletto vibe, I’ll wear leggings with a flannel shirt tied around my waist and a loose crop top. If I’m teaching a combo that’s more about precise lines and movements, I’ll go for something tight and black so the students can see my body.”

High heels of choice: For her preferred thigh-high boots, Quigley isn’t picky about brand or style as long as she can move in them. She says she likes to visit DSW or Payless and dance around in them to see what she likes best.

Her ideal day off: “I either want to spend an entire day taking classes, or the opposite: a day of watching movies in bed with my journal or being pampered, then heading to the park with a good book.”

What she never leaves home without: heels, water, body spray and lip gloss.

What she wants her students to watch: “I always suggest studying the greats—Paula Abdul, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson and Tina Turner—to learn from the true stars who paved the way for dance.”

Class photos courtesy of Quigley (2); boot and book: Thinkstock

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