How three choreographers use video-sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo to go viral—and book gigs
In the world of freelance teaching and choreography, the best way to get your work seen used to be to create a reel and host it on your website, or have your agent do the job sourcing for you. And while those are still valuable resources, welcome to 2015, where social media and video-sharing sites are the ultimate power tools for teachers and choreographers looking to expand their careers.
We spoke with three of the internet’s most viral choreographers—Tricia Miranda, WilldaBeast Adams and Matt Steffanina—to find out how you can make video-sharing platforms like YouTube, Vimeo and DanceMedia work for you.
Where to find him in person: Teaching weekly classes at Millennium Dance Complex and International Dance Academy in Los Angeles. He also spends about four months a year teaching workshops around the world, and he uses Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (@MattSteffanina) to share his schedule.
New posts: Every one or two weeks—across his three YouTube channels. “I have two dance channels and one tutorial channel,” says Steffanina, who is a working dancer and choreographer. “Sometimes it’s tough to keep up.” He publicizes his videos on social media—he has huge followings on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram—and he makes time to share and respond to fans’ videos.
Most popular: “Wiggle” by Jason Derulo, a class video with more than 20 million views. “This was from a beginner class, and I almost didn’t post it because it was on the easy side,” Steffanina says. “But I think people liked that it was a feel-good, fun routine. I loved watching as so many people learned it and then posted their own videos.”
Why you should tune in: Steffanina, who didn’t start dancing until he was 18, is the ultimate pro when it comes to sharing choreography videos. “I grew up on a farm in Virginia, and there were no studios around,” he says. “I always wished there were some cool hip-hop routines online I could learn. After years of buying instructional dance DVDs that were impossible to learn from, I got a camera and started making my own videos. I don’t claim to be the best dancer in the world or have the toughest choreography, but I can teach anyone to dance, and we’re going to have a good time.”
Big online break: When Will.I.Am and Justin Bieber shared his “#thatPOWER” video, and it was shown on several TV programs. “That was when I realized how powerful YouTube really is,” Steffanina says.
How his online presence has brought him jobs: “I get calls from artists and companies who have seen my choreography and want me to choreograph their commercial or feature their products in my videos,” Steffanina says. Some students travel to L.A. to take his class after seeing his work on YouTube.
Setup: A Canon T3i and a Tokina wide-angle lens for shooting, and Final Cut Pro X for editing. “If you come from an iMovie background, Final Cut is a great way to transition into more professional editing,” Steffanina says. Most of his class videos are shot by a parent watching his class.
Tips for shooting: “Have the person shooting sit or kneel, so the camera is slightly lower than the dancers,” Steffanina says. “You always want light shining onto the front of your dancers, so make sure there’s no backlighting unless you’re going for a silhouette effect. Personally, I hate videos into the mirror. Do yourself a favor and get a wide-angle lens and just shoot straight-on.”
Where to find her in person: Miranda is a choreographer for recording artist Demi Lovato and is on faculty with The PULSE On Tour.
New posts: When she was starting out, Miranda uploaded new videos every week. Now, she posts less frequently (but her videos are still followed closely by her 100,000+ YouTube subscribers).
Most popular: “Anaconda,” with 6.7 million views; “Banji,” with more than 1 million views; and a video of 8-year-old Aidan Prince dancing to Major Lazer’s “Jet Blue Jet,” which has more than 3 million views. “My choreography is super full-out, so it tends to get people hyped in class,” Miranda says. “I think people love these videos because of that energy, and all these crazy-talented kids. I call them aliens.”
Why you should tune in: “My choreography doesn’t look like a lot of the choreography today,” says Miranda. “I describe it as new-school choreography with an old-school feel. I came up in the ’90s, so I’m used to that high-energy dancing. Combine that with some talented dancers, a packed class and a dope song, and you have a pretty entertaining video.”
Big online break: It helps to be timely. Miranda posted a video of a routine to Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” shortly after the song peaked on the charts and its official music video was getting shared a lot online. “It went viral pretty much overnight,” she says. “We hit one million views within the first five days, and it was going up between 100,000 and 300,000 views a day. It was shared on a number of blogs, The Huffington Post, VIBE magazine and KIIS FM, and Perez Hilton tweeted it.”
How her online presence has brought her jobs: “Having a channel makes it easy—and common—for studio owners to find me and have me come in and teach workshops or set pieces. I’ve also booked two artists through my channel,” Miranda says.
Setup: “I hire Tim Milgram, a director, to do everything from lighting and filming to editing,” she says. “I trust him to deliver a great product, and he sends it to me for approval. But many of my videos have also been organic and on the spot; I shot them with my cell phone and uploaded the raw footage without any editing. Those have gone viral as well.”
Tips for shooting: “I don’t like too much editing or too many effects. The audience wants to see the choreography. But I do like when the camera moves with the choreography and gives it some texture. It makes the video more entertaining,” Miranda says. “Most important, make sure your video isn’t too dark.”
Where to find him in person: Millennium Dance Complex and Movement Lifestyle in North Hollywood, CA.
New posts: Every three weeks. He shares them on Twitter and almost always retweets anyone who shares the video.
Most popular: Adams’ routine to “Upgrade U” by Beyoncé, with more than 40 million views, features tons of different groups of dancers performing his choreography. “It’s a feel-good, hype routine,” Adams says. “There were so many amazing characters dancing in the video. I think people liked being able to relate to someone they were watching.”
How his online presence has brought him jobs: “I book jobs every single day from my channel,” says Adams. “I make hood dances, sexy dances, weird dances, acoustic love pieces. It helps that some of the most popular dancers in the world are in some of my videos.”
Setup: Directors Helton Brazil Siqueira and Tim Milgram shoot everything on a Sony, Canon or RED camera and edit the footage using Final Cut and Premiere. “They kill me when I try to use iMovie!” Adams says.
Tips for shooting in-class videos: “Shoot straight on so the choreography is completely captured,” Adams says. “Moving shots are fun, but don’t get too fancy or lose sight of why people are watching your videos in the first place. And don’t shoot into the mirror.” DT
Alison Feller is the former editor in chief of Dance Spirit.
Studio owner turned Facebook sage
YouTube isn’t the only way for choreographers to make a name for themselves online. Studio owner Emily Shock found her niche on Facebook, where she posts off-the-cuff status updates on hot-button issues and cultivates a thriving career as a freelance choreographer. Her online candor might not be appropriate for every teacher to imitate, but there’s no denying that the topics she tosses off strike a universal chord. Dance teachers everywhere are quick to nod—and comment—in agreement: “Yes, Emily!”
Shock, 40, owns Applause Studios, a small studio of 100 in Moore, Oklahoma. She initially created her personal Facebook page to share videos of her choreography. “But I like to write, too, so I started putting my thoughts in my Facebook statuses,” says Shock. “Then one day I noticed that my written posts were getting a lot more reaction than my videos.”
She quickly made a reputation for herself with fresh, unfiltered posts on her tough-love approach to discipline and parents who are perennially late with tuition payments, along with nuggets of choreographic advice. At last count, she had nearly 5,000 friends—she can’t accept any more requests because of Facebook’s limit—and just as many followers. Her statuses routinely earn hundreds of shares and thousands of likes. Sometimes, as when she’s musing about what makes a good dance, her observations are thoughtful and mellow. And other times, they’re pithy and cutting:
before you make your child quit an extracurricular activity because it is too expensive, please consider these creative ways to cut back on spending...
1. paint your own nails
2. clean your own house
3. make your own coffee.
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One thing her posts aren’t? Edited. Shock’s charm is in her casual style and frankness. Her statuses are absent of any let’s-make-this-go-viral doctoring. She voices issues that other teachers might hesitate to bring up in a forum as public as Facebook. “I can say what they are often thinking,” she says.
Her Facebook account has also been her main avenue for booking freelance choreography gigs. Every weekend from June through December, she’s on the road, creating solos, duets and group numbers for competition teams.
Between work and children (she has three—Eva, Marley and Mikella, ages 4, 14 and 20), her days are jam-packed, with little time for a social life. Writing her thoughts down helps keep things sane. “It’s my own girls’ night out,” Shock says. “My life is amusing to me. I like how things unfold, so I want to document them. I think of my Facebook statuses as blog posts.”
Occasionally, she gets some pushback. Facebookers aren’t afraid to engage in bitter comment battles. But Shock isn’t one to worry:
i just have opinions. and if i don’t blurt them out every morning then i don’t choreograph well...so i use Facebook for proclamations. i mean, i have to have my outbursts. they make me feel alive...there you have it.
off to choreograph now.
wish me luck.
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Photos from top: by Levi Walker, courtesy of Matt Steffanina; by Adam Gotsens, courtesy of Matt Steffanina; by Lee Cherry Photography, courtesy of The PULSE On Tour; courtesy of The PULSE On Tour/Platoon; courtesy of The PULSE On Tour (2); by Simon Hurst, courtesy of Shock