In the song-and-dance number – Who’s Got the Pain– from the 1958 movie Damn Yankees. Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse ease into their comic stage routine with a punchy, hip-swaying backward walk. Photograph: Warner Bros

(Siobhan Burke’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 3/8; Photograph: In the song-and-dance number – Who’s Got the Pain– from the 1958 movie Damn Yankees. Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse ease into their comic stage routine with a punchy, hip-swaying backward walk. Photograph: Warner Bros.)

A good online tutorial can be the difference between a frustrating process and a fulfilling one 

In the early days of the pandemic, a strutting, hip-shaking dance trend took over social media: the J Lo TikTok Challenge, a roughly 30-second piece of choreography from Jennifer Lopez’s Super Bowl halftime performance last year. It was hard to watch the routine and not want to learn it; in video after video, the energy was contagious.

But where was a novice to begin? A quick internet search for “Learn J Lo TikTok challenge” would send you into another vortex: the vast, uneven world of online dance tutorials.

While some people excel at picking up choreography directly from videos, others do better with slower, step-by-step guidance. The internet is full of tutorials breaking down popular dance routines, but some are more helpful than others. Whether you’re trying to master dances from TikTok, music videos, movies or elsewhere, a decent tutorial can be the difference between a frustrating process and a fulfilling one. And as those who teach them can tell you, how you use these virtual lessons – namely, your approach to learning – also matters.

Across TikTok, many creators post short tutorials for their own dances, within the platform’s 60-second time limit, often recorded in slow motion to make them easier to follow

Across TikTok, many creators post short tutorials for their own dances (within the platform’s 60-second time limit), often recorded in slow motion to make them easier to follow. The app’s “duet” feature, which allows users to dance side-by-side with a slowed-down original, is also handy for studying choreography and syncing up your moves.

But sometimes, especially for fast and intricate movements, more detailed instruction is useful. On his YouTube channel, Online Dance Classes, choreographer Vincent Vianen posts longer tutorials for trending TikTok dances (all his videos are free) with clear, specific directions and chances to practice at various speeds. His teaching style brings even the trickiest dance challenges, like the original Renegade (created by innovative young dancer Jalaiah Harmon), within reach.

“When I make my tutorials, I really try to get inside the head of somebody that isn’t very experienced in dancing,” Vianen said in a video interview from Amsterdam, where he lives. One of his tips for beginners: Be patient and allow yourself to mess up. “When you start, don’t expect to be perfect on the same day,” he advised. “Improving with dancing just takes time.”

For longer routines, Montanez recommends ‘setting realistic goals’, which might mean tackling just a couple of eight-counts at a time

Dancer Marissa Montanez has been making online dance tutorials since 2009, when she started a YouTube channel to teach Lady Gaga’s choreography. As a senior instructor with the New York dance-fitness studio Banana Skirt Productions, which has moved online during the pandemic, she often teaches routines from popular music videos for the class series known as Starpop Dance. (She also offers free mini tutorials on her personal TikTok page.)

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