Feature Articles

Digital Dancers

The evolution of online dancing.

By Jessica Innes

What if I told you that you could learn to dance from the comfort of your own home? Even better, what if you could learn from international superstars of dance without even stepping out the front door?

Last year I was lucky enough to travel, training at renowned dance studios including Millennium Dance Complex in LA and Broadway Dance Center in NYC. For many this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but it doesn’t have to be. In the past, dancers have spent hundreds of dollars traveling to work with internationally renowned instructors, but thanks to technology, these artists are going digital and teaching online or via DVD. Brooklyn Jai is a high-energy choreographer who has a sassy and flashy jazz/funk/hip hop street style, and after training with him at Millennium Dance Complex in Los Angeles, I was hooked. With a huge online following and years of requests for tutorials, Brooklyn recently opened an online studio www.brooklynjaistudio.com where he breaks down his choreography step by step for the viewer. Each week students can download a new dance that Brooklyn teaches with patience and humor. He believes that “the internet is now the fastest way to connect people” and that digital dancing is proving to be an effective and ingenious way to teach. When you are learning from video “you have the option to pause and replay the parts of the class you need to” and can take your time with the routine. Not to mention the fact that you can attend the class whenever it suits you, as the class is ready to play at the click of a finger.

Brooklyn says, “the feedback is surreal. One group of college students in Russia get together once a week with all their laptops and dance. I also had a student come in to see me after losing a lot of weight by doing my online tutorials every day”. This global contact not only benefits the students but is also a great way for choreographers to get their work known on an international level. “As of now we have students from Russia, Poland, England, France, Australia, China, Japan, Brazil and South America, the Middle East and Africa, in addition to students from all over the US and Hawaii. It’s unbelievable and we only started this year in April!”

This inspired me to further investigate the global domination of dance technology and speak with one of its pioneers Michèle Assaf. Michèle is the creator of the “Live at Broadway Dance Centre” instructional DVDs www.liveatbroadwaydancecenter.com and is the CEO of Tezoro Productions and World Dance Movement – an international workshop held in Italy every year (www.worlddancemovement.com), which can also be participated in online . Michèle explains that the DVDs are designed especially to replicate the experience of learning in a classroom so that “the camera becomes the eyes of the students”. Multiple camera angles are used and the teachers wear microphone packs while playing to the cameras in order to enhance the class and ensure that students are able to learn the steps correctly and accurately.

I was curious as to whether there were any opportunities for students to interact and share their online learning, and I was amazed at the energy and care that Michèle puts into her online students. She informed me that they have awarded $9,000 annually in scholarships to participants of the World Dance Movement Online “Dance Off”. Every student who participates by uploading a solo also receives valuable professional insight as they are emailed a critique of their work. “Students of WDM also have the opportunity of streaming the classes in real time. This adds to a sense of community and allows students to dance with one another and learn from each other”.

World Dance Movement Online

It can be argued that an online class could never replace the hands on corrections and critique that a teacher can give us in a class situation. However, Michèle articulately explains a vital point which all students should consider when learning, both in class or online. “Every correction given in a lesson, whether directed personally to you or not, is for you! If you listen and take all the corrections given by a teacher in class, not just the ones directed towards you personally, you will improve exponentially faster”.

The proof is in the results and Michèle kindly shared with me the heartwarming story of Renata, a young dancer from Poland who achieved her goals through tenacity, discipline and the Live at Broadway Dance DVDs. “Renata wrote to me about four years ago and explained that she had always dreamed to dance. Her mother had ordered her the Active-Isolated Flexibility DVD for her birthday and she was extremely excited as it was a big sacrifice for her mother to save up to purchase this $49.95 DVD, plus international shipping. When the DVD arrived, it had somehow been cracked in the mail. She was heart-broken and after reading about her passion to learn to dance I decided, of course, to replace her damaged item and also included all the beginner and technique DVDs in our series as a gift. Fast forward to last week in New York at Broadway Dance Center. On the 11th of June, 2011, a tall, beautiful, redheaded girl shows up with flowers in her hands for me. She explained that she was the girl from the email exchange many years ago and daily training with these DVDs had allowed her to follow her dream to New York City. She is now studying acting, singing and dancing at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. She is also training at Broadway Dance Center with all the amazing teachers she had trained with for so many years only virtually on DVD. I gave her a big hug. She started crying, overwhelmed with emotion that she could finally meet me and was living her passion that was nurtured by these DVDs!” The entire range of DVDs is now available online for download, making them even more accessible to dancers across the globe.

Dance is not about the clothes you wear to class or the size of the studio you work in. It is about pursuing a passion no matter what your circumstances. Online dance can open many doors for students, whether it be building their confidence in the privacy of their own home, or dancing hard with an idolized choreographer. All in all, I certainly wouldn’t complain at the prospect of having Tyce Diorio, Mandy Moore, Louis Salgado and Brooklyn Jai teach me how to dance in my very own living room!

Top photo: Brooklyn Jai

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