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MIT blogger Ankita D. '23

self-taught dancing: a how-to by Ankita D. '23

how i learned dance through YouTube

I’ve been dancing on a team at MIT for one and a half years, but I’ve been dancing…unofficially…for much longer. as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, a significant portion of my free time through middle and high school was spent learning choreographies from YouTube. training at a dance studio just wasn’t something in the realm of possibility for me, so using YouTube to practice dancing seemed like my best bet. as said in my masterpost about dance at MIT…

I started learning choreographed dances when I discovered K-Pop in 4th grade (it was actually because of a Ke$ha phase…Run Devil Run really opened doors for me lmao). I realized that countless choreography videos for K-Pop songs were available on YouTube for me to learn, so I started mirroring and slowing videos so I could mimic them.

A few years later, I started learning dances from the choreography videos of legit dance studios (namely 1Million and Millennium). Learning these dances became my favorite hobby, and eventually, I started filming videos of myself for my Instagram. I would learn a few dances a week since creating my own dance videos was so fun for me. Over the years, I’ve learned over 250 dances!

getting into dance through K-pop, at least in the self-taught dancers I’ve met throughout my life, seems to be a pretty common experience. branching out to other choreography seems less popular, though, so I thought I’d make this post detailing my experience gaining exposure to different styles of dance purely through YouTube.

I’m pretty organized about things I care about. this is why I have three YouTube playlists of dance videos:

  1. every YouTube choreography I’ve ever learned (not including K-pop because lord knows how many dances I learned between 4th and 7th grade)
  2. out of those dances, my favorites to do. I revisit this playlist whenever I feel like dancing
  3. choreographies that I enjoy, but won’t learn because I already learned a dance to it, don’t like it, or think it’s too niche. I use this playlist for inspiration for my own choreography

these playlists are a tangible representation of all the dancing I’ve done throughout my life, so they’re pretty great

how do I find dances?

subscriptions

this is a screenshot of my YouTube subscriptions. I’m subscribed to so many dance studios that I have at least 15 new dance videos in my subscriptions every day. obviously, I don’t have the time to watch them all, so I’ve developed a *complex* filtering method. just kidding, it’s actually just:

“which songs do I know?”

“which studios/choreographers have the most unique choreography?”

…and then I choose to watch the videos that fall in the intersection of both subsets.

studios & individuals I follow include:

…and more! I follow around 200 dancers/dance studios. you can only imagine how messy my subscriptions get some days.

how do I choose dances?

as for deciding which dances to learn…it’s kind of complicated?

my thought process looks something like this:

  • does this look fun?
    • is it interesting—does it tell a story? how emotive is it?
    • if not, is it hype enough?
  • is the choreography actually good?
  • is this something that will push me out of my comfort zone?
    • is it a combination of sharp and fluid?
    • is it overly technical? because no thanks
    • if it’s a heels dance, does it require space I do not currently have? is it doable, given my…lacking flexibility and strength?
  • will build on skills I already have?
  • do I like the song?
  • do I know the song?
    • is it too popular/mainstream?
  • do I like the choreographer?
    • is this too similar to dances I’ve already learned by them? is the song good enough to compensate for this?

after this process, I bookmark the videos I like to my dance folder, which gets so long that I have to scroll quite a bit to reach the bottom. when I’ve been sitting on a dance for over a month, I delete it or put it in a subfolder to free up space.

looking through the playlist of my favorite choreographies to do, I notice a few categories:

story-oriented dances—combos that are fun to perform because they’re emotive and have some kind of intention in how the dance progresses from start to finish.

examples:

  • Love on the Brain by Galen Hooks—it’s deep, it’s powerful, it has a lot of interpretations. the details are incredible and the song is fantastic. the dance has a natural progression and reaches intensity at such a good point. 10/10
  • River by Galen Hooks—this dance is really fun and challenging. it’s so powerful, yet so subtle, which is a facet of it I love. I never get tired of it.
  • Wait a Minute by Malik Zaryraty—this one isn’t as “story-ish” as the others, but there are a lot of ways you can change the emotions you convey just by slightly altering the dance. I also enjoy how upbeat/hopeful it is

hype vibes—yeah, exactly what you’d expect

  • Pills & Automobiles by Alexander Chung—literal vibezzzz. it’s smooth, it flows, and it’s so high-energy.
  • Rock Your Body by Delaney Glazer—this choreographer helped me settle into my individual style more. I used to look for hard-hitting combos, but I loved the fluidity of this one, so I started learning all her dances.
  • 16 Shots by Tricia Miranda—the way this combo is high energy throughout but escalates at exactly the right moment? also it’s so cleaaaaan
  • I Do by Apple Yang

flowy/poppy—the perfect combination of hard-hitting and fluid. pretty self-explanatory

my favorite choreographers:

  • galen hooks: the most creative and versatile choreographer I know. I enjoy the subtleties and intricacies of her combos as well as her song choices
  • delaney glazer: flowy, upbeat, hype
  • jake kodish: poppy, more technical
  • jojo gomez: fluid, sexy, bad bitch
  • aliya janell: does mostly heels dances that are SO fun

how do I learn choreography?

do whatever works for you! I don’t really have stamina, so I’d learn dances in 15-minute chunks over the course of two or three days. I use a Chrome extension called MirrorTube to mirror and slow videos to 0.5x speed, as well as split the dance into 15-20 second sections. once I’ve mastered a chunk at a certain speed, I increase it gradually, and then move on. at the end, I put all the parts together at a slow speed so I can focus on transitions between them. I then try to dance without watching the screen 3-4 times so I know what parts I need to pay more attention to.

of course, this is the method I’ve gotten used to after many years of dancing, so it might not be what works best for you. splitting things into sections is generally the way to go, although a lot of dancers I know who have trained in studios aren’t used to learning dances at slow speeds. I guess this is because people don’t teach slowly (it would be hellish to syncopate in half speed), but honestly, if you’re on your own, why not?

how do I actually get better/measure progress?

I’m less convinced about this part since I never really did anything to grow as a dancer, but when I look at my Instagram videos from 2017, I’m utterly bewildered at how much I’ve improved. with the understanding of dance I’ve developed from being on a team for a while, though, I can say:

if you’re a beginner: focus on hitting key movements on time, as well as picking up and retaining the choreography. choreography retention is so important!! and underrated! it’s my strength in workshops since I’ve been learning choreographies quickly for most of my life

if you’re an intermediate dancer: focus on fluidity and continuity in your movements. try to both hit moves hard and connect pictures. try to add your personal style (whatever style of dancing comes most comfortably to you) to dances you learn. be more aware of your head and arm placement, as well as your body in general

if you’re a more advanced dancer: work on control! make sure your body isn’t stiff. focus on hitting levels and improving your bounce when necessary and staying grounded for other parts. think about motions holistically and involve your entire body when you can to make things fluid. use more space, keep textures in mind, and hit things sharper. understand your musicality (how you interpret music) more and integrate your style into dancing.

 

so…this was pretty haphazard, but I hope it was at least a bit useful :) feel free to comment/reach out if you have more specific questions and I’ll do my best to help!