All my technically trained community dancers, please raise your hand if you’ve ever been asked/demanded to kick your leg “really high.”
What about being asked to “do a lot of spins?”
Or what about when you see a team throw in a “contemporary” piece/transition or there’s that one person who does 4 turns in second and pulls up into a sloppy double and you immediately turn into Nigel on SYTYCD and judge the heck out of the technique?
Trust me, it happens to all of us. Whether you’re technically trained in the Cecchetti method as a ballerina or you’re a studio dancer who has “spun” many times at Showbiz, Hall of Fame, and KAR, your transition into the dance community is definitely going to be a turning point (get it) in your dance career.
For some of us, joining a team is going to feel extremely natural — junior hip hop teams have been connecting the community style and training to studio dancers who are still training in jazz and technique 5 days a week. The grey areas are growing and it’s awesome — the community is blurring the lines between different dance genres.
However, there are some of us who grew up technically trained and had never even seen or heard of this “hip hop dance community” — our versions of “hip hop” included booty shaking for 8 counts and then turning the other way and booty shaking for another 8 counts, with different arms to spice it up.
If there’s one thing that we can agree on when coming from studio training to dance community training, it’s this: the transition is kind of really hard. Whether it’s learning how not to stand so upright to learning how not to point your toes all the time, there’s definitely that transition period where you’re wondering how you could be so bad at this new style of dancing when you’ve been dancing for 10+ years.
And, of course, there are some of those technically trained dancers who transition perfectly into the community, thriving even more now that they can let their true inner self unleash on the dance floor. I shake my fist at them.
Whether you were on your high school dance team or a finalist at Youth America Grand Prix, if you want to join a team (which you should) after high school, here are some tips on transitioning into the dance community!
1. Realize immediately that these two worlds are similar yet different.
If you created a very general venn diagram of the commonalities between technically trained/competitive dancing and the dance community, the similarities would be that they both involve dance, they both involve competing, and they both involve a lot of practice. Other than that — besides like… choosing costumes (which can be a struggle in both worlds) — the worlds are so, so different – embrace it.
You may have gone to a studio 5-7 days a week for 3-5 hours a day, working in an air conditioned studio with mirrors and marley floors. You could have spent more time stretching your feet than you did doing your homework (or you might have learned to do those things simultaneously, haAy~). Your weekends might have been scheduled to the T, beginning in a random city at 8am for convention and then doing improv competitions later that day for scholarships.
Depending on what kind of team you’re on, your dance life can drastically change. You might never step foot into a studio all season; maybe you’re on a collegiate team that can only afford a parking lot space for practices twice a week that start at your bed time and end way past it. Your weekends might consist of one Saturday or Sunday starting in the morning for your tech time, then practicing, house meetings, eating, mingling, performing, watching the show, awards, eating, then partying. Maybe.
Yes these two worlds involve dance but no, they are not the same. They are different in their practices and their establishments, but both of them are equally fantastic. Let the culture of the dance community soak in; be a dry sponge and absorb as much as you can. Try not to go into the dance community comparing it to what your world was for 10+ years; you’ll just be a wet sponge spreading germs across a wet countertop. Gross.
2. Do some plies, point your toes, and practice your splits.
I had a mild heart attack when I pointed my toes in my second year of college and realized they were not beautiful and winged and arched anymore. I immediately threw on my last pair of pointe shoes and did a short barre in my bathroom, hoping that those 15 minutes of plie-ing and releve-ing were going to bring back years of training on my arches. Spoiler alert: it did not.
Aside from just pointing your toes every so often, try to stretch a little when you can. There’s no harm in doing some pitches or tilts in between sectionals — you may have been limber throughout your competition dance career, but don’t let that flexibility disappear. Before you know it, you won’t be able to do your left split that you worked so hard on since the 6th grade.
Also, I’m not saying you’re going to lose your core or forget how to spot. However, if you go from turning 203948 times a day to turning -25 times a day, don’t be so eager to show off in a freestyle circle by doing a turn sequence you’ve had down since you were 12 –– the only thing that’ll be down is you. On the floor. When you turn out of control. And the spirit of your studio owner will be shaking his/her head at you. In shame.
3. Everything will feel uncomfortable, in your mind, body, and soul. Let it happen.
“Don’t be afraid of looking weird when you learn a style you aren’t comfortable with; you don’t have to look graceful all the time. Oh and get used to flexing your feet instead of pointing them when you pick them up off the ground.”
– Rachel Fujikawa (ACA, Peninsula School of the Performing Arts)
“You’ll probably be able to pick up choreo a lot faster than everyone else but everyone else is going to have that natural groove that tbh you don’t have lol.”
– Ellen Kang (Samahang Modern, Dance Precisions)
“Be inspired by how talented ‘untrained’ dancers train themselves to become great dancers and choreographers.”
– Jasmine Lin (ACA, Dellos Dance)
Things will feel weird. Your posture might be super upright, you might not be able to stop doing competition facials during performances, you might get frustrated with the fact that you’re picking up the choreo but you’re not picking up the style. Unless you’re the blessed contemporary dancer that can just morph into any style and look amazing always, dancing will be a lot less fun and a lot more annoying. It happens.
Instead of beating yourself up, let yourself become infected with the movement; let your body welcome the new styles with open arms (in open second, perhaps?) and just let everything take over because once that happens, you’ll unleash this new dancer who uses muscles you’ve never used before and listen to music how you’ve never listened to music before.
Broaden your horizons, explore new movements and shapes, and remember to take class every so often to maintain your technique. The dance community might be the best thing to happen to your personal dance style!
What are some of the struggles you have encountered? Share them with us by commenting below!
Still struggling to pick up the style as a trained dancer and need more practice? Become a better dancer by training with some of the best dancers out there online at STEEZY Studio!