The key to unlimited growth? ALWAYS being a student. Even, or especially, the most seasoned of dancers have reached that level of skill only because they continued to strive.
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Being a hungry student opens up infinite possibilities for you as a dancer, teacher, choreographer, freestyler, anything you want to be. See Related Article: How To Get Teaching Opportunities In The Dance Community
But what does it take to be a good student? In the dance world, there are equivalents to the eager bookworm who color-codes his notes, and the kid who's dozing off in class. They're both students, but one is obviously making more use of his role. Melvin Timtim, one of our choreographers on STEEZY Studio, still values his role as a student – even after having taught all around the world. In fact, he is still adamant about continuing to learn and grow, in order to be a better teacher for all of his students. He shares with us how he utilizes certain training opportunities to be the most effective learner. See Related Video: When The Dance Training Doesn't Stop (STEEZY Original) Get your notebooks out!
Melvin's advice for improving your pickup?
"Take a lot of classes.
There are a lot of kids who want to be professional dancers, and the first thing I tell them is to take class.
And while they're learning, learn how to learn."
He sometimes has his students sit down as they watch him teach.
This way, it gets ingrained that dance is a visual thing, and you can learn how to pick up by watching without needing the instructor to describe every single move in detail.
You know those people who can watch a piece and just get it?
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Yeah, it's because they know how to learn visually.
So as you're taking a lot of class, try and pick up movement by watching, as much as possible.
It'll keep you 10 steps ahead of the rest of the class while people are still asking the choreographer to break down a move.
First tip: quantity. Lots of classes.
Second tip? Quality!
Strategize each class taking experience to fit your needs.
"Even if you're taking a beginner class, there are ways to make it an "advanced" class for yourself."
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You can really train any technique you'd like in any class.
Sure, you want to get the choreography, but so many aspects of the execution depend on your choices.
"Do you wanna hit that? Pop that? Swag it out? Dance big? Sit in the pocket?
Decide what to focus on during class, you can always make space to do what you need to work on.
Go over details at your own pace."
No matter what level of dancer you are and what level of class you're taking, you pinpointing and addressing areas of improvement are going to make even the most "beginner" level classes feel advanced.
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"Style is hard to develop itself, but a lot of it will derive from your posture.
If you feel into a partyish song, then that's gonna make your spine more loose, and make the piece feel more alive.
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Cleanliness is cool, but if you're too detailed, then it won't feel or look fun.
Dance with your whole body instead of placing your movements, make it more alive and worth it.
If you feel like you're executing too much and being too clean, then you can tone it down.
If you're trying to be swaggy, that's going to match the feeling of the song and how it's supposed to read.
Your shoulders, back, legs, all of that lead into this."
When it comes to performance, Melvin is less about adapting a character, but giving off that character from within.
"Exude what the song is giving to you.
Imagination helps. Picture an object, scenario, a feeling..
These concepts will help you embody a character that's fully in that situation rather than just someone who is pretending to be someone else.
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It also helps you change your focus from staying straight ahead to being in a full-dimension scene.
Think about what you are seeing, holding, doing.
Tell a story with your body.
Make every piece conversational by delivering a message."
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Mentorship was a huge theme in Melvin's growth as a young dancer. He now serves as a mentor now for his younger dancers, believing in the power of pushing someone past their limits by believing in them regardless of whether or not they believe their own potential
"Antoine Troupe and Greg Chapkis were my role models, I want to pass on what they gave to me, to the next generation of dancers."
Melvin started dancing as a bboy/ freestyle head at only 8 years old, participating in battles and later joined Pinnacle Possibilities. He transitioned into choreography at age 14 at Chapkis Dance.
"My first classes were from Jay Chris Moore, Jesse Trinidad, David Lim!"- Melvin
He describes it as a tough transition, as he is a "freestyler at heart," and learning choreography came with a learning curve. His mentors encouraged him to keep taking class, almost as if it was a mandatory requirement, a GE for a college degree. At 16, he started to create. Melvin's "Do It For The Ratchets" piece broke the internet, which signaled to him that his choreography might be worth working on. Greg soon thereafter invited him to choreograph for Chapkis Dance Fam, which put more eyeballs on his choreography, which led into more teaching opportunities as well as a directorship position on the team. Since his snowball to success, Melvin has been focusing on creating more pieces and developing his YouTube channel, and teaching worldwide.
Put these tips to practice! You can take Melvin's classes on STEEZY Studio here. Happy training! And remember – we're all lifelong students :) This article was originally published on November 12, 2015.