If hip-hop dance something you want to learn, there’s no reason to put it off for a single day longer. Just think about how excited you’ll be when you have all of that newfound confidence on the dance floor.
We spoke with Stephen Banks, hip-hop dance instructor, choreographer, and motivational figure based in Los Angeles (and a highly rated pro on Thumbtack) to find out what to look for in a teacher, what to expect during a class, and if it’s really true that anyone can learn how to dance. (Spoiler alert: It is.)
When looking for an instructor, Banks says the most important thing to find out is if your personalities mesh well. “Does the instructor follow the same values that you do? Do you like him? Do you enjoy his company?” These are the things you need to figure out because you’re much more apt to listen to and open up to someone you like and trust. “Dance opens up a psychological and emotional portal in people,” Banks says. “And if you’re uncomfortable in the beginning, it’s going to be hard to open up and break down those walls as time progresses. You’ll get more progress out of someone if you like them than if you take classes from an instructor at a pro level who you don’t get along with.” Ultimately, you want someone who loves dance, knows how to teach, and supports, motivates, and respects you.
But Skill Matters Too
“The thing I learned early on about being a hip-hop instructor is that we are the masters of nothing,” Banks says. But he doesn’t mean that in the way you’re thinking. Rather, he explains, “Our style doesn’t have a particular format to it, like ballet or ballroom or other styles that have been around hundreds of years. We’re the youngest in the group and a lot of what we do has been recycled over a vast period of time. Hip-hop is dynamic. It changes.”
So what does that mean when looking for a teacher? “It’s really about what your goal is,” Banks says. “You want to make sure your instructor has either already achieved or is in the process of achieving that goal.” He explains, “If you just want to learn to be more sociable on the dance floor, you don’t need an instructor who has been on tour; you just want someone who has a great attitude and is able to dance quite a few different styles. But if you want to compete, then you’ll need to find someone who has a couple more years of experience because they’ll give you what you need to reach that level.”
Go Private… At Least At First
“Beginners tend to think the obvious choice is to start with a group class, but it’s really the exact opposite,” Banks says. “You want to get one-on-one instruction first so you can build a strong foundation. In group classes the instructor only has two eyes for everyone in the room. You won’t always be corrected, so you’ll create habits that won’t foster results. If you’re in a one-on-one situation, your instructor can set a foundation and teach you things like body mechanics, weight distribution, flexibility, and timing and musicality. Once you have an understanding of all of that and are able to hold yourself accountable, then you can take group classes.”
Anyone Can Learn to Dance… (Yes, Even You)
“I believe anyone can learn anything,” Banks says. “You just have to change the way you train.” This means making sure the teacher is going at a pace you can digest and understanding your learning style. Plus, Banks just believes we were all given rhythm. “You’ve had a heartbeat since you were conceived, and it had a rhythm. Your blood pumps to a rhythm. You walk to a rhythm. You don’t have to worry about rhythm because it’s a part of your system.”
Hip-Hop is About Musicality and Timing
“Hip-hop dance is just everyday movement, but to a beat,” Banks says. And since you’ve already got the whole rhythm thing down, what you need to focus on is musicality, timing, and awareness of your body. “Musicality isn’t about listening to the rhythm; it’s about anticipating it and executing the movement as soon as it happens.”
Every Teacher Is Different
Every instructor is going to have a different methodology. Banks like to focus on teaching his students how to learn as opposed to just giving them movements. That means spending a lot of time on body mechanics and becoming what he calls “a master of movement” so that you can isolate parts of your body and have them do different things at the same time. “But my number one job is to get you moving and learning how your body works and learning how to watch and imitate.”
That being said, there are a lot of classes out there where you’ll spend the class warming up, learning a dance routine, and then performing it. Or focusing on basic grooves and practicing moves repetitively. If an instructor’s style isn’t working for you, don’t feel bad about looking elsewhere for a person who better fits the way you learn and gives you what you want.
Practice Makes Perfect
Banks says that when you first start, you’ll probably only want to take one lesson a week. “That way you have a couple of days of homework to work on what you were taught so that during the next lesson, you’re not starting from scratch.” Wait… homework? Yes, homework. Banks says it’s important to spend about 30 minutes a day working on what you learned outside of class. “You actually need to perform a skill 30 minutes after you learn it, otherwise you’ll forget it.” The homework’s worth it though. “If you do the homework and build muscle memory, you’ll learn a lot faster,” he promises.
It’s All About the Benjamins
Well, maybe not all about it, but Banks says you can expect to pay anywhere between $80 and $200 an hour for quality training. Of course, group lessons will cost less, so that’s really just an initial investment until you’ve got the basics down.
And Last, but Not Least: Here’s What to Know Before Your First Class
You found your teacher and you’re all set for your first class. But, what are you supposed to wear and bring?
Footwear: Regular athletic sneakers—you know the kind you’d wear to a workout class—are perfect. Just make sure they don’t have a black sole as those can leave marks on the floor.
Clothing: You just want to wear something that’s easy to move in. Athletic pants and a t-shirt should do the trick. Most hip-hop dancers tend to stay away from anything super fitted as well as shorts. You may want to leave your jewelry at home since it can get in the way.
What to Bring: A bottle of water and a gym towel, just in case.
Stephen Banks is a hip-hop dance instructor, choreographer, and motivational figure based in Los Angeles, California who has been dancing since he was 10 years old. You can find him on his website and Thumbtack.
[Photo and videos via Stephen Banks]