In the early days of the pandemic, a stripping, hip-shaking dance trend took over social media: the J. Lo TikTok Challenge, a choreography of roughly 30 seconds from Jennifer Lopez’s Super Bowl halftime performance last year. It was hard to watch the routine and not want to learn it; In video for video, the energy was infectious.
But where should a beginner start? A quick web search for “Learn J. Lo TikTok Challenge” would put you in another vortex: the vast, uneven world of online dance tutorials.
While some people excel at capturing choreography straight from video, others do better with slower, step-by-step instructions. The internet is full of tutorials breaking down popular dance routines, but some are more helpful than others. Whether you’re trying to master dances from TikTok, music videos, movies, or anywhere else, a decent tutorial can mean the difference between a frustrating and fulfilling process. And as those who teach them can tell you, how you use these virtual lessons is also important – namely, your approach to learning.
In TikTok, many developers post short tutorials for their own dances (within the platform’s 60-second time limit), often recorded in slow motion for easy tracking. The app’s “Duet” feature, which allows users to dance side by side with a slowed down original, is also handy for studying choreography and synchronizing your movements.
But sometimes, especially with fast and complicated movements, more detailed instructions are helpful. On his YouTube channel, Online Dance Classes, choreographer Vincent Vianen publishes longer tutorials on trendy TikTok dances (all of his videos are free) with clear, specific instructions and ways to practice at different speeds. His teaching style brings even the toughest dance challenges like the original Renegade (created by innovative young dancer Jalaiah Harmon) within reach.
“When I do my tutorials, I really try to get into the head of someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience in dancing,” Vianen said in a video interview from Amsterdam, where he lives. One of his tips for beginners: be patient and let yourself be confused. “When you start, don’t expect to be perfect the same day,” he advised. “Improving yourself with dancing only takes time.”
Dancer Marissa Montanez has been doing online dance tutorials since 2009 when she launched a YouTube channel to teach Lady Gaga’s choreography. As a lead instructor at New York dance gym Banana Skirt Productions, which went online during the pandemic, she often teaches routines from popular music videos for the class series known as Starpop Dance. (She also offers free mini-tutorials on her personal TikTok page; a Banana Rock subscription is $ 19.99 per month.)
For longer routines, Montanez recommends “setting realistic goals,” which can mean only tackling a few eight points at a time. “Being at home gives you the flexibility to break it open when you need to,” she said in a phone interview. She also suggested that she familiarize herself with the original source and fully observe the dance a few times before attempting it herself.
With the interruption of live performances and in-person courses, larger organizations have also turned to tutorials to get people involved in their work. For example, last year the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Verdon Fosse Legacy (dedicated to the work of choreographer Bob Fosse and dancer Gwen Verdon) released instructional videos that make classical modern dance and film musical steps accessible to all levels.
If you’re looking for a place to start learning dance routines at home, here are five options of different styles (in roughly ascending order of difficulty) with tutorials to match. Every workout is a good workout in its own way. So warm up, drink plenty of water and, as Montanez tells her students, be “kind to yourself”.
1st musical comedy moment
In the song-and-dance number “Who’s Got the Pain” from the film “Damn Yankees” from 1958, Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse dive into their comic stage routine with a powerful, hip-swinging reverse gear. As part of the Verdon Fosse Legacy # FosseMinute series on YouTube, dancer Dana Moore teaches this short sequence known as the Mambo Step. It also includes some basic hat choreography and the regular shouting of “Erp!”
2. Classical modern dance
The heart of Alvin Ailey’s 1960 choreographed repertoire, Revelations, could look terrifyingly complex in a theater. In a 13-minute online workshop, longtime Ailey dancer Hope Boykin brings passages of the choreography to an achievable level. In addition to movement information, it offers insights into the history, imagery and inspiration of the work – knowledge that enriches movement.
3. Timeless TikTok
TikTok dance trends are mostly fleeting, but some rise to the level of classics. Only time will tell, but the “WAP” dance could be one such routine that will forever come to mind – and hit the dance floor – when its song lights up. The dance was created by the digitally savvy dancer Brian Esperon as a companion to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s summer hit “WAP” and pays tribute to the slippery audacity of the lyrics with a huge kick, parting and a lot of twerking. (Unlike many TikTok dances, which tend to stand in one place, this one really goes down and needs some space to spread out.) As Esperon warns in his tutorial, even he injured himself in the process. So be careful.
4. Super Bowl sensations
It wasn’t just J. Lo who dazzled last year at the Super Bowl halftime show with the irresistible routine (choreographed by Parris Goebel) on the internet. She shared the stage with Shakira, whose performance also resulted in a viral dance, the Champeta Challenge, choreographed by Liz Dany Campo Diaz and named for her high-speed style of Afro-Colombian dance. Vianen has tutorials on J. Lo and Shakira’s challenges on its YouTube channel that could make for a fun (and sweaty) pairing.
5. 80s throwback
Where would choreographed dance be in popular culture without Janet Jackson? Their catalog of dance-driven music videos is huge, but “Rhythm Nation” with its militaristic movements by choreographer Anthony Thomas is one of the most indelible. The banana skirt hosts a few “Rhythm Nation” courses, including one from Montanez. And it takes a bit of digging, but the Bay Area Flash Mob dance troupe’s YouTube channel has videos of Thomas teaching the choreography. Sometimes the best tutorial is one that you put together yourself.
Three more tips for learning dance routines at home:
Record yourself: Vianen, who started his own dance training by watching videos, suggests filming yourself and watching the recording to see how you can improve. “Sometimes you will say, ‘Oof, what is this?'” He said. “You won’t like what you see, but that’s part of progress.” In this way he added, “You will become your own teacher.”
Take breaks: Vianen enjoys learning a dance to solve a puzzle. sometimes it helps to go and come back. “When you let it go, your subconscious can work to solve it without you thinking about it,” he said. When you return you may be closer to a solution.
Keep it under low pressure: Montanez is a reminder to anyone who dances at home not to lose sight of the fun. It doesn’t have to be about achieving fitness goals or achieving perfection. “We can forget that dance can be relaxing, joyful and a liberation from our everyday lives,” she said. “It can be whatever you want.”