Tabitha and Napoleon D’umo may pull a goofy face from time to time—but only when appropriate! (by Jennifer Johnson)
You may have fierce hip-hop moves—but do you have the face to go with them? When it comes to hip hop, the right attitude can make or break your performance. Skilled dancers use their facial expressions to bring choreography to life, but sometimes figuring out exactly what to do with your face can be tricky. Should you glue on a goofy grin or go for a smug smirk? Can you pull off a classic “stank face”? Should you? We asked some of hip hop’s hottest dancers, teachers and choreographers for their tips on how to make powerful, effective expressions part of your dancing.
“Smiling is OK! Hip hop doesn’t have to be hard all the time. But whatever face you use, it needs to be confident. Weak doesn’t work in hip hop.” —Leslie Scott, hip-hop teacher at EDGE Performing Arts Center and Millennium Dance Complex in L.A.
“A ‘stank face’ is great if you’re in a crew—but it often doesn’t work in the commercial dance world. It can come across as mean or ugly if it’s not natural. Work on achieving that kind of intensity without sticking on a stank face.” —Tabitha D’umo, choreo-grapher on “So You Think You Can Dance”
“Don’t think about it too much. That can make your expressions seem contrived and stiff.” —Napoleon D’umo, choreographer on “SYTYCD”
“Don’t look like a deer in the headlights. Another look to avoid? The one that says, “I don’t want to be here!” That’s one of the worst things you can do.” —Bryan Tanaka, commercial dancer
“Have an intention when you dance. I’m usually really animated, but I don’t think specifically about my face as much as I think about the lyrics of the song I’m dancing to.” —LS
“There’s a fine line between feeling it and faking it. Hip hop is about letting go and connecting your whole body to the music, face included.” —TD
“Steer clear of overly sexy faces. That’s not what hip hop is about. I’d rather see a teen dancer smiling because she’s genuinely enjoying her performance than one who’s trying to look provocative.” —LS
“Remember that dance is an unspoken language. You need to tell a story with your face as well as your body. Pay attention to how other dancers use their expressions; then find what works for you.” —BT
“Be authentic. I have my students stare at their faces in the mirror while I ask questions that trigger memories, like, ‘How do you look when you’re heartbroken?’ or ‘How do you look on prom night?’ That way, they learn to connect their facial muscles to real emotion instead of just mimicking facial choreography.” —LS
“Film yourself during rehearsal. That’s the best way to really see what your face looks like while you dance. Cameras don’t lie.” —ND
“Your face can make or break your dancing. It’s what sets the professionals apart from the rookies. I’ve worked with some artists who may not be the best dancers but their performance faces are amazing and fun to watch.” —BT
What’s a “stank face”? Leslie Scott says: “The ‘stank face’ is an exaggerated frown, with the mouth turned down. So many people do nothing but that. It’s not always the best way to engage an audience.”
Much of Janelle Ginestra's career has been about helping others shine. She's dedicated herself to supporting and cheerleading her partner, WilldaBeast Adams; the emerging talents in their dance company, ImmaBEAST; and the countless dancers she inspires at master classes and conventions. Her YouTube channel has become a launching pad for young talents like "Fraternal Twins" Larsen Thompson and Taylor Hatala, thanks to viral videos featuring Ginestra's creative vision.
But Ginestra's a skyrocketing success in her own right—an in-demand choreographer, a social media influencer, and a dance entrepreneur, building a legacy one eight-count at a time. It's time for her turn in the spotlight. And she's more than ready. "I want to be a legend in whatever I do," she says. We'd argue that she already is.
For more on choosing whether to compete or not, click here.
I started dance classes at a young age. By the time I was 3, I was training at The Dance Club, and I grew up there. I started with the basics—ballet and jazz—and eventually added tap, tumbling, contemporary, and hip hop.
Early on, I did compete. I remember my first time: I did a trio at a small local competition, and it got first place. The trophy was as tall as I was, and I loved it. I attended conventions as a mini, and had the opportunity to take classes from Travis Wall, Sonya Tayeh, Andy Pellick, and Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh. There was so much variety—I was in awe.
For more on choosing whether to compete or not, click here.
My mom was a dancer growing up, and she went on to become a dance teacher, so I've really grown up in the studio. I started classes when I was 2, and by the time I was 9, I was training at The Dance Club and knew I wanted to dedicate all my time to dance.
Daphne Lee is a queen, and not just in the "OMG Girl Boss Alert" sense of the word. She's an actual queen—a beauty queen. Crowned Miss Black USA in August, she's been doing double duty as she continues to dance with the Memphis based dance company, Collage Dance Collective. Lee's new title has given her the means to encourage other black girls and boys to pursue their dreams, while also pursuing dreams of her own. The scholarship money awarded with the pageant title will assist her as she earns a Masters of Fine Arts degree at Hollins University.
When a choreographer finds a composer whose music truly inspires her, it can feel like a match made in dance heaven. Some choreographers work with the same composers so frequently that they become known for their partnerships. New York City Ballet soloist and resident choreographer Justin Peck, for example, has tapped composer Sufjan Stevens numerous times (last spring, the two premiered The Decalogue at NYCB, to rave reviews); L.A. Dance Project's Benjamin Millepied's working relationship with composer Nico Muhly has spanned a decade and two continents; and when tap dancer Michelle Dorrance premiered the first-ever Works & Process Rotunda Project, a site-specific work for New York City's Guggenheim Museum, last year, percussionist Nicholas Van Young was by her side as an equal partner. Successful collaborations require compatibility between artists, direct and honest communication, and flexible, open minds. But when the stars align, working with a composer can be extremely rewarding.
For ballerinas, it's the dream role to end all dream roles: Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, the type of part dancers spend years preparing for and whole careers perfecting. And it's a role that New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck never thought she'd dance. Though Peck is one of the world's preeminent ballerinas, her short stature made Odette/Odile, typically performed by longer, leggier dancers, seem (almost literally) out of reach.
Then—surprise!—her name popped up on the cast list for NYCB's fall season run of Swan Lake.