When you’re jamming in your room to Jay-Z’s latest album or booty shaking to The Pussycat Dolls, you’re probably not thinking about pointing your toes and keeping your body aligned. Chances are, you’re not thinking about dancing at all. You’re simply enjoying your own movement. The diagnosis: You’re in the groove.
When DS asked several teachers and choreographers to define the term “groove,” we got answers like “an inner feeling of movement that you put underneath dance steps,” “being one with the music and choreography” and “the way your body interprets beats.” The groove concept can be tricky to understand. Unlike technical movements, it’s subjective. It can be slow and smooth or jerky and bouncy, depending on the dancer. A groove is like love—it feels different to everyone, and we all express it in our own ways.
Finding your groove can take your dancing to the next level, allowing you to become more well-rounded and shine brighter than thousands of other hungry dancers. Read our guide and get on the road to discovering your groove!
Does Everyone Have a Groove?
You don’t have to be a hip-hop dancer to have a groove. In fact, not every street dancer automatically has one. Take 28-year-old Joanna Numata, a hip-hop teacher at Broadway Dance Center and member of Rhapsody The Company. “I came from a ballet, tap, jazz and modern dance background,” Numata says. “Even when I took hip hop at my hometown studio, it was more like cheerleader-y jazz. It took me about two years of training with teachers like Rhapsody James and working at home on my own to find a decent groove.”
Ready to Find Yours?
Set the scene
Even though grooving is all about what’s inside you, your wardrobe can help you tap into your personal rhythm. Numata admits that she showed up to her first hip-hop class at BDC in a black leotard and jazz pants, sticking out in the sea of neon sneakers, baggy sweats and bikini tops. Dressing in looser clothes helped her adapt to the class’s laid-back style. So if rocking a leo, fishnets and pumps à la Sasha Fierce or a bright tracksuit like Missy Elliot helps you feel it, then go for it!
Your environment can also inspire you to let loose. Tessandra Chavez, a teacher at EDGE Performing Arts Center and Debbie Allen Dance Academy in L.A., recommends this at-home improv exercise: “Set the mood [like dimming the lights] and find music that moves you,” she says. “Live the quote, ‘Dance like no one is watching,’ and just go crazy freestyling. Then, unleash that feeling in class.” Avoiding mirrors when you practice can also help prevent you from becoming self-conscious. As you grow more comfortable and confident, you’ll find it easier to let down your guard.
Classically trained dancers are inclined to stay pulled up all the time, but that can make it hard to find your groove. Release your technique by loosening your upper body and allowing your hips to sway. Of course you can’t do this during a ballet combo, but learning how makes you a better and more versatile dancer. “When technical dancers learn how to relax in other classes it can help them enhance their movement when they perform in their own style,” says Jamie Jackson, a hip-hop teacher at Broadway Dance Center.
Improve your musicality
Search for music you connect with, and once you’ve found it, learn how to interpret it. Try listening to your favorite songs without
actually moving. Close your eyes, and picture how you would move to the music. Pay attention to backbeats, different instruments and nuances. As you clear your mind, your natural instincts will take over. Then, apply this mindset when you’re executing choreography. When you’re inside the music (really hearing it), rather than on top of it (thinking about steps), you will find your groove. (For more tips, see “Musicality Matters,” DS, January 2010.)
Even though a groove is a personal thing, others can influence it. Seek out those who inspire you, especially in dance meccas like Hollywood or NYC. When 21-year-old Shauna Noland, a contestant on “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 3 and dancer with Unity, a hip-hop and contemporary company in L.A., first moved out west, she faced the challenge of transitioning from competition- to commercial-style dance. She slowly found her way by taking advantage of the diverse classes offered in the major city.
“Observe the dancers in your classes,” Noland says. Seeing what you like (as well as what you don’t!) will help you develop a unique way of moving. Finding an instructor whose style suits you can also bring out your groove.
Can’t make it to one of the big cities? Watch dance videos on the web, go out dancing or have a jam party with your friends. You need to experience as many styles as possible to figure out what feels best in your body.
How You Know You’ve Found It
“Once I found my groove, it added new dynamics to my dancing—it became more than ‘5, 6, 7, 8, this-is-where-I-place-my-hand.’ It was about what made me feel good,” Noland says, and that’s what translates to the audience. So turn down the lights, turn up the music and start boogying down—you’ll find your groove in no time!
Photo of PULSE Protégé Jaci Caldarella working her moves at the Denver 2010 PULSE event by ProPix/courtesy The PULSE