Al Blacksone teaching class at JUMP (courtesy Break the Floor Productions)
Convention classes are inevitably packed. To have the best possible experience while surrounded by hundreds of fellow convention-goers, put some thought into where you choose to stand in the room.
Start with a goal: "What people seek from class absolutely informs where they stand," says Dana Wilson, hip-hop teacher for New York City Dance Alliance.Hoping to win a scholarship or award? Trying a new style? Want to meet new people? These factors impact where you'll have the best class, so figure out your intentions before you enter the room.
Stand in the front if…
…"you're a go-getter and you're OK doing your thing in a confined space," says Kristi Fair, lyrical teacher for Kids Artistic Revue. Dancers who stand in front crave direct interaction with the teacher, and do their best work "when they're getting immediate feedback—when they're close enough for the teacher to say, 'You right there, that was great, keep it up!' " Wilson says.
You don't have to be a pro in the class style to stand in the front, but you do have to exude positive energy. "I would encourage dancers to stand in front if they're enthusiastic about improving at that style," Wilson says.
The downside? The front is the most densely packed area, so it can be tricky to do the combo full-out if it requires traveling or floorwork. If you choose the front, you have to be confident that when the class breaks into small groups, you'll be able to execute the steps without having practiced them.
Dana Wilson teaching at New York City Dance Alliance (courtesy NYCDA)
Stand on the side if…
…you enjoy having freedom to move around and you don't mind dancing on carpet. "I like dancing on the sides because I can move forward or backward freely," Wilson says. "I can head toward the front to see the steps, and then, without disrupting the class or other people, skirt along the perimeter and be dancing in the back of the room moments later."
Some conventions also have screens displaying live video of the instructor alongside the stage. "Standing in front of screens, you can get just as great of a view," says Al Blackstone, musical theater teacher at JUMP.
But don't forget the freedom on the sides sometimes also comes with a flooring challenge: "A reality of convention is that you are going to dance on carpet," Blackstone says.
Stand in the middle if…
…you want to get out of your comfort zone and meet new people. In the middle, "you're surrounded by energy," Blackstone says. Having 360 degrees of dancers around you means you have more resources. "The teacher isn't the only one who can help you," Blackstone says. "One of my favorite things when taking convention class is asking the person next to me for help."
Like the front, the middle can be tricky because it's jam-packed. Also, since dancers in the middle aren't close to the stage, you might get lost in the crowd. But that can also serve as practice for the professional dance world. "Dancing in the middle of the room is best for seeing what it might be like learning choreography at an audition, where you don't get to pick where you stand," Wilson says.
Al Blackstone teaching class at JUMP (courtesy Break the Floor Productions)
Stand in the back if…
…"you have a relaxed personality and you don't need to be in the spotlight as you learn," Fair says. "And if you're a more hands-on, physical learner who needs space to work out the choreography."
The back is also a good place to implement notes from teachers or judges. "For application of notes, I always try to get to the back of the room or a corner, where there's more space," Wilson says. Plus, the front row isn't the only place to get noticed: "The dancers in the back of the room who don't need me to push them are the ones I'm drawn to, because they are fully committed to dancing," Blackstone says.
However, if a class counts toward scholarship or award consideration and you're in contention, pick a moment to step forward. "I have seen brilliant dancers get overlooked when they audition in the back," Wilson says.
Ultimately, there's no rule that you must stay in a certain space. "Stand in front, learn the footwork, then move to the back and practice," Blackstone says. "When you feel really confident, take center stage."
A version of this story appeared in the December 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Finding Your Space."