10 Master Class Mantras From “Get A Leg Up”
A supplement to Dance Magazine
Written by Khara HanlonMaster classes at conventions can be intimidating. You find yourself dancing in a hotel ballroom with 200 other students and a teacher you’ve never worked with learning moves you’ve never tried before. If you’re taking class with someone famous you feel extra pressure to do your best. But there are ways to ease your anxiety and get the most out of a session. We asked master teachers – Nancy Stone, director of Dance Olympus and International Dance Challenge; Thomas Lake, ballet teacher with Access Broadway; Shelly Masenior, lyrical and hip hop teacher for StarQuest International; and Tabitha D’umo of Monsters of Hip Hop – to share their tricks for successfully navigating a master class. From now on the only thing making you sweat will be your dancing.

Be Prepared for a Challenge:

You don’t attend master classes every day so they are designed to be a reach. “You’re usually learning a style that you aren’t accustomed to and it might be a little difficult,” says Nancy Stone. “Struggling is a good thing. You learn about yourself as a dancer and what’s expected of you.” Classes might be shorter than usual with new material flying at you. Or they’re longer than usual with material flying at you. “The choreographer is bringing more material to the table in a master class,” says Tabitha D’umo. “Things you can work towards.”

Don’t Worry Too Much About Where You’re Standing:

If you’re doing something great, they’ll see you, but you’ll see the instructor better if you’re in front. “The closer I am to a choreographer, ” says D’umo, “The more I can see all the details. I can see exactly where that shoulder is going.” In a large class it isn’t possible for everyone to be in the front, though. If you do make it up front, make sure the teacher has room to breathe. “There are students who push their way to the front too so they’ll be seen,” says Thom Lake. “Unfortunately, they are standing on top of us and we can’t move.”

Familiarize Yourself With The Music:

“When you learn a combination back in your home studio, make learning the music the first thing you do,” says Shelly Masenior. It will make picking up new movement easier. “Choreographers make steps to the music and there’s a match between the movement and the song,” says Masenior. “Be able to learn the song right away and you’ll probably have an easier time with the steps.”

Keep Questions To A Minimum:

Questions take away from class time. Often it’s something you could figure out yourself. Try to pick up the details through observation, then get it into your body. On the third try, if you’re still struggling, then ask a question.

Bring Your A-Game:

“Work really heard,” says D’umo. “If you pick up the material and execute it as well as you can and the teacher is impressed, you might create an opportunity.” That doesn’t mean you’ll get a job out of a master class, but you’re making an impression, so it should be a good one. “Some big names don’t teach regularly,” says D’umo. “Getting to see new faces is great for the choreographer. It’s also great for the dancer.”

Go In With A Goal:

“Maybe your intention is to get better in hip hop, to hear new music or to learn how to make your upper body stronger,: says Masenior. Giving yourself a goal allows you to focus on what you can control – not what you can’t. “The big nationals have 800 kids in a class,” says Thom Lake. When you feel like you’re squished, it’s easy to lose track of what you’re doing there. Spending your time in class feeling frustrated is always a waste. “When you are clear about what you want,” says Masenior. “You’ll get more out of it.”

Everyone is Learning:

Yes, you want to do your best but remember the real purpose of class. “You’re there to learn from us,” says Masenior. “The reason for a master class is that teachers and choreographers want to share knowledge that the dancers don’t have.” The masters are learning from you as well. Teaching shows them how to convey their choreography and help you learn it in the most detailed, efficient way. “It goes both ways,” says Masenior.

Personal Attention is Impossible:

There isn’t enough time to comment on everyone. “The individual attention you’re used to at home is out the door,” says Lake. “We can’t show special attention and we aren’t going to show favoritism.” Teachers often give corrections to another student and assume you know it is meant for you as well. Take every correction the teacher makes as your own and remember that if a teacher doesn’t say anything to you, you can’t assume it’s because you’re not doing it right. “When you come to New York looking for a job you aren’t going to have special attention paid to you,” says Nancy Stone. “In professional auditions you’re part of a group. Master classes prepare you for anything, be it an audition for a local company or an audition in L.A.”

Treat Class Like An Audition:

Think of your master class as a fake audition. You’re learning how to pick things up quickly and perform movement you’ve never tried before in front of someone you’ve never met. It’s practice for the real thing. But if you’re hoping to work for the teacher one day, class is essentially, a pre-audition audition. “If dancing is your career you need to treat master class a little bit more seriously,” says D’umo. That means doing, acting, and looking your best. “You want to present yourself well,” says Masenior. Be on your toes. “In an audition you are going to come in ready to do anything,” says Lake. “That’s a smart way of approaching a class, too.” You wouldn’t go to an auditional without keeping your ego in check, dressing appropriately or behaving respectfully.

Perfection Isn’t Necessary:

Sure it’s a “master” class but that refers to the teacher, not you. “We don’t expect everybody to be perfect,” says D’umo. “We want to see that you are really trying, that you’re enthusiastic about it.” You wouldn’t need teachers if you already were the best. “You have to go in with the mindset that you are going to do the best you possibly can,” says Stone. “But realize that every day is not going to be the best day you’ve ever had. No matter what happens you will have learned something from the experience.

-Khara Hanlon