Taking Hip-Hop Class: What to Expect

Arrival

Plan to arrive 15 minutes early for your first class.

Many studios have registration forms or liability waivers you must fill out before taking class there for the first time. Being early also makes for a more relaxed first class.

Being on time is not only courteous, but helps you learn.

Arriving on time allows you to find a spot before class starts, get your full warmup, and hear any introductory remarks your teacher shares. It also makes it much easier to learn the dance.

See More: Why do a few minutes make such a difference?

If you don't get to see the first moves explained slowly, you'll probably find it's hard to memorize as the class practices at full speed. Splitting your attention between learning what's being taught and catching up on what you missed can distract you throughout the class, making the whole routine more difficult to learn.

So if you're late one day, be easy on yourself! It's normal to have a tough time in class when you miss part of the teaching of the choreography.

Class Format

Most hip-hop classes are 60 minutes long:

  • 10 minutes to warm up.
  • 40 minutes to learn a dance routine.
  • 10 minutes to perform the dance routine.

A few classes focus on basic grooves. Instead of learning a long dance routine, students follow along with the teacher in practicing hip-hop moves repetitively for some or all of the class.

Warmup

Warmup for most hip-hop classes will consist primarily of stretching or cardio, and may also include some body isolations or strength exercises.

See More: What are the benefits of different types of warmup?

Stretching

Warmup at a dance studio will usually consist primarily of stretching. As well as warming you up, over time this should increase your flexibility, which is valuable in dance. To best increase your flexibility, copy your teacher's form closely.

Dance teachers tend to be very flexible, so if you're not sure how to apply proper form when you're unable to attain the teacher's body position, we encourage you to ask.

Stretching should be gentle. Any significant discomfort is a sign to ease up. Unlike in some sports such as weight-lifting, pain is much more likely to lead to injury than to produce gains!

Cardio

Warmup at a gym or dance fitness studio may be mostly stretching, too. But it's also likely be all or mostly cardio—either easy dance moves or moves you might do in a gym exercise class.

Some teachers use basic grooves as cardio in warmup, which is great for building dance skills. Basic grooves are large-but-simple moves that use your whole body, as opposed to small body isolations. You may even warm up using some of the grooves that will be in that day's routine.

Cardio dance warmups are generally low-impact. Few instructors will include moves as vigorous as jumping jacks. Even gentle cardio helps to get your muscles warm.

Body Isolations

Many dance instructors will also have you do some moves that involve isolating and moving just one part of your body at a time. It's worth imitating your instructor's form closely during isolations. Like basic grooves, they not only warm you up, but teach valuable fundamentals of dance movement!

Strength Exercises

A few teachers include some quick strength-building exercises in the warmup. Most common are abdominal crunches, because core strength is essential for dance.

Many classes don't include core conditioning. If you do it on your own, remember that it's important to have balanced strength in your core. Use exercises that work a variety of different abdominal muscles, and be sure to include at least a couple of exercises for your lower back muscles!

Learning Grooves

A few beginning hip-hop classes spend all or part of class on basic grooves. To practice grooves, you'll follow along with your teacher in repeating large-but-simple dance moves that use your whole body. Some teachers spend half the class on grooves and then teach a short hip-hop routine.

A basic grooves class focuses on improving rhythm and mastering basic moves, rather than learning routines. It's often the best type of class for someone who just wants to learn some moves they can use at the club!

Learning Choreography

Most beginning hip-hop classes focus on choreography. After the warmup, the teacher will either give you a short break or move straight to teaching a dance routine.

When teaching you a dance, most instructors will demonstrate the movements and count out loud at the same time.

See More: Eight counts are the basis of most instructors' teaching.

Dance counts go from one to eight and then start over again at one. Each count represents one beat in the music. The movements are taught in sets of eight counts' worth of choreography, each of which is called an eight count.

Throughout class, as the instructor continues to add eight counts, every so often you'll stop to review all of what you've learned so far by practicing the routine from the top.

If the concept of an eight count is new to you, you may find our Dance-Speak glossary useful. There, you can get up to speed on some of the most common terms you're likely to hear in class.

Learning to Counts

Most hip-hop teachers, especially at dance studios, will count out loud during most of the class rather than play music. First they'll demonstrate new movements and have you perform them slowly, then have you practice them more quickly. Hip-hop routines are usually set to fast music, so to be ready to dance to the song, you'll need to pick up the pace.

Every so often during class you'll pause to practice what you've learned so far to music. By the end of class, you'll be performing the whole routine to the song.

Learning to Music

In some hip-hop classes, particularly at gyms or in other cardio fitness settings, the instructor will play music throughout class. Using a variety of songs, you'll alternate practicing the choreography you're learning half-time (half the actual speed) and to tempo (full speed).

Some teachers will give you a variety of songs to perform to at the end of class. Others choreograph to a specific song, but save it as a surprise. In this case, the teacher will introduce the "real" song near the end of class and let you practice the dance to it before you perform.

Dance Math

In a beginner class, you'll mostly stick to whole counts and half counts ("and counts"). A whole count corresponds to a full beat in the music. An "and" count represents only half a beat.

See More: Why do instructors say some and counts out loud, but skip others?

When counting choreography, usually, the teacher will only say an and count out loud if there's a move that starts on that count. If there's not, the teacher will instead pause slightly in counting in order to keep the rhythm.

So "one and two, three, four and" means that two and three are whole counts, but one and four are split into half counts (more than one move occurs during the count).

See More: What happens when you get beyond two counts per beat?

It's pretty likely that once in a while you'll be given "one and a" (three moves per count). Usually you'll hear this triplet clearly in the music.

You probably won't encounter "one eee and a" (four moves per count) in a beginning hip-hop class.

All Together Now

In most beginning hip-hop classes, routines always or almost always start on a count of one. The teacher will count "Five, six, seven, eight" to let you know when to start.

See More: How else could a routine start?

Occasionally, a routine will start on "and one" instead of "one." The "and" is understood to be a half-count belonging to the "eight" of the previous eight count, as in "eight and one."

Also, especially above the beginning level, once in a while a routine may start on two or three instead of one. This generally causes people to goof up, which is amusing. Often the teacher will try to help you remember by counting "hold one, two," or the like. "Hold" means to stay where you are on that count.

Some routines start on a different count entirely, like six or seven (also relatively uncommon in beginning classes). And some don't start on a count at all. They may start the moment the music begins (which makes it hard to start dancing in time!), or on a particular sound or lyric in the song.

Musicality

Much choreography includes movements that correspond to sounds in the music other than the beat. Often the movements will be to the lyrics, or sound effects such as a loud boom. Use of these elements is termed musicality.

See More: Musicality in Class

When there's a lot of musicality in a dance, usually the choreographer will still teach to counts, then let you hear in the song the shifts in timing that make the moves go with the music. Some choreographers focus much more on musicality than others. (A few teach without using counts at all. You just have to listen closely to the song to hear which sound each movement goes with. This is unlikely in a beginning class, except when a routine is choreographed to the lyrics instead of the beat.)

Though most hip-hop teachers will teach you a routine choreographed to one specific song, some will teach a dance you can perform to a variety of songs. A few classes even have a live DJ! It can be a lot of fun to experiment with expressing the mood or theme of different songs using the same movements—another form of musicality.

Pickup

Your ability to accurately perceive and remember movements as they're taught is called your pickup.

Much like cardio fitness, your pickup requires exercise to stay in shape. Your ability to pick up a routine will tend to deteriorate if you go a couple of weeks without taking class, and is more likely to improve significantly over time if you regularly take at least several classes a week.

So don't be discouraged if you have to miss class for a while and when you come back, it seems harder than you remembered! Your second class back may be much easier. Soon you'll be right back in the swing of things!

See More: Taking the routine from the top often, especially half-time, can help with pickup.

If the teacher doesn't take the routine from the top often throughout class, you may find you start to forget choreography near the beginning that you had already picked up.

Some teachers may be unaware of how long they go without taking it from the top. Others don't want to review if they're not sure it's needed. There are only 60 minutes in most hip-hop classes, and teachers keenly desire to make the most of the time.

If you have difficulty picking up choreography, you may find learning easier in a class where the teacher takes the routine from the top often. This allows you to reinforce what you've learned. It's especially helpful if the instructor takes the routine half-time (slowly) from the top once in a while. It gives you a chance to pick up on things you may have missed, and allows you to see more clearly the transition from each eight count to the next. This can make a real difference for some beginners.

Transitions

Often, picking up the transitions between eight counts is challenging for new dancers. Within an eight count, the teacher will show how you get from each move to the next. But when you go from eight to one again, the teacher usually doesn't show you what happens in between.

See More: Learning Transitions

Many transitions are intuitive, or will become so with dance experience. But some are not.

Beginners are more likely to have difficulty finding their way from eight to one, while both beginning and more experienced students may be confused when there's more than one simple way to get there. If you can't figure it out, it's okay to ask your teacher to demonstrate the transition! You're probably not the only one who isn't getting it.

Another common problem is getting lost at transitions. Because each eight count is taught as a separate unit, you may know all the moves within each eight count, yet find that when you reach eight while dancing, it's hard to remember which eight count comes next or how it starts. This is especially the case when the teacher doesn't repeat the routine from the top often, so you don't get much opportunity to practice the transitions or reinforce the order of the eight counts in your mind.

You may find that you sometimes reach eight, draw a blank, and have to pause until you can see what everyone else is doing. Or you may skip over one or more eight counts at a transition, and suddenly find that you're ahead of everyone else.

If you struggle with transitions, know that this is very common! With practice, they become easier to learn and remember.

The Art of Kinda Sorta

One element that can contribute to strong pickup is the flexibility of your memory. The ability to learn steps partially and revise later can be extremely useful in dance.

See More: Why not just learn it right in the first place?

It's very normal for a beginner to need practice at identifying and combining multiple motions that happen simultaneously. If a portion of the routine is complicated, you don't have to tackle it all at once. Many teachers recommend that you start by learning either just the arm movements or just the foot movements. If you get that part down solidly, you can start adding to it.

In addition, at times you may not have a good view of your teacher in the mirror, or even the students in the first row. Most classes aren't so full that this is an ongoing issue! But if your favorite class happens to be crowded one day, you'll want to be able to make the best of it.

So if you can't make out a move clearly, learn the parts you can see; do something kinda sorta like the move. If the teacher puts their arm in front of their body, do likewise, even if you can't see their hand. Later, when you see the hand position, you'll already have practiced putting your arm in the right place. Then you can just add a detail like a fist or an upward-facing palm.

Once you've learned a move one way, it may tend to set in your mind, making it hard to adjust later. Actively working to develop a flexible memory can pay off in easier learning.

Try, Try Again

Many hip-hop teachers will repeat the same routine for two classes in a row so that students have a chance to really get it down. Once their knowledge of the counts is solid, they can dance with greater confidence and put more of their own style into the routine. So know that even experienced dancers often don't fully master a routine on the first try!

See More: What happens if a routine is very difficult to learn?

Sometimes a class may be having particular difficulty picking up a challenging routine the first time it's taught. This is usually apparent from the glazed eyes, faces contorted in concentration, and lips muttering counts.

Such hints suggest the difficulty level is high for the class as a whole—not just you!—and you and your classmates may not learn the moves well enough to fully enjoy performing the routine today. Occasionally, the teacher may not even have the class perform in groups at the end if it seems more useful to spend the time on practice.

But next class you'll start with a base of what you learned this time. Then the routine will come more easily and be more fun to perform. When you're not wrapped up in counting in your head (or under your breath), you can be more responsive to the music and more expressive in your dancing.

Performing in Groups

Toward the end of most classes, the teacher divides the class into groups to take turns performing the dance.

Most common is to split the class down the middle. Some instructors will count the students off into groups so the two sides of the room mix, and some will break the class into smaller groups.

Some dancers (both beginning and experienced) feel self-conscious about having their dancing watched. But for most dancers, performing in groups is fun!

No Groups

A few classes, especially beginner-friendly fitness-oriented dance classes, rarely or never split into groups. If you just want to enjoy dancing, and any performing and being watched detracts from your comfort level, you may prefer such a class.

Groups by Gender

After the original groups perform, it's common for teachers to have the men and ladies perform separately. This tends to be interesting, as it highlights the different energies and gender differences in students' styling of the dance.

Selectivity

In beginning dance classes, it's rare for teachers to call out a few specific students by name to perform in a small group. However, you may encounter this, especially with instructors who teach mostly advanced classes.

At studios that specialize in training dancers for professional careers, it's completely normal for a teacher to call out students of their choosing to perform. But many (if not most) beginners and casual dancers who aren't used to an audition-type environment haven't seen this done in their classes.

So we want to make you aware that a few teachers may do this, because we know many new dancers won't be expecting it.

See More: Why do some students enjoy this?

Some students feel it's obvious that some people dance better than others and find it exciting to get a chance to watch some of the students the teacher feels are performing the dance especially well. They enjoy watching their chosen classmates and feel supportive of them.

When a class splits into groups to perform, because you're focused on your own dancing, usually you won't really get to watch the others who are in your group. Because of this, some students may appreciate the chance to watch skilled dancers from all of the groups.

In addition, the small select group of students can be arranged into a line or nice, clean formation, and their dancing is likely to be closer to what the choreographer intended than that of a randomly selected group of students. It's a little closer to seeing what an actual performance of the dance, on stage, would look like.

Many students find it inspiring to watch a group of classmates performing the dance at a high skill level, especially if they put a lot of their own style and interpretation into the dance!

See More: Why do some students prefer this not be done?

For many beginning dancers, an accepting, nonjudgmental atmosphere is very important. Any privileging of some dancers over others may detract from that.

To the person who's just having fun and not evaluating their own or others' dancing, the calling out of a select group may present an unpleasant discovery (or unwelcome reminder) that their teacher is thinking about whose dancing is "better."

Depending on the way it is done and the tone of the class, the selection of some people over others may cause students to feel judged or slighted. Being left out can cause passed-over students to feel their dancing, or even their presence in class, is less valued by the teacher simply because their skill level is lower (or because the teacher doesn't like their style).

In addition, performance time at the end of class is often scarce. Someone who really enjoys performing the dance may find it unfair that certain people get an extra turn to themselves just because the teacher prefers their dancing, when the whole class could be dancing together!

Marking

In some classes, it's common for people to mark during groups as a way to master those last few tricky bits of the routine. If you see others marking during groups, it's probably accepted in your class. In some classes, the teacher expects everyone to watch and support their classmates.

To mark, follow along by making small arm gestures and imitating the footwork while staying in place. Just stay far away from the performers, be careful not to bump into anyone, and you should be fine.

But consider that it may be just as valuable, if not more so, to give your full attention to your classmates' dancing! While marking, your attention is tightly focused. You can miss a lot while staring at a classmate's feet and thinking, "Left, right, left!"

Spectating

When you're not dancing, we encourage you to enjoy spectating! Many dancers add a great deal of style, personality, and expressiveness to their dancing during groups. Often, you can learn a lot as a dancer from seeing how others interpret the choreography. This is especially so in an open-level class, where beginning and more experienced dancers mix.

Some classes split into groups just to give everyone more room. But in most classes, it's also done to give people an opportunity to perform. It's a considerate gesture to watch and appreciate your classmates' dancing!

Taking Breaks

Water Breaks

It's fine and even recommended to take a water break during groups. Many teachers don't give any official water breaks during class; don't let yourself get dehydrated!

Friendship Breaks

Talking during groups is accepted in most classes. In a few, it's simply not done. So if it's your first time, pay attention to the vibe in your class and follow others' lead.

But in most classes, it's okay to chat quietly with a classmate during groups. It's still nice to watch while you chat! But there's very little downtime during class, and taking a moment to connect with a fellow dancer is another valuable way to support your class community. For many dancers, the friendships they form are one of the best things about dance class!

Supporting Your Classmates

Remember to applaud for the other groups when they finish! This is the norm in the great majority of classes, but sometimes it's done a bit sporadically because people forget, are distracted, etc. So, don't wait for anyone else's lead. It's always appropriate to support your classmates!

Finishing Class

Performing Together

Almost all beginning hip-hop classes end with everyone performing the dance together again, once or a few times. This gives a nice sense of unity, as everyone finishes dancing at the same time.

Cool-Down

Unlike many fitness classes, few hip-hop classes will include a cool-down at the end. If they do, it's usually a quick one or two minutes of gentle stretching. A very few teachers will spend three to five minutes on a thorough cool-down.

Applause

It's traditional to applaud at the end of a dance class!