theTOUR New Jersey Preview

Hey guys! Sorry about the recent lack of new unique content, but it’s midterms season. In classic college style, I decided to take a break from my papers, lab reports, and exams to write about something I’m actually interested in. With some luck and timeliness of NJ Transit, I’ll be heading to Newark next weekend for the New Jersey stop of Movement Lifestyle’s theTOUR: Season II. Currently, this stop and the rest of the tour have been marked as sold out on the mL website. If you haven’t purchased a ticket yet and still want to attend, I suggest that you hit up a member of the street team and ask about walk-in registration.

For those of you who did purchase tickets, I’ve written up a little preview of the choreographers slated on the NJ stop website (not the outdated paper slip we got in our info packets). It’ll be my first time going to a dance convention (re: no mirrors and tons of people sweating it out in a hotel ballroom), so naturally I’m a little nervous of the ~10 hours of advanced choreography I’ll be learning this weekend. Hopefully this will help some of you in the same situation get a better idea of what to expect.

Jaffar Smith – Screencap from Movement Lifestyle Commercial

JAFFAR SMITH has worked extensively in the commercial dance world for major recording artists such as Brandy, Mariah Carey, and Omarion as well as touring with MC Hammer and the Cheetah Girls. His work in the dance community ranges from teaching at Debbie Reynolds, The EDGE and Millenium Dance Complex to working with Urban FX and Napoleon & Tabitha Dumo. He was a teacher on season 1 of theTOUR (2:11), and is back this year for the New Jersey stop.

As a person, Jaffar seems goofy and rather energetic, so I would imagine his class will be similarly fun. I mean, we’re both from San Diego. What could go wrong? Besides being from the most awesome place in the world, Jaffar is also a really talented guy. He’s the lead producer of the Beat Smiths, the group that produced all of the music for mL’s first season of the tour. Jaffar’s choreography tends to be midtempo and smooth in style, accented by a few hits here and there to better match the music. To be honest, I’m having a little bit of difficulty finding good recent videos of his stuff, but here’s my favorite from The Company’s Summer Intensive, last year:

JekaJane @ the old mL studio

JEKA JANE is definitely one of the more underrated mL artists out there. As a person she seems really quirky and fun-loving, but also a little more camera-shy than you’d expect. If you click that second link in the previous sentence, you’ll find out that Jeka actually started off as a classically trained ballet dancer. It wasn’t until her late teens when she started moving towards hip-hop under the guidance of Shaun Evaristo. His influence on Jeka’s style is evident in the fact that she isn’t afraid of small movements. Jeka does a good job of making sure the movement is well-articulated and visible to the viewer’s eye. Instead of packing her choreography with big, fast movements, Jeka picks her spots to speed up or extend, maximizing the impact of the movement. The general feeling of her choreography tends to be fairly calm and settled, no matter what is actually happening in the choreography. Jeka’s years of dance training have given her movement a relaxed tone; she knows exactly what the choreography is and how much time she has to get to those beats.

Jeka’s choreography is saturated with that maturity. Although it’s an older video, “Walk in My Shoes” (below) is one of the best examples of Jeka’s choreography and editing; the video is simple and subtly clever. Instead of going for high-impact cuts and tight close-ups, the camera sits still. Jeka makes sharp, purposeful cuts that don’t detract from the presented choreography. She uses different formations to take advantage from what is a rather small and awkward space – oh the loved and hated cement column in the old mL studio! See “I Just Wanna Love Ya” for another example.

Laura Edwards – Photo by Rob Rich

LAURA EDWARDS is another classically trained dancer (ballet, jazz & tap) that has risen in the world of hip-hop. Laura found herself as a dancer by attending Monsters of Hip-Hop and eventually became part of the convention’s faculty. Since then, Laura has danced in Step Up (2006), Hairspray (2007), Step Up 2: The Streets (2008) and Footloose (2011). Laura also appeared on America’s Best Dance Crew season 1 with Fysh n Chicks, which helped propel her teaching career at Debbie Reynolds and DC Dance Collective. More recently, Laura worked with Britney Spears on the Circus tour. Laura also taught on season 1 of theTOUR.

Laura’s choreography ranges from super feminine to hard-hitting, depending on the song choice. Her more sultry pieces reflect her contemporary and classical background, focusing more on smooth movements and dancing with abandon. In stark comparison, Laura’s more thuggish hip-hop pieces, like “Look at Me Now,” explode with energy initiated from multiple points. In this case her style is more beatkill with crazy speed. However, within the last year, these two sub-styles have merged and are now both present in Laura’s more recent choreography. This is most obvious in “How to Love” (below), which manages to overwhelm me with cuteness over the concept and awe over the beatkills. But somehow, I have a feeling that we’re going to be learning something like this. Not that I mind.

Devin Jamieson – Photo from Bloc LA

DEVIN JAMIESON is a serious house dancer who has worked commercially on Usher’s Amex tour and Michael Jackson’s This is It. He also appeared in Chicago for the first season of the mL tour as a choregrapher. Devin emphasized the importance of foundational technique and helped his students understand the underpinnings of funk styles. While this is true of all great dancers, Devin’s musicality is really just unbelievable. This is perhaps most evident in the video of a workshop he taught in the UK (below) where he explains good musicality and how it works. He comes off as genuinely passionate about dance and very respectful of music. Perhaps this is why he is so insistent on emphasizing the proper feeling and internal beat that should go with each piece he teaches.

If you’re a more visual person, you should check out his recently uploaded collaboration with fellow theTOUR New Jersey choreographer, Lyle Beniga. Those of you that are already familiar with The xx’s remix of Florence + the Machine’s “You’ve Got the Love” might be surprised when the choreography helps you rediscover a song you already knew. If you had never heard the song before, I’d be surprised if your attention shifted out of sync with the pair’s choreography when the song is earworming the shit out of you later. The more you watch that video, the more you realize how the focus shifts subtly from one sound to another. This video is consistent with what Devin says in the video below. Instead of forcing the music to fit the choreography, he prefers to move within it.

Lyle Beniga – Photo from BENIGA.com

LYLE BENIGA is one of the few dancers/choreographers that has been able to bridge the international dance industry and community. His recent credits include Usher’s OMG Tour and performances at the Grammys, AMAs and VMAs. Lyle has not only landed major deals like Fame (2009) in America, but parallel successes all over the world. Alongside his many teaching credits at prestigious dance camps like Urban Dance Camp, Juste Debout School, and Summer Drop, Lyle has also worked for international artists like Taeyang of YG Entertainment. Lyle and his body of work have not only earned him a global fandom, but they have also blurred the lines dividing the dance industry and community.

Despite his wild success, Lyle remains humble about his international influence as seen in this interview conducted by the INNERview. As a choreographer and dancer, his style favors the manipulation of dynamic changes, beatkills and hard-hitting movements, so his easy-going, quirky personality offers a refreshing contrast. Lyle speaks freely and intelligently about his work and observations of the differences between the dance culture of Korea and America. He comes off as honestly surprised by the overwhelmingly positive reception he’s had over seas. This attitude is consistent with the tone of his voice in theREVIEW (below), featuring a sample of his work from the first season of theTOUR. Don’t be nervous about taking Lyle’s class; he seems like a patient teacher who just earnestly wants to help people grow.

Quick Crew – Photo from thequickstyle.com

QUICK CREW is the only non-American group of choreographers slated to teach at the New Jersey stop of the mL tour. Based in Oslo, Quick has dominated the dance scene in Norway, walking away from Norway’s Got Talent with the grand prize in 2009. They have also proved themselves at the IDO Hip Hop World Championships, where Nasir took a silver medal in the solo category and the twins snatched the gold in both 2009 and 2010 . In addition to these winnings, Quick opened the Quickstyle Studio in 2010 and has been signed to Sony Music. Their teaching credits include many prestigious workshop series like Urban Dance Camp, REACT, SDK and Fairplay Dance Camp. Not only are they great teachers that encourage their students to enjoy what they’re doing, but they are also good students, able to adapt to another choreographer’s style with ease.

Despite their successes, Quick remains a group of fun-loving guys that also happen to be extraordinarily talented dancers. The crew’s concept videos are always beautifully shot and edited, complementing the effortlessness of their complex choreography. In particular, their series of videos set to music by The Weeknd perfectly captures the tone of forlorn passion and desire of “Next,” “Rolling Stone” and “Bird” (which is no longer available, but the choreography can be seen in the SDK link above). Other fan favorites include their winter concept videos (1 & 2) and “Matter of Time” which exhibits Quick’s obvious background in funk styles like popping and bboying. Just from sampling the videos listed in this description, you’ll find that Quick doesn’t restrict their musical choices to any one genre. They are constantly pushing themselves by choreographing and freestyling to everything from Rihanna to Skrillex to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Below is another class video from Urban Dance Camp, featuring Pat Cruz.

Pat Cruz

PAT CRUZ has had his fair share of dance credits including Gen2 and executive director of APT and director/co-founder of The Company. As a choreographer, his style is precise and almost minimalistic, in a sense. Instead of packing in movement, he dances to the full count, letting the choreography breathe. In some ways, favoring super articulate movement doesn’t do him any favors in a popularity contest. It’s not until you watch people who aren’t in The Company try to perform Pat’s choreography that you realize how much control is necessary for that style. This is especially true in the slower, smoother sections, where the slightest hint of hesitation will read on a dancer’s face.

To me, one of the most exciting things about Pat Cruz is what an amazing dance student he is. In his BZ interview, Pat mentioned that the best advice he could give to people is that they should go to classes as an open cup, ready to receive anything and learn whatever they can. Pat really takes his own advice to heart, regularly destroying other people’s choreography, no matter how different that style is. Notable examples: S**tkingz – “Do It for the Ratchets,” Ian Eastwood – “The Real Her,” and all his features in Quick’s UDC videos from this summer (above). Pat’s own style is truly brought to life in “Lemme See” (below) when dancers that are familiar with his choreography perform it. This piece is so clean it’s mind-blowing:

And that’s it! I hope to see you guys at theTOUR! If you see me, say hi! I like meeting new people :D

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