February 2017 | 2 Tips for Hip-Hop Teachers | Playing with Tempo Changes

Photo by Briana Gardener

Playing with Tempo Changes

by Samara Atkins

Tip 1
When you’re building up choreographic phrases, repetition is key to students’ understanding of the sequencing. Repeating a section several times, breaking down the more difficult moves as you go, helps students remember what you’re teaching.

As you dissect those complex moves, play with tempo changes in order to engage and challenge students of any level, and to prepare them for the speed changes they will encounter when performing the entire routine. First do the move slowly, then double-time it, then gradually work students up to seamless, fast execution.

As you build up the phrase, teach, at most, two eight counts at a time before going back to piece the sections together and iron out any hard-to-remember transitions.

Tip 2
Playing with tempo changes is also helpful once you’ve taught the entire phrase. This exercise can help students retain the choreography, understand its underlying rhythms, and firmly embed the moves in their muscle memory.

First have students perform the phrase to a slow-tempo song; you can help them by calling out places in the music to accent the moves. (Make sure you know the songs you’re using for class fairly well.) Once students have a good grasp of that tempo, change to a medium-tempo song; once they’ve mastered the phrase at the new tempo, change to a fast-tempo song. If the class is working toward a performance, you can use the same idea with a single song, slowing down and speeding up its tempo with a tempo-control app or function on your music device.

Playing with tempo changes not only challenges students to understand and execute a particular move or piece of choreography, it also makes them better all-around dancers by developing the essential hip-hop skill of adapting to the music.


Oakland, California, native Samara Atkins studied journalism and dance at Howard University and co-founded an all-female dance company. She teaches hip-hop at Destiny Arts Center, Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, and In the Groove Studios.