by Samara Atkins
To make sure my students are ready to receive what I’m teaching, I start every class with a three-song warm-up.
The first song is medium to fast tempo, and I focus on moves that loosen the muscles and get the blood pumping. I may introduce a few difficult moves here, giving students a quick crash course in moves I’ll break down later when teaching choreography. I find that students understand a move more logically if they’ve tried it earlier in class.
The second song is medium tempo. I put in a few groove moves—leans, body rolls, hip swivels, nuanced two-step variations, and other moves that exercise students’ musicality—and do isolation sequences of the shoulders, chest, and hips.
The third song is slower, allowing students to stretch out the muscles they’ve warmed up. I include stretches such as front and side lunges, arm rotations, ankle rolls, and head circles; stretching the arms over the head, across the body, and behind the back; and side, calf, and toe stretches. We finish with two to four deep breaths.
A cool-down is a great way to end class. It allows students to channel their high energy into a quiet energy and invite calm into their bodies.
To cool down, I put on a slow-tempo hip-hop song and begin with two to four deep breaths, using the whole body. I ask students to check back in with their bodies as I lead them in movement that feels good and relaxes the body: stretching the neck, loosening the torso, and rotating the shoulders and feet. The cool-down process also allows us to connect as a classroom community. We’ve spent an hour or more dancing together, and it feels good to acknowledge this silently by ending class with calm, collective movement.
Oakland, California, native Samara Atkins studied journalism and dance at Howard University and co-founded Mix’d Ingrdnts, an all-female dance company. She teaches hip-hop at Destiny Arts Center, Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, and In the Groove Studios.