For our final installment of our weekly series on dance, our own former West End Chicago cast member AJ O’Neill tells us about the wonder that is Commercial Dance. "Remember back when Britney had a six-pack?" he enthuses. "She didn’t need to do much more than rehearse to maintain that. Neither did Janet, neither did Michael Jackson and if you did it every day, neither would you."
I taught my first dance class at 18, in university, when I was studying to be a psychologist. It was to the Back Street Boys Everybody and I lied to the university and said I had experience in teaching before going home, freaking out and watching about 300 videos to get ideas for what to choreograph. It was a terrible class, but even though I was terrified it never occurred to me to give up the chance because I wasso desperate to be involved in this kind of dance. And 15 years later I still love it. I now make my living teaching and choreographing it (guess what happened to my psychology degree...).
Commercial Dance is the name for any dance that is used with commercial music - music from the charts - so it covers a wide range of styles. Originally though Commercial Dance was the name given to the style of ’street jazz’ made popular by LA choreographers in response to hip hop becoming hugely popular, and infusing modern pop music. Lyrical (slower, expressive) jazz wasn’t as suitable for Jay-Z, as it had been for the artists of the 80s, so a harder, more urban, more isolation-based style was created by Brian Friedman, Wade Robson, Fatima Robinson and the other star choreographers of the day for artists like Britney, Janet Jackson, NSync, the Backstreet Boys - and everyone else making dance based music videos. It can mean anything from Beyonce’s Single Ladies (heavily jazz inspired) to Justin Timberlake’s newer stuff (lyrical hip hop).
Commercial Dance rocks for two reasons - it looks awesome and it does amazing things to your body. Remember back when Britney had a six-pack? She didn’t need to do much more than rehearse to maintain that. Neither did Janet, neither did Michael Jackson and if you did it every day, neither would you. Back in dance college, we did a huge amount of commercial dance and I was ripped (heavy sigh). Those were the days. Nowadays I only get to teach this class a few hours a week and I keep myself fit with a variety of other fitness styles on top but this is absolutely my favourite.
Apart from looking awesome, why should you try this style of dance? There are a number of benefits. You burn calories. Doing a properly executed routine burns a huge amount of calories if you give it 100 per cent, which I encourage everyone in my class to do. It tones you. Holding your stomach muscles to perfectly execute difficult shifts in balance, bouncing into a squat then back up, body curls where you roll through your abs or tight arm choreography ensure that a varied Commercial Dance class will work you from head-to-toe, and should leave you properly exhausted. Even doing small tight bits of choreography such as Tutting (finger choreography) can be absolutely ruinous because you have to concentrate so hard.
That’s the other major benefit of learning choreography - it exercises your brain as well as your muscles. Studies have shown that learning dance steps can halt the spread of degenerative brain conditions such as alzheimers by forcing your brain to create new connections as it learns. So dancing like this is cardio (helps your heart stay healthy), helps your brain stay in shape, helps with balance, coordination and is a whole lot of fun. Helping yourself stay healthy for a hopefully longer happier life and looking good in the club?
If you aren’t signing up to come and join me for a class already, you probably don’t like awesome things. And frankly, if you don’t like awesome things, we aren’t going to get along. See you Tuesday at Covent Garden, 6:15pm!
You heard the man, go to class or else! Book yourself a spot on our class schedule.