As you may have noticed in my activities with Angel Hearts, I love to dance. I am not professionally trained, but I love learning and performing idol dances and ParaPara. When I was little I really wanted to be a dancer, but I was never allowed to take lessons. When I started cosplaying, I fell in love with the character Kitty-N, a pink and white dancing catgirl idol from Bust A Move (Bust A Groove in the US). I loved her so much that when I cosplayed her, I was inspired to try learning all of her dance moves as well. Some of it was too difficult for someone with no dance experience, but I managed to learn a few of her combos and performed them on stage during cosplay Masquerades. Little did I know, that was only the beginning!
In 2000 I started listening to J-pop, and then a friend introduced me to ParaPara, a synchronized club dance which was having a comeback in Japan. I started learning every dance I could, both J-pop and ParaPara, and it became a sort of daily workout for me. In fact, even though ParaPara has long gone out of style, I still use my ParaPara Paradise DVDs as my default daily workout (although if there’s a performance coming up, I will practice whatever songs are in the show). Remember those 80’s aerobics videos? Ok, maybe I just dated myself, but ParaPara Paradise is kind of like a Japanese version of aerobics videos to me. There are seven volumes, each a little under an hour, so it’s a fun way to stay in shape.
My friends used to joke that I was a dancing machine and that my natural state of being was dancing. I’ve gotten pretty quick at learning dances, so I’d like to share some tips for those who are interested in learning idol and ParaPara dances and are just starting out.
*Tips for Learning Dances*
- Find good reference videos. Ok, this may be kind of obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. Some J-pop groups release Dance Shot Versions of their music videos. A lot of K-pop groups take this a step further and release dance studio practice videos. THE IDOLM@STER game has a built-in “Long Camera” that lets you zoom out to view full dances. Sometimes though, you don’t have a choice but to gather as many videos as you can of a routine and piece it together. Don’t forget also that sometimes a close-up version can be helpful for seeing hand gestures and other small movements, like winks! ParaPara videos are already set up as instructional videos, so you’re good to go. If you’re using a video off YouTube, you can use a site like Keep It! to save the videos to your hard drive.
- Reverse your video. For this, I like to use VLC Media Player. It is hands down the best player to help you learn dances. You can mirror a video by going to Tools > Effects and Filters (ctrl+E). Click on the Video Effects tab, then the Geometry tab, and then check the box that says “Transform”. In the drop-down box, choose “Flip horizontally”. The new version of VLC even remembers this setting so you don’t have to keep resetting it every time you open VLC (because of this, I use VLC for practicing dances and Media Player Classic for watching everything else, so I don’t have to keep changing the settings). Now the video is flipped so you can just copy the moves without having to think too hard which direction you need to move! The only thing that can get confusing for me is circles, since I tend to think of them as “clockwise” or “counterclockwise”, and it will be backwards if you reverse the video. Sometimes I will un-mirror the video just to check that I’m moving in the right direction.
Of course, if you want to use a video editor to permanently mirror your video, that is a good option too. You can then share the video without having to worry whether or not everyone has VLC.
- Slow it down. Slowing your video down makes it a lot easier to see complicated moves and follow along when you’re just learning. VLC will allow you to change the playback speed to whatever you wish. They’ve changed the interface a few times, but in the latest version for Windows, you can control the speed easily if you make sure you have the Status Bar showing (under View). In the bottom right of the player there is a box that says “1.00x”. Click on that and a little window will pop up where you can change the speed. The arrows will change the speed in set increments, or you can move the slider wherever you want. Hit “1x” to go back to normal speed. Typically when I am first learning a song, I will slow it to 67% (one arrow click). If I’m really having trouble with a section, I will slow it to 50%. When I’m feeling confident that I can follow along at 67%, I will go back to normal speed. If the song is really fast, sometimes I need to practice for a while at 80% or 85% before I can turn it back up to full speed.
- Break it into sections. Don’t try to cram everything in at once. It’s a lot easier if you break the song down into sections and learn one at a time before moving on. Start on the opening, then move on to the verse, or however it makes sense for you to break up your song. Dance moves typically repeat for verses and refrains, so if you learned it well the first time around, adding the second part is easy. After I learn a new section, I start from the beginning of the song and make sure I can do the entire song up to that point before moving to the next section.
- Start on the right and be aware of your spacing. Again, I am not a trained dancer, so I’m not an authority on this, but there are a few things I picked up while learning dances. First of all, with few exceptions, dances always start on the right side. You start by stepping with your right foot. You move your right arm first. Exceptions to this may be when you’re mirroring someone in a group choreography, your arm moves opposite your foot (most likely your foot will be moving right and your arm left), or if moving left in one section leads into the next section starting on the right side. This will help you remember your moves in the right order. Also, you may have seen a group performance where someone is stepping opposite the others. If you remember to step right at the beginning of each section, you can avoid this problem. Another thing I’ve noticed with solo dances is that they tend to start and end in the same spot. If you find that you’ve drifted to the side, or even forward or back from where you started, you may want to check your stepping to find out where you made a mistake. Sometimes you can get off if you take too big or too small a step, or if you move to one side and forget the other side. Just remember to keep yourself centered. When you’re in a group, keep an eye on the others around you to make sure you maintain proper formations.
- Practice in front of a mirror. You may feel like you’re getting a move right, but then when you see yourself in the mirror you realize you’ve got it wrong! Use the mirror to work out the details in your poses and spacing. You may find that you’re not reaching far enough, or not bending far enough, that you’re bending the wrong leg, or that your balance is off. Keep working at it until you look just like the dancers in your reference video! Remember how a move feels when you finally get it to look right. If you don’t have a mirror to practice in front of, you can also take videos of yourself or ask someone else to watch you. These are good ideas anyway, as you may notice a mistake you didn’t see in the mirror when you were busy focusing on your dance, or another person may be able to catch details you missed. When you have all the details worked out, make sure you don’t become too dependent on your mirror (or reference video!) and that you can still get the moves right without it. After all, you won’t have anything to look at when you’re on stage!
- Remember your posture. Good posture makes any pose look better! I myself have a terrible slouch and have to focus on keeping my back straight and my chin up. Posture exercises and general strength exercises will help your poses look better. Putting power into your moves will make them look cleaner too.
- Listen to the music. Dancing isn’t the same without music, the two go hand in hand. Remember to listen to your music and get a good feel for the song. It will help you remember the moves if you can associate moves with sounds and imagine the two together. It also helps to look at the lyrics (and translations of lyrics if they’re in a language you don’t understand) because a lot of times dance moves are designed to act out the lyrics. Most of the members of Angel Hearts are not trained dancers, but those who are trained musicians have an easier time dancing because they can count music and find downbeats. However, for those with no music or dance background whatsoever, I find that lyrics are what help them the most in learning and remembering moves.
- Dance like you mean it. Dancing is more than just learning a set of moves to a beat. Be confident and put feeling into your moves! The most important thing when you’re on stage is to smile and look like you’re enjoying yourself. If you’re having fun, the audience will have fun too! Of course, it may not be the best idea to plaster a huge smile on your face if you’re dancing to a sad or angry song. Keep in mind the mood of your song and focus on getting that mood across, but don’t forget to keep your energy up and dance with confidence!
- REPETITION. There is no substitution for practice. Practice, practice, practice. Repetition is key. If you have a performance coming up, make sure you start practicing early enough and keep at it until it feels like second nature. If you practice enough, you will build muscle memory and you may find yourself going through the routine without having to think much about the next move. When you know a song well, you will naturally become more confident, and that confidence shows in your dancing. It also allows you to focus on the finer details and showing emotion if you’re not having to think about what comes next.
I hope those tips were helpful to some of you! Good luck and let’s have fun dancing!!