By Anya Cheng, Staff Writer, May 2020
“The funny thing is, I have to be careful about the music I play while I’m doing homework, because otherwise I’ll get distracted and start dancing,” laughed Justin Qin (Class II). Most people struggle to focus while doing homework, but very few people procrastinate by dancing - and Qin is one of those rare people.
By now, almost everyone at Nobles knows about Qin’s love (and skill!) for dance. He has performed his energetic, exciting, and impressive dances in the Fall Dance Show, assembly, and now even on Zoom. However, Qin wasn’t always known for dancing - his first major public performance wasn’t until the second semester of his junior year. Before then, he was unsure about sharing his passion. “I was scared as an underclassman, because people didn’t really know that I like to dance, and I wasn’t sure what people would think,” he remembered.
He was ready to perform by junior year, but the assembly tent got in the way at first. However, when he finally performed, everyone in the audience saw him as completely confident. It took a while for him to get to that place. “It was obvious that I liked dance from an early age, but I was always shy and quiet about it, especially in elementary and middle school,” he said.
So, how early did he start dancing? Qin said that his love for dance started long before his lessons and performances. “When I lived in my old house, we had this keyboard with preset songs, and I would play these songs and jump and kick around to them. I was only five, so I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said, laughing.
From his keyboard, he graduated to YouTube, where he found inspiration in tutorials and famous dancers like Fik-Shun. At first, he was just teaching himself specific moves from YouTube videos - he hadn’t found a style yet. Eventually, though, he wanted to start taking dance more seriously. “At that point, I realized that I had been dancing a lot, and I thought I should probably start taking lessons. YouTube videos are only going to take me so far,” he said.
His next step, then, was taking real lessons. He decided to start the summer of his freshman year because he had more time to focus on his dancing. “When I called the dance school, that was the turning point, I guess,” he said. “That’s when I decided I wanted to explore it more.” Although school and extracurriculars make it difficult, he tries to take lessons every other Sunday.
His instructor, Alex, teaches him a style of dance called popping. It’s Qin’s main style, and the one he uses in his performances. Popping is characterized by quickly tensing and relaxing the muscles to the rhythm of the beats in a song, which allows the dancer to “hit” the beats. Qin found this style serendipitously. “On YouTube, I was teaching myself these specific moves,” he explained. “I realized that all of those moves fell under the general umbrella of popping.”
Although he is currently focused on popping, Qin is open to learning new styles of dance. His instructor wants him to first master the basics of popping, but he has his eye on some other styles. “I want to learn as much as I can. If I want to be a really good dancer, I’m going to have to learn a ton of different styles. Then, I can combine them to create my style,” he said.
Credit: Justin Qin
One interesting part of Qin’s style is that it’s mostly freestyle, which means it’s improvised. Qin prefers freestyle because of the way he learned to dance. “Since I never started with a formal dance education, all of my dancing experience has been freestyle,” he said. However, during a performance, he choreographs small pieces beforehand “so it’s not awkward,” he explained.
Qin vividly remembers his first performance in the brand new Lawrence Auditorium. “I was definitely nervous. It’s freestyle, which means you can’t mess up, but at the same time, you don’t want to look dumb,” he said. The reaction from friends, classmates, and faculty ended up being extremely positive, and his subsequent performances have been just as successful. Qin said, “I was really happy with how people welcomed it. At first, I was unsure because I’m a boy, and dancing isn’t really a thing that boys do. But it turned out really well.”
At Nobles, not only has Qin performed, but he has also taught some classes over Zoom. Initially, before the COVID-19 outbreak, Qin was trying to pursue starting a dance club at Nobles.
However, even during Virtual Nobles, he still wanted to do something similar. Dance teachers Anna Calamare and Jillian Kinard offered him a timeslot from their dance class for him to teach. A big group of Nobles students, diverse in both grade and gender, joined in for Qin’s class. “I was definitely surprised and happy by how many boys came out,” he said.
Qin said the feedback from his class was overwhelmingly positive. However, he was still nervous to teach for the first time. “I’ve had so many dance lessons from Alex, as well as other sessions, so I have a general idea of what a dance class should be. I used my experience as a dance student to teach that class,” he said.
Teaching virtually came with a unique set of challenges: “It’s hard over zoom. There’s always technical difficulties, and also, I can’t talk over the music, so I had to pause it and teach during class.” However, certain things remained the same as his initial plan for Dance Club. “I played music and taught some basic moves,” he said. “I also gave my spiel about how it’s important to be confident and comfortable while dancing. It’s all about what’s comfortable for you, and there’s no right or wrong way to dance. It doesn’t matter if you look stupid or not,” he said.
From learning off of YouTube, to performing in assembly, to teaching his very own class, Qin is a perfect example of how taking risks with what you love can really pay off. He urges others to do the same with their own passions. When asked about what he learned from his experiences dancing, he said: “Be willing to take healthy risks - I definitely wouldn’t have been where I am if I hadn’t taken some risks. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and see what happens. No matter what, you have your friends, your peers, and the Nobles community to support you.”