Herman Payne, a Juilliard graduate with a resumé as diverse as his hometown of Miami, understands and approaches dance in terms of connections. His musical choices and teaching style are fully guided, he says, by how each student decides to relate to the movement and his instruction. So it might come as a surprise that Payne teaches children as young as 8 at the Miami City Ballet School. Says Payne, “When I talk to younger kids, it’s more of a one-on-one approach. But I have the same work ethic no matter who I’m teaching, so I’m just as hard on the younger ones.”
Having racked up credits as varied as the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and dancing behind artists like Michael Jackson, Usher and Whitney Houston, Payne is more than qualified to guide young dancers into the mind-set of a professional. “Of course any hip-hop class is a process of psyching yourself out and trying really hard. But even if they don’t find a connection with three out of the four eight counts, I want the kids to go away with something they achieved or felt good about, even if it’s just one particular step or technical thing,” he explains.
To foster those dancer-to-movement connections, Payne takes a thoughtful approach when selecting his music for class and choreography, not least because of the challenges of finding age-appropriate hip-hop music. “I find myself going back to music from the ’80s and ’90s. The language was less direct and more just suggestive, as compared to today. And the beat is a whole lot clearer, too.”