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Raised By The Beat With Steeve Austin

Raised By The Beat
By Anna Robb

Steeve Austin is a choreographer, dance teacher and entrepreneur. He started his career as a dancer for shows and promo-tours. Mostly gigs for Nike, L.A.gear, Adidas and more. Autodidact till the age of 17, he moved on to get dance roles in musicals. Very soon something deep inside pushed Steeve towards passing on what he had learned to others. Teaching would grow to become one of his life’s passions.

Steeve is known for his endless creativity and playfulness. He has won dozens of titles in competitions, including a world champion title, both as a dancer and as a coach. His recent projects include choreographing for hit TV shows, teaching workshops, organizing events, training dance teachers and running successful Youtube channels. He has also launched a unique coaching program for dance professionals on his online platform Raised By The Beat

Steeve took some time with TheatreArtLife to answer some questions about his life and life’s passions:

TheatreArtLife: Tell us about Raised By The Beat, and what is it and how did it start?

Steeve: Raised By The Beat is a business that I am building. The idea of the company is to help urban dance professionals develop their careers. I say urban dance professionals because I don’t want to say, urban dancer. I really want everyone who is connected to the dance scene to be able to get something out of Raised By The Beat, in whatever facet of the industry; photographers, bloggers, any work which gravitates around the dance industry. My aim is to give them tools and opportunities. Right now, we are focusing more on dance teachers because of my background. I have developed courses in dance teacher training and we are running these courses.

The idea for Raised By The Beat came when I turned 41 and I realized I needed to have something new to do to challenge myself.  I had done everything that I wanted to do as a Choreographer, Dance Teacher and Professional and I was seeking a new project. I needed something to work on for the rest of my life that did not require my physical ability, and build up a career in an avenue I wanted to pursue. One of my mentors very early in my career told me right up when I started at 18 (he was thirty-something), “I can’t teach as much as I’d like to, I cannot dance as much as I used to. If there is something you can do for your future it  is to have an idea for later, for something after dance”.

I always had it in the back of my mind that I needed to start something else instead of choreographing or teaching.

TheatreArtLife: A lot of professionals do not have plans beyond their performance career. Do the people who come into your classes do so because they have made that shift? Have they figured out that they need to prepare for something beyond their dance career or they are just doing your courses simply to learn more? What kind of people come to Raised by the Beat?

Steeve: It is the people that are ready for a transition. It is not the people who want to start their career or the people who are doing the real push for a performance career. I think when you are young there is not an awareness of what point your performance career is going to stop or when your body is going to cease being capable of doing everything. Especially in Urban dance, that line where your body says, – hold on that is too much, comes very fast in this genre.  I have a lot of injuries – there is not a lot of structure or formal training and injury prevention around the dance like there is, for example, Ballet.

A lot of Urban dancers don’t warm up properly, don’t pay attention to everything and they end up injured at 30 years old and it is over.

The people who come to Raised By The Beat are mainly people working to strengthen their career.

TheatreArtLife: We watched your video on your website – you also talk about brand identity and marketing and PR as part of that. Is that out of a self-evolution of learning?  Or how did you learn that and how do you teach that to others?

Steeve: I didn’t know anything about branding, or marketing and when I wanted to transition into building a business, I started to read and watch videos and tried to learn as much as I could. I realised that I needed to structure my career as a choreographer, I thought what can I do?  I needed videos, I needed more pictures. I needed more to structure an image of what I wanted to provide and that is how I think I scored. I got choreographer jobs because I was consistent in what I was doing.  I was a choreographer and a teacher and I was not a dancer anymore.

I represented myself as such. I completely left a few parts of my identity aside and I went all in on that brand. I started to look at friends of mine around me and how they were living in the industry, I realised that 90% of them didn’t even have a website. I was organising a lot of workshops and competitions and when I went out to hire someone, I would ask them to please send me a showreel, a biography or a link where I could find them and most of the time I got back a Facebook page and a few pictures. So I needed to see if I could fix this. I tried coaching a few friends of mine to see if I could change their career by improving their representation of themselves and their online presence. It truly had an impact. It changes everything.

TheatreArtLife: We have a dancer colleague who was freelancing in New York City.  She actively got knocked back for jobs because she had less Instagram followers than other people who were auditioning. It is really important these days, whether you like it or not, right?

Steeve: I just wrote a blog post last week about it. About how you can build up your value as a dance teacher and I think there are three things which you need to do:

1. Present your image. Do you look like a teacher? Do you present like a teacher? Do you behave like a teacher?

2. Your skillset. Can you teach? Do you have content to teach? Do you really know what you are talking about?

3. What is your commercial value? Can you create followers around yourself and can you keep them? Can you promote yourself? Your image? Your brand? If you can get yourself out there and get known, it all helps. You look way more important if you have a lot of followers on Instagram.

TheatreArtLife: You obviously have a passion for teaching – can I ask you, how do you teach to teach?

Steeve: I see a class as a storyline. I have done music videos and I think classes are like structuring videos. There is a parallel about how you tell a story and how you teach a dance class. The skeleton of my training is based around this. How do you reach your goals? How do you make your students feel something, learn something and how do they become the hero of the class.

How do you analyse the group? Who is in your class? How do you deal with them and what are your goals? It’s not just about the dance steps or about the techniques, it’s much more than that. There needs to be an emotional value in your class otherwise it comes off as very sterile and boring. And there is the social aspect of it. How do you want people to behave and interact with each other? As teachers, we have a lot of influence on people’s lives and we have to take that responsibility seriously. We can give them a lot of hope and a lot of energy that they can take outside of the classroom and into their everyday life. As a teacher, you have to be able to hit all these points. I try to give teachers the tools to reach these targets and the steps on how they can do that.

TheatreArtLife: Do you find that some people are quite natural at teaching and others not so? Can leadership be taught? I am sure teaching is not for everybody.

Steeve: Teaching definitely isn’t for everybody and it has to be something that you want to do. If that is in there, the desire to teach, you can learn a lot. Obviously, you are right,  some people have a natural flow, a natural leadership, it is part of their personality.  Some people are very well articulated and they know how to explain things and they can project themselves into what a student needs and what a student thinks so that is something that is really helpful in their success. But I also believe there are some tricks that are universal, that everyone can learn and use, that they can implement and that would still make a class pretty good.

TheatreArtLife: How did you get started in Dance?

Steeve: I was a Michael Jackson fan, that is how. It is our generation, right?!!!!

It is a generational thing,  I was that little 10/11 year old with a VHS tape playing frame by frame to look at how the dance moves were done. My first dance step was the moonwalk. That was the first thing I really learned. That is how I started actually. Then after that, came the hip-hop era and MC Hammer etc. and then one thing led to another.  But I started work as a die-hard Michael Jackson fan.

TheatreArtLife: You grew up in Belgium but you are located now in Berlin. What made you move to Berlin?

Steeve: Starting off in a new business venture I wanted to be in a more of a start-up atmosphere. I work in a community here, where I meet other people that develop Apps and create things online. It is really interesting. I didn’t want to stay in Belgium, I felt like I had done what I wanted to do in Belgium. There I was running in circles, I travelled a lot and had checked a lot of things off my list and we wanted a change. My girlfriend wanted to go to the Netherlands, but I was not feeling like that was the place. Paris was another place I wanted to be. London was way too expensive and would not have given me the opportunity to develop the way I wanted to. So Berlin became an option and we tried it out here for a month. But after 3 days, I was like, “Let’s move”. I saw the dynamic here.  People are very entrepreneurial in spirit, very driven and it is nice to have people around you that you can bounce the ball around with. Who can question you, who can say “That’s really cool, but have you thought of…..” That is something that is interesting. I learn a lot in this atmosphere.

It is really cool that, to sit around people that are creative and see what they do.

It gives you a lot of hope. Because even if people have completely different ideas than yours, they are giving you examples of how to approach building a business. Also, if they think they can do it, then I think I can do it.  It gives you an energy and that is the overall feeling here. That is what I really like about Berlin. It’s dynamic and hardworking but there is still a relaxed culture here.  There are many places in the world where people are very dynamic but it is only work, work and work but in Berlin, there is a balance. Everybody wants to go for a drink after work and socialize. It is really nice to feel that.

TheatreArtLife: Back to you. At what point did you start to teach? How old were you when you started teaching and how old were you when you stopped performing?  Or are you still performing?

Steeve: I started teaching when I was 17 years old. Pretty fast. I was autodidact most of my youth. I took my first dance class when I was 16. Then I really had that urge to do something with whatever I was learning. I had to be creative with it. I needed to be able to express myself. I started creating pieces and choreography; it was something I wanted to do right away. Then I wanted to give it to other people, help others grow from what I had learned, it came very naturally. I started teaching right away. I stopped performing around 26/27 but before then, I always focused on teaching and making choreography because that was what I liked to do. I felt more strong in that area than being a performer.

TheatreArtLife: Do you have a piece that you either danced in or choreographed that you have the fondest memories of?  Is there a favourite?

Steeve: A good question.  I think I had the most fun making choreography for videos for other people. Videos push me to think differently. I think on stage it goes away really fast.  You see a performance once and then it is gone.  I did one piece for So You Think You Can Dance I really liked.  I did about 15/16 or so pieces for them over 4 years. There is not that many that I really liked because it is very commercial. One of them I am very proud of but the rest are just videos.

TheatreArtLife: With the videos, I guess with the camera you can take different angles and you create choreography for the different perspectives of the camera. Do you think along the lines on what the camera sees when you create a piece?  Is that how you approach the development of the choreography?

Steeve: Yes. Totally. I like very dynamic camera movements so I tried out a whole bunch of ideas of where I wanted to go. I like one shot videos as well, so you really have to think where you want to put the camera and how you want to stage everyone.  Especially if you have formation changes, then you really have to think how the camera flows. There is one thing I like to do on stage and that is to have really nice formation changes as a piece of choreography, so it is not just steps. I know that for contemporary dance that is already in there as part of the choreography, but for Urban it is not always something that you have thought of. There is a lot of walking around and then a new formation. I think the way things move around on stage is important. It is even more important when you do videos. It gives you the opportunity to open and close windows in a way. If you have somebody that is standing in front of the camera you don’t really see that person, but when you move the camera you see whatever is happening behind them.  I think that is really interesting. It gives a lot of energy and life to choreography. Makes it a bit more dynamic.

TheatreArtLife: Now you are a member of the International Association of Life Coaches, what’s that?  Tell me about that. 

Steeve: I wanted to do some coaching. I wanted to help people one on one. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing something wrong, or stupid or mess with somebody’s head. So I did this course to be sure I was on the right track. I really wanted to know if there was a specific structure I should adhere to. I realised that there are many different philosophies and methods to coaching and that I had to take what I learned and apply it to my own work and see how it went.

TheatreArtLife: That is interesting. There are not a lot of opportunities in the entertainment industry to study how to manage people and coach people, which is interesting because our industry is centred around getting a group of people to do what you want them to do. In your courses at Raised By The Beat, do you touch on that? Do you talk about how you might manage difficult students or difficult people in the class? 

Steeve: We approach that in a course. I start with what I call dreamlining. What is the dream? Students all know that they want to dance, that is clear but that is so incredibly broad. You have to be able to help them pinpoint what exactly they want to do, so by dreamlining they do a visualizing exercise where they imagine what they would be doing in 5 years or 10 years and use their imagination to visualize how that would look. I go over specific details so they can create an image in their heads.

Then I help them figure out what they have to do to get there and create – I call it a backwards timeline where you set a goal: for example on the 1st Sept 2025 I have to be on stage with Beyonce or whoever. They then need to ask themselves what is the step that happens right before that – what do you do  – what do you think is the last thing that will make you end up on stage with Beyonce and then you go write that down.  A goal to reach, then they go backwards until they have that right, next action step that they can do today. Then I force people to do it right away. It could be a phone call, could be an email, could be an internet research, could be booking a room to go rehearse, whatever it is.  That is pretty much what I do with the Coaching Program.

Then with the teachers, obviously their leadership is extremely important. It’s kind of a hug energy. You have to stand up front of your class and be able to reach everyone with your energy.   There are a whole lot of little tricks that you can use to do that. Like giving everybody eye contact, for example, or trying to look and assess somebody’s body language  – how they are dressed or where they stand or who they talk to. You can see if they need a specific approach. I don’t believe that there is a standard for everyone. I think that is a really wrong approach. They do this in school as well. I absolutely hate that. Everything is so standardized. I think everything is different for everyone.

It is your responsibility as a teacher or a coach to understand what every single student needs.

Even if there is an overall goal that you want to reach you have to discover what you have to do for each student i.e. sometimes you have to stand close to someone, almost face to face, to make them understand something. Other people just need you to stand right next to them and look over your shoulder and talk to them as you would with friends. That is how I think you should lead, you should be able to figure out what everybody needs in your class.

TheatreArtLife:  A wonderful approach. So your students have a 5-year plan, what is your 5-year plan?

Steeve: It is more of a ten-year plan. The ten-year plan would be to have Raised By The Beat in the US. I would like to be in Asia. I would like to have something on each developed continent, where people can go access. I actually want to connect everyone. I would like to have a platform with around 200,000 people. That is what I would like to get. I would like it to be a hub for everybody to log onto – that people could think, I need something to develop myself or to reach out to somebody or collaborate and I could go to Raised By The Beat. That is my goal.  Then I have a one-year plan because we are developing an App right now that will have dance teachers and dance studios find each other so it’s like a marketplace App which is almost ready, so I hope in one year we can spread it out everywhere and people could start using it and get some jobs.

That is the idea.

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