Tips & Advice

Choreography Class

More than a manipulation of the elements.

 By Emily Yewell Volin

Does choreographic creativity ooze out of you or are you petrified by the choreographic work required in your dance major?  Whether the urge to create naturally flows from you or you think of yourself as a performer and technician who does not need the required choreography class, you have more to gain by taking the class than you may think.  And, believe it or not, your dance professors are fine with either attitude as you enter choreography class.  They just want you there.  Why?  Because there’s movement potential in you that must be explored.  Choreographic training will make you a better dancer and might even lead you toward an additional passion in the field.  Here are a few tips for getting the most out of those choreography classes.

  • First and foremost, realize that most brilliant choreographers did not come by it naturally, they were trained.  Accept this. 
  • Find inspiration.  Your life experiences ARE interesting.  Find new ways to look at them and create work based upon your reinterpretations.  You may be inspired to create linear works that tell a story, abstract works without a literal interpretation, or a mixture of both.  Spend time moving in silence or to music you find that triggers your creativity.  Discover how your body moves and what thoughts come to mind.  Be inspired by these realizations; they are your most honest creative desires.
  • A choreographer’s job is to make the dancers you are working with look fantastic.  There are typically three strategies for choosing your cast members.  You can cast accomplished dancers, novice dancers, or a mixture of technical expertise.  Regardless, it is important to work with conscientious dancers and to take time to teach your choreography in detail.  The most expertly crafted work will fall flat if you have not clearly communicated your movement or if you find yourself working with dancers who either cannot or will not respond to direction.  A cast of dancers who ‘almost’ execute your intended movement and style will undoubtedly deflate the value of your work.  Be realistic about your cast members’ abilities, choreograph accordingly, and expect clarity. 
  • Be true to your individuality.  Take a risk and share something of yourself.  You are inherently influenced by all movement, dance and otherwise, you have seen or danced in your life.   Embrace these influences on your way of moving.  Draw from them but do not be paralyzed by them.  Utilize the physical and aesthetic experiences to develop your own choreographic voice.  Inexperienced choreographers frequently develop phrase after choreographic phrase with little attention to developing a concise vocabulary or style for the piece.  Begin manipulating a few movement phrases and expand upon them.  Less is more at this point. If you find ‘filler’ steps in your work, cut them.  Choreography class work frequently involves the creation of several short choreographic studies. Create solid studies and you may find they form the basis for expanded works in the future.
  • Find music that both speaks to you and is inextricably tied to the work.  Lyrics are fine, just realize you will be bound by them.  And, be aware that recognizable tunes and songs carry with them a litany of memories and preconceived notions for your audience.  Realize symphonic pieces are difficult to pair with a small cast of dancers and that sparse music is difficult to make work with a large cast.  Consider utilizing some choreographic tools like syncopation and stillness in your work.  Rhythmic texture adds intensity to your work.
  • Staging changes everything.  This is something you will learn in choreography class.  Devise a way to begin visualizing what staging works.  Draw staging diagrams, move coins around on paper to represent dancers in the space; whatever works for you. Choreography class content includes a lot of tried and true staging information.  Implement these choreographic techniques and experiment with other ideas.  Our brains and eyes are accustomed to deciphering multiple stimuli at once.  Be intentional about the texture and staging of your work.  If your preferred aesthetic is stark, be true to it.  If you enjoy creating the decadent opulence of bodies in space; explore that.  Either way, be intentional and leave nothing to chance.
  • Explore the creative capacity of your work in at least one other art form.  Write a poem, paint or draw, create a collage or a story board, journal, compose a jingle, read texts that relate to your ideas about the piece…the possibilities are endless.  Keep these inspirations near you throughout your choreographic process in order to create a portfolio of inspirations for the piece.  Share these creations or discoveries with your cast members.  Or, better yet, involve your cast in the creative process and be sure to share your inspirations.
  • Reflect and revise.  We all know how frustrating it is when you’ve spent hard found time setting and learning choreography only to return to the next rehearsal and learn that the director has major changes to the piece.  Expect this as part of the process.  Accomplished choreographers reflect and revise, and you should too.  It is often difficult to discern if something is going to work until it is seen in real time.  Invite your faculty choreographic advisor to your rehearsals or provide a video for him/her to watch.  Listen to his/her impressions of the work and either implement their recommendations or request more discussion about the ideas. 

We all know that good choreography comes from the manipulation of the most basic elements of dance: time, space, and energy.  A choreography class will help you realize that well crafted choreography is much more than the simple orchestration of mechanical elements.  The best works embody the physical exploration of heart and honesty working in tandem with the splendid manipulation of time, space and energy.  Whether or not you continue to create after the completion of your choreography class, you’ll be a better performer, technician, teacher and artist as a result of the effortful journey.

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