For years, I have watched an uncountable amount of dances performed at dance competitions. There have been amazing dances, passionate performances, and, unfortunately, routines that felt uncomfortable to watch because of inappropriate content, music selection, costuming, and/or choreography. When an inappropriate routine performs, it shakes the room, leaving parents, studio owners, instructors, and the competitive dance infrastructure unsettled.
While most competitions have statements of appropriateness, it is rare for a routine to receive a disqualification. The lack of reinforcement is frustrating, but the bigger issue is: how do these dances make it to the competitive dance stage? In order for the routine to make it to this phase, the routine has to pass through an instructor/choreographer,the studio owner, and the performers’ parents. At some point, prior to competition, accountability and integrity should prevail.
For this season, let’s commit to raising the standards of the competitive dance industry. Let’s take ownership of the routines we place on stage and recognize that every performance represents the values, culture, and brand of our studios, and as a by-product, each and every one of our studio families.
In preparing for competition, consider the following:
1. Lyrics: Listen to the Lyrics and know what they mean. Eliminate curse words, but also be aware of inappropriate and overly mature or suggestive content. If a song is from a show or a musical, know the context.
2.Themes: When you are conceiving a piece, it is important that themes are appropriate for your dancers’ ages and maturity levels. Could an audience member misinterpret your piece or perceive it as inappropriate? Is the piece too serious or too dark? How can your students relate to the story that is being told?
3. Costuming: Does your costuming match the theme of the routine? Will it be perceived as classy or trashy? We must take ownership and responsibility of how we costume our students. Sexy is not how we should describe our costuming choices. Dress your dancers appropriately.
4.Choreography: The choreography should fit the theme of the routine. Movement should be age appropriate and representative of the lyrics, costuming, and themes.
5. Your Dancers’ Ages: Make sure ALL of your choices are appropriate for your dancers’ ages. Having young dancers perform a mature song/routine may result in inappropriate costuming, choreography, and thematic choices.
Share your standards with your instructors and guest choreographers. Build parental trust that you will always have your dancers’ best interests at heart. Set your standards high and do not waiver or succumb to trends or peer pressure. Via competitive dance, we have an opportunity to positively influence and motivate our dancers, but we need to safeguard our choices and commit to presenting classy material that is representative of the dancers’ age and maturity. That is something that everyone can appreciate, respect, and look forward to seeing on stage.
Ownership of choreography dance moves is a tricky subject. When a choreographer puts their body into motion and pen to paper, they’re creating an original expressive piece that takes their personal experience and creativity and translates it into a work of art. Once it’s put into a tangible medium, you can apply copyright protections to the piece.
So how could there be any question about owns that piece? In this article, we’re going to take a look at a couple of different scenarios that studios and choreographers might run into when they work together creatively.
Scenario 1: Hiring a Choreographer
In this scenario, you are a studio owner (or the guest choreographer who is being hired to create the work). Some of the big topics you’ll want to cover are:
A timeline for delivery (when is the performance, and how long will the dance take to learn?)
Who will teach the choreography (is the choreographer also coming to class to teach the moves?)
Services (what all is being requested of the choreographer, or what all do they offer?)
Pricing (based on the services, how much should the payment be? Is this choreographer part of a larger professional community, and can they then ask for a higher price?)
And finally, ownership of the material. In this scenario, the guest choreographer is being hired as a freelancer. That means that after their job is completed, they won’t continue to have any ties to your studio.
Now it comes down to having an honest conversation with the choreographer about your expectations and theirs as well. As a studio owner, are you expecting to take this choreography (which you have essentially commissioned for your students) and use it again in the future? Are you also expecting that your choreographer won’t later work for another studio and produce a dance that’s very similar to yours?
Well, it depends on this honest conversation going on. Choreographers are professionals, and their ability to create an expressive and elaborate piece is why you’re hiring them in the first place. They may very well expect to reuse or recycle parts of one piece when making a different one, since those parts are their own creative works. They may also expect for you to use their work once, for a singular performance, and to then ask for additional permissions in the future to perform it again.
So, while this conversation may be honest and productive, you can clearly see how it could get a little tense with different opinions about the work. As the studio owner, make a list of your priorities and decide the most important factors in this project:
Does the choreographer make great work, and are they worth hiring consistently?
Do competing studios also hire this choreographer, and would you be worried about similar choreography showing up in their recital or at competition?
Is this performance theme very specific, where this choreography might not fit with other themes in the near future?
As the choreographer, make a list of your own priorities as well!
If you work locally, are you trying to build relationships and secure future contracts?
If you work within a larger community, do you need the ability to recycle parts or entire pieces?
As an artist, do you expect for your work to remain your own, and for studio owners to ask to use your work in the future?
As a business professional, how can you maximize the income you can get from a single piece of work?
Studio owners, be sure check out the choreographer priority list. Choreographers, be sure check out the studio owner list! When everyone is on the same page and both parties’ goals are clear, it’s way easier to find common ground and find room for compromise.
Very important: don’t rush into hiring a choreographer or starting to make choreography without having this discussion, and putting it into writing. We can’t stress this enough: MAKE A CONTRACT. And that includes having your legal counsel check the contract fully before it’s signed.
With clear language about who, what, when, where, and for how much, any potential disagreement can point back to the original contract for clarification.
Scenario 2: Teachers Creating Choreography
Maybe your studio has talented teachers who choreograph their classes’ dances: sweet!!! So who owns their work?
Can there be exceptions? Of course. A person who makes a creative piece will want to feel like they have ownership over their work. So how can you, as a studio owner, make that work?
Back to the priorities. For studios:
Does the teacher make great work, and are they a valuable member of your staff?
Does your teacher work in a dance capacity anywhere else, and would you be worried about similar choreography showing up in another studio’s recital or at competition?
Besides at your studio, where else could your choreography dance moves be used?
Do you create choreography on the side, and do you need your choreography dance moves to be available for other clients?
On that note, do you have a non-compete agreement with your studio already in place? What does it say about choreography?
This honest conversation between teachers and studio owners has a different feel to it than the freelance conversation. These teachers will be working at the studio for an extended period of time, and are directly invested in the studio’s success.
Probably the best question for a studio owner to ask: “Why do you need your choreography to be used elsewhere?”
An honest answer will set up the rest of the conversation. Maybe the teacher wants to work freelance on the side but not compete with your studio. Maybe the teacher wants to have a choreography portfolio, for a future career decision. Maybe the teacher needs to move in the near future and wants to be able to take the choreography along for future work.
As a studio owner, if you trust your teachers, these all sound like pretty legitimate reasons! And to show your support and build a closer relationship with your teachers, it could definitely be worth it to find some room for compromise.
Dance is a medium for expressing yourself, and as a teacher you have the freedom to push your creativity to the limit through choreography. There’s two sides to choreographing recital pieces for your classes: the side that challenges your students but also recognizes the limits of their skill level, and the side that lets your personal ideas dance across the stage. Finding the perfect balance is no easy task, but with the right approach and genuine love for the art, you’ll put together a piece that your dancers and audience will love.
Different Ways of Learning
There’s an idea in the educational world that people learn best in different ways, whether it be visually, mathematically, musically, or verbally. For dancers, one big educational approach that fits the nature of the art is physical learning. Dancers can remember long routines by being very in tune with the movement of their bodies, and tie in musical ability to keep their movements right on time. As a choreographer, you have the unique ability to dictate those movements and create a physical narrative for dancers to follow and repeat on stage.
Use Music and Improvise
So, what do you want your story to say? There’s a chicken-or-egg question to be asked here: do you start with music, or do you fit music to the movements you see in your head or feel in your body? There’s no right answer. Every choreographer has a different way of putting a piece together, and not every piece will be created in the same way.
One means of expressing yourself and tapping into your inner choreographer is to improvise. Put on a musical piece that you like, or a musical piece you’ve danced to before, and let yourself fit your body movements to the narrative of the song.
When jazz musicians improvise, they feel the structure of the song and then find a way to fit their personal ideas on top of that structure. In the same way, improvising dance lets you experiment with different movements and in different spaces that feel right in the moment.
Just like many people reflect on their day through a diary or video blog, choreography is an opportunity to take your personal emotions and ideas and express them through a new medium. Maybe you’ve already picked a theme for your recital: what kind of tone will your theme have? Do your younger dancers work on routines that reflect positivity and growth? Do you dig deeper and have your older dancers perform a more thoughtful or intense piece? Don’t be afraid to push your dancers and expose them to different kinds of works. Actors have changing roles, and classical musicians play different symphonies. As dancers progress in their personal careers, they need to have exposure to different emotional elements in dance.
No matter the route you take, use choreography as an opportunity, not a requirement for the season. Let yourself experiment with moves, fit bodies to the narrative of the music you choose, and pour your heart and soul into the piece for the best result possible.
Nearly all dance teachers will agree that the barre work is an integral part of ballet practice. However, what many teachers don’t agree on is whether it’s better to do the same set barre work every week or different combinations.
This very topic got lots of attention in the forum Ballet Talk For Dancers, where one user asked whether other members preferred a set barre with little variation, a few different set barres that are alternated or different combinations done in each class. Many members were vocal about their preferences – read on for a breakdown of the debate.
The set barre, or the repetition of the same barre movements in every class, is found in several major ballet teaching methods such as the Cecchetti, Paris Opera School and Bournonville methods, the book, “The Ballet Companion,” noted. The advantage of this old-school approach is that heavy repetition of the same movements helps dancers focus on improving technique, isolate problem areas and improve their muscle memory. As the book mentioned, it also saves time in class because the teacher does not need to use up time explaining a new combination. A set barre can also be especially helpful for beginner students, with one forum user noting that it helps her novice students gain a sense of mastery before moving on to more advanced movements.
In the Ballet Talk forum, though, a common complain against set barres was that it’s very easy for dancers to get bored doing the same movements over and over again. Which leads to the alternative …
Foregoing the repetition of set barres, some dance teachers adopt the combinations approach, in which they always teach a new series of movements at the barre each class. The major advantage of this method is that it helps dancers learn how to pick up new combinations quickly, making them better equipped to quickly grasp new choreography. As Dance Advantage noted in its article on memorizing ballet combinations, dancers need to be able to learn and perform ballet combinations practically at the same time, and a varied barre helps develop this skill.
Combination barre strengthens the “muscles of the mind,” according to “The Ballet Companion.” As author Eliza Gaynor Minden wrote:
“Picking up combinations quickly and adapting to different styles require versatility and overall mental agility, both of which develop better when challenged by variety and the occasional “brain twister” combination that moves in irregular patterns or rhythms.”
In the Ballet Talk forum, the consensus was that a mix of set barre and combination barre was the best option. Teaching a set barre but changing it every couple of weeks or so still helps students flex their quick-learning muscles while allowing them to focus on technique simultaneously. Dancers don’t get bored, their minds and muscles continue to be challenged and correct technique is still prioritized.
What do you think – is set barre, combination barre work or a mix the most effective teaching method? Let us know in the comments.
For new dancers and their parents, ballet terminology can be a bit intimidating. Many of the names for moves and positions are in French – and there’s so many of them! If you or your child’s first dance class has your heads spinning, don’t stress any longer. Read on for a overview of the basic ballet moves in clear English. Don’t worry – you’ll be an expert soon!
The Basic Positions
The five basic positions form the foundation of ballet. They affect how dancers begin and end their leaps, spins, jumps – basically everything! First position is when a dancer stands with her heels touching and both feet turned away from each other – as close to horizontally as possible. For second position, the heels are placed about should-width apart, and the heels are still facing straight out to either side.
Things get a little different with the third, fourth and fifth positions. Third position is when one foot is placed in front of the other, with the midpoint or arch of the back foot touching the heel of the front foot. Fourth position is similar to third, but the front foot is moved forward so the feet are no longer touching at the heel and arch. And finally, fifth position is when the front foot is slid back so that the toes of the back foot touch the heel of the front foot.
It sounds confusing, but it’s easy to grasp after seeing the positions demonstrated a few times. Also, as the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre notes, third position is not very commonly used these days, since the heavy turnout of modern dancers makes it look confusing similar to fifth position.
Turnout is not a move, but it is a basic concept essential to understanding ballet. Turnout is when the legs are rotated from the hips so that both the feet and knees are turned outward. It involves a high degree of flexibility and should be used to do nearly all ballet moves.
Developpé is when the knee is raised up to the hips, followed by an extension of the leg so that it is held in the air. A dancer can developpé to hip-height, or if they have the requisite flexibility, extend they leg to reach above their head.
Jeté means “throwing” or “thrown,” explained Ballet Hub, and is when a dancer leaps forward, leading with one leg, and then lands on the other leg. There are many variations of jetés, some small and quick, some big and dramatic.
Ever been mesmerized by a dancer spinning around and around like a top? What you’re seeing is a fouetté. This move is when the dancer does a pirouette with one leg raised out to the side.
Another essential ballet movement, a plié is when both knees are bent as a dancer lowers her hips. They can be done in various positions, frequently at the barre.
Ballet has a rich history that goes back hundreds of years and spans various continents and countries. As a result, the has undergone many modifications as dancers and teachers incorporated new styles of ballet and techniques into their practice.
Years of experimentation and artistic inspiration have established various ballet styles that each have special characteristics and trademarks. Here’s an overview of the major styles of ballet.
Classical ballet is the most well-known and popular style of ballet. Its origins go back to the Renaissance courts of Louis XIV, explained Les Grand Ballets, and still adheres to traditional ballet technique. Classical ballet emphasizes elegant, graceful lines, heavy turnout of the legs and fluid, smooth movements. Perhaps the most famous of all classical ballets is “Swan Lake.”
The Romantic ballet style prioritizes emotion, drama and strong story-telling. Romantic ballet is not just about the technical or athletic feats of movement that dancers can achieve, but how movement can be used to tell a compelling narrative and connect with the emotions of the audience. According to California Ballet:
“The basic subjects of the Romantic ballets came from the perceived conflicts between beauty and ugliness, good and evil, spirit and flesh realism and fantasy.”
Dance Magazine describes the contemporary ballet style as “anchored in the old, hungry for the new.” It’s all about experimentation and creativity, drawing freely from other dance styles like jazz and modern. The focus is not on narrative or telling a story, but on prompting the audience to think about the power of movement and what aesthetic the lines of the body can convey. As choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa told the magazine:
“With contemporary ballet, you turn the room. The audience is asked to look at what is happening between the dancers.”
Neoclassical ballet is synonymous with the work of George Balanchine, an incredibly influential choreographer who created the Balanchine method, which is the most widely taught ballet method in the U.S. It is a 20th-century creation, Pittsburgh Dance Theatre explained, and emphasizes athleticism, speed and impressive technical feats. This style largely rejects elaborate costumes, sets or intricate stories to for a simpler design that places the focus on the dancers themselves. Neoclassical ballet pushes boundaries while still prioritizing technical skill and perfection.
Maybe you need to come up with dance choreography ideas that showcase your students’ newly learned skills, or are a dancer yourself struggling to put together a new composition. You might have the perfect music picked out and have filled the choreography with impressive technical skills, however you just feel that the whole piece needs just a little something more. What you’re probably lacking is a story, emotional and narrative threads weaved throughout the choreography that make the performance complete and connect the audience to the dance.
If you’ve typically been of the camp that puts innovative movement and technical skill ahead of storytelling in ballet choreography, now is the perfect time to flex those narrative muscles. Story ballets have been making a comeback, according to Pointe magazine. Abstract performances that focus solely on movement are making space on the stage for ballets that tell a rich story through dance.
Sometimes, creative inspiration quickly strikes and you know exactly what story you’ll be telling through your choreography. Other times, it’s a little more difficult, and you might feel that that inspiration tap has gone and dried up. However, there are some tips that will help you tell a stronger story in your choreography.
Absorb the Atmosphere
Once you have a piece of music selected for the dance, sit listening to the music in uninterrupted peace – a creative brainstorming session. As you listen to the music, don’t just think about the skills and movements that would perfect fit the highs and lows of the piece, but also think about what kind of atmosphere or ambiance the work creates. What emotions does the music conjure? What kind of environment does the piece transport you to?
Identifying atmosphere is a major part of choreographer Miro Magloire’s process, according to his interview with Backstage. Magloire is the artistic director and founder of New Chamber Ballet in New York, and told the source that his past experiences as a composer caused him to create his choreography primarily from the technical structure of the music.
“But over time I grew more interested in trying to respond to the atmosphere or spirit of the music, the emotion maybe,” he told Backstage. “I’ve seen dances that had no apparent structural relation to the music and yet I felt they completely ‘matched’ the music – and vice versa.”
Shift your focus from the technical elements of the musical piece and instead try to identify its emotional and transformative aspects to create a starting point from which to develop the story of the dance.
Look In Creative Places for Inspiration
Truly great artists – choreographers and otherwise – create great works because they are always open to inspiration, anywhere and anytime. This may be because for works of art that have emotional relevance, that have to be based in true human experiences, and the only way to learn about these experiences is by going out into the world. Watching ballet performances online can help give you ideas, but for fresh inspiration that can help you create dynamic, story-based choreography, it’s helpful to get out there and soak up some inspiration from non-ballet sources.
Choreographer Chloé Arnold of the Syncopated Ladies dance company told Dance magazine that when she feels choreographer’s block, she seeks out experiences where she can see someone else being creative, or can watch someone that inspires her. She said she when to a Beyonce concert and felt creatively rejuvenated, and stayed up all night choreographing.
And if inspiration does strike outside the studio, don’t be afraid to embrace it. Arnold told the magazine of one experience she had while she was stuck working on a performance.
“Inspiration came to me on the plane. I went to the bathroom area and made the movement right there. People thought I was crazy. But it became Syncopated Ladies’ staple dance when we were on “So You Think You Can Dance.”
So, if you’re stuck on story and need some fresh dance choreography ideas, seek out new experiences and don’t be afraid to let the music move you. New perspectives can help jumpstart your creativity so you can put together fresh, dynamic choreography that truly connects with the audience.
Fitting 30 dancers on one stage might sound impossible. Even if you only have a group of 10 dancers, having them move together seamlessly during a performance can still be a logistical headache. Creating group choreography requires some advanced planning, careful consideration and keen spatial awareness.
You want the audience’s eyes to be on your dancers’ graceful movements and impressive skills – not on how they’re bumping elbows with each other. Follow these tips for creating effective group choreography that wows the crowd.
Identify the Strongest Areas of the Stage
To accommodate a large group of dancers on stage at one time, you need to understand the unique characteristics of each section of the stage itself. The center of the stage attracts the most attention, unsurprisingly, so place any soloists there. However, it’s important to not overuse the center, since the more you use the weaker its visible impact, noted Sandra Cerny Minton in her book, “Choreography: A Basic Approach Using Improvisation.”
Placing dancers downstage is good for intimate sections of group choreography or those that require dancers to be particularly emotional, because the area is closest to the audience. To create a sense of mystery, it’s effective to place dancers upstage. Cerny noted that the areas toward the right and left sides of the stage are comparably weak, though that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used at all. The key is creatively and effectively using the entirety of the space available to you.
Think Outside the Box
Sometimes, you need to expand your idea of what constitutes the stage. DanceSpirit Magazine described the experiences of Suzi Taylor, choreographer of the New York City Dance Alliance Nationals Senior Outstanding Dancer performance. She had to fit a whopping 145 dancers onstage at one time, and understandably couldn’t do so without having them all constantly bump into each other.
She then came up with the idea to have some of the dancers on the floor in front of the stage. It turned out to be the perfect solution, and she used the space to create unique level changes. Don’t be afraid to get creative in your group choreography or the way that you use the space.
An article by Dance Advantage provided a list of tips for dance teachers who were tasked with choreographing a musical theater show, and while ballet and performance theater are very different, there are some tips that ballet choreographers can borrow to effectively choreograph large groups of dancers. One valuable tip is to build patterns of movement into your choreography.
According to the article, audiences enjoy watching recurring motifs, and repeating the same group of movements in different places throughout the piece helps keep the audience engaged. Incorporating patterns is also useful because it helps provide structure for the dancers, especially if the rest of the choreography is complex or difficult.
Utilize Creative Devices
When faced with the overwhelming task of choreographing a dance for a large group of students, you may be tempted to have all perform the same movements in synchronization. Unfortunately, though, this is dull for the audience and doesn’t do justice to your dancers’ skill sets. But on the other hand, having every dancer do completely different movements can be dizzying and doesn’t give the audience anything to focus on. A good trick for effectively choreographing a large group of dancers is to take advantage of the myriad of patterns, contrasts and other unique choreographic devices.
Break your dancers into small groups, and have them do complementary movements where they are all doing the same movement but in slightly different ways – for example, one group jetés toward the left while the other jetés toward the right. You can have your dancers do contrasting movements, for example having a few dancers move across the stage quickly while a couple other dancers make slow movements.
Another idea is to include successional movements where a certain skill or movement is quickly performed by each dancer one after another, creating a waterfall- or domino-like effect. You have the power to create a spectacular piece that is full of visional splendor, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different devices.
While kindergartners won’t be performing “Giselle” anytime soon, you can teach them the basic building blocks of learning choreography that will set them up for success in and outside of the studio. The key is understanding the developmental stage young children are in and adapting your teaching style to work with this level of learning, not against it. Here are a few tips to use when putting together dance choreography for kids.
Keep It Simple
Kids in or entering kindergarten LOVE to move around and have fun in dance class, but you can’t expect them to always remember extended choreography. Five to six-year-olds have a better grasp on movement than toddlers, but they can’t grasp routines as well as grade school-age children.
As a result of participating in a dance class, students in kindergarten through second grade should be able to copy other people’s shapes and patterns, perform basic elements of dance, such as making a round shape or jumping in a certain direction, and describe dance movements in general terms, according to the book, “Teaching Children Dance.”
Third- through fifth-grade children, on the other hand, should be able to understand various choreographic structures, describe others’ movements using simple dance terms and reproduce choreography with multiple sequences.
Simple, brief choreography that only uses basic movements are best suited to the five- and six-years-old age group, and make sure you break down each step into easy-to-digest elements.
Young children have to learn not only how to do certain movements, but also how to move in time with music. In a Dance.net forum thread about dance choreography for kids, one instructor mentioned how she slows music down for her younger students, since they are still learning basic coordination. Prioritize strengthening your students’ sense of rhythm and their ability to match their movements to the speed of a certain song over teaching them specific skills. This approach will better set them up for more advanced classes later on.
Build Repetition into Choreography
Young children need structure to thrive in class, and choreographer Jenny Duffy noted that songs and movement are often used in kindergarten classes to signal when it’s time to transition from one activity to another. She recommended that dance instructors use a similar approach when creating choreography for younger students. She advised using the same movements during the chorus of a song, which makes it easier for children to learn choreography and also helps them develop musicality.
Positive reinforcement makes all the difference when teaching choreography to younger students. Five to six-year-olds will respond better to praise, and criticism on the way students are doing a certain movement should be used sparingly. As Donna Donna Furmanek wrote in her paper, “Classroom Choreography: Enhancing Learning Through Movement:”
“It is important that teachers acknowledge children’s efforts and participation more often than noting whether or not children are doing the movement correctly.”
“Positive reinforcement makes all the difference.”
A reward system is a great way to boost this positive reinforcement. One dance teacher on Dance.net wrote about how she creates a chart for each student and then gives them sticker or other small prize like a plastic gold medal when they learn a new step.
Focus on Fun
“You shouldn’t expect to teach young children technique,” writes Holly Shaw in a post for 365Dances. Kindergarten-age students are high-energy and are still learning how to move their bodies, so making dance class as fun as possible will be more beneficial for young children in the long run.
“Really what you should be focusing on at this point is the sheer joy of moving and learning their bodies,” says Shaw. “Keep the expectations low.”
As any dance teacher who’s worked with young children knows, kids have a boundless supply of energy. Attempts to teach them technique or choreography often end in vain, with aggravated children and an even more frustrated teacher. Young preschool- and kindergarten-age children generally don’t have the attention span or discipline to do barre work or learn correct technique, but this young and energetic age group is perfectly suited to succeed at creative movement. You can take advantage of their energy with creative movement lesson plans.
Creative movement is offered as a class at many dance studios and is designed to introduce children to the idea of expressing themselves through movement. The creative movement lesson plans work with young children’s natural enthusiasm, short attention spans and high energy levels to explore basic concepts of dance and creativity.
There are many benefits of creative movement. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, creative movement aids children’s physical development, teaching them body awareness and control and how to move around in a space. It also encourages them to use their imaginations and become comfortable with expressing themselves.
It helps them grow socially and emotionally, since they must learn to share space with others, and expressing themselves in a myriad of ways – for example, pretending to be a certain animal or acting like a type of weather – helps them recognize that they have a wide range of feelings. Additionally, creative movement classes teach children to be respectful in a class-setting and effectively listen to teachers.
Areas to Cover When Making Creative Movement Lesson Plans
A creative movement class is much more than simply telling students to pretend they are butterflies for 45 minutes and sitting back as they run around the room. The class needs structure and purpose to allow creativity to flourish. Let’s Talk Creative Dance Conversation recommended not staying with one activity for too long, so break up the class into smaller units.
Don’t cluster your activities in one space, either – move around the room. Use visual aids and props to inspire movement, and form your activities so that the kids have choices in the way they move and respond. A dynamic lesson plan will keep kids engaged.
“When you keep it moving, keep it structured, and use student demonstrators, kids stay focused and on task,” wrote Anne Greene Gilbert in a post for the site. “The teacher has control because the students have self-control since they are interested in what is happening.”
NAEYC suggested playing the game “Telephone” but with movement instead of words. Think of a theme for the day or week, and create activities related to that theme – the source gave the example that if your theme is “Spring,” you can have children “dance the making of a garden,” basing their motions off digging holes, watering plants, etc. Give children a prop like scarves and ask them to make their scarves flap like a flag, swim like a fish or float to the floor like a snowflake, suggested Childhood101.
You can also put on a song and ask the kids to move in a way that follows the rhythm and style of the song – for example, put on a fast song and ask them to hop like bunnies, or a slow song and ask them to crawl like cats. This helps them learn how to move with different types of music.
There are countless creative movement resources online. The National Dance Education Organization, ASCD, NAEYC and other associations link materials that will help you craft lesson plans, and creative movement activity ideas are also a popular topic on dance forums.
For teachers that are worried their creative movement classes will be more like creative chaos, preparing a structured lesson plan ahead of time reduces this anxiety. ASCD recommended establishing routines that guide your class, for example, doing a warm-up and cool-down and doing individual movement activities first and then moving to partner and group ones. Also, having a recognizable item or sound to signify switches between activities or that the students need to listen, such as a bell or drum, are also very useful.
Many creative movement activities can be adapted to fit any student, noted NAEYC. For children with special needs, you can modify the activity to accommodate the student’s abilities. For example, a jumping activity can include kids in wheelchairs by having them move their arms or shoulders instead, or, in an activity where students make a certain letter with their body, special needs students can use a body part like their fingers to form the letter. The source noted that activities where students express the story of a song or book through movement are especially accommodating to children of all skill and needs levels.
Creative movement classes also don’t require expansive studio spaces. If you have a small space, you can do activities where the children stand in one place but jump up and down or wiggle their arms and legs in special ways, and if there are poles or shelves that break up an open space, you can incorporate moving around these obstacles into your activities, noted the source.
The thought of improvising dance may make you nervous, but improvisation dance could be the secret to better choreography.
Just like taking a walk around the block helps clear a stressed mind, an hour of so of improv can spark creative ideas. In an interview with KQED News, Deana Criess, director of ImprovBoston’s National Touring Company, espoused the benefits of making things up as you go along. And even though her organization focuses on comedy, the inspiring power of improv is applicable across artistic and athletic disciplines.
Criess told the source that improv boosts quick thinking, helps clear away distracting thoughts that take us out of the moment and strengthens our communication skills and self-expression. Instead of constantly judging yourself for missing a step or being offbeat, improv dancing allows you to be spontaneous and tune in to your inner self.
Every dancer and choreographer is different, possessing a unique set of beliefs, values, talents and dreams, and the greatest joy of dancing comes from being able to be the best version of yourself. However, it’s easy for these one-of-a-kind attributes to become a little muddled when you’re constantly doing the same dances or formulating choreography with a repetitive, static approach.
By not worrying about directions and simply letting your body move the way you want it to, you’re able to identify certain motions that particularly connect with you, DanceSpirit Magazine noted. Connecting with your own preferences also helps you to better identify the unique styles of other dancers. You can then use this inspiration to breathe new life into your choreography and craft dances that respond to people’s strengths or challenge their weaknesses to improve.
Creating a “Toolkit”
Sometimes, choreographers fall into ruts where they use the same combinations of positions and skills over and over again. Improv can help you build a collection of new movements that you can then have at your disposal to keep your choreography fresh and exciting.
An article on Backstage.com profiled Helen Pickett, a dancer who teaches classes based on innovative choreographer William Forsythe’s improvisational technique. Forsythe would break improvisation into around 30 smaller, individual movements, which he called “modalities,” the site explained. These smaller movements, like collapsing and folding, then served as building blocks to create new dances.
“It opens up avenues that allow you to expand your ideas of what you thought you body could do,” said Pickett of the Forsythe method.
The thought of improv makes many people self-conscious, but the very act of exposing our unguarded selves to others helps improve creative thinking and problem-solving skills. You learn that taking unexpected or approaches to problems can yield beautiful solutions, and let go of fear and self-doubt. Becoming more comfortable with thinking outside the box will help you expand the scope of what you believe you can achieve through your choreography. You also learn to trust yourself and to have faith in your unconventional ideas.
Tips for Improv
The first step to productive improvisation is casting all doubt, anxiety and self-consciousness aside. Don’t worry about what others will think of you, since improv is about getting in tune with your inner thoughts and artistic expression, not about others’ perceptions of your movement.
While you can simply turn on some music and start moving, a little structure can help guide your improv dance. Human Kinetics recommended following simple rules that force you to move creatively. For example, move in a circle on the floor, but only begin steps or movements with your left foot, or, go from one corner of the room to the other starting low to the floor and ending up as high above the floor as possible by the time you make it to the other side.
Inspiration can come from anywhere, not just music, and the site also suggested picking an art object or image that speaks to you and mimicking the patterns of shapes of the piece through movement, and then repeating your motions, observing how your movement changes in its reflection of the shapes. You can also pair each movement with an emotion that the artwork provokes in you, and move through each feeling as you mimic the patterns or shapes.
During a recital, you make sure you hit every count of the choreography perfectly and pour your emotions into your leaps and turns to tell a story to the audience. But what kind of story are you telling when you’re not on stage or in front of the mirror, but are instead busting out moves at a friend’s party or school dance? The way you move when you don’t care who’s watching tells a lot about what type of personality you have, according to new research. And beyond revealing your personality, scientists think that your dance moves may also give insight into your thoughts and feelings.
So, what do your go-to dance moves say about you?
Moving around the dance floor a lot while making big, energetic movements with your arms and head: You’re an extrovert! You own that dance floor with your dramatic moves and don’t care who’s watching. The more attention you get, the better!
Doing the “shuffle,” or jerkily moving your hands and feet in quick, sharp motions: You have an neurotic personality! You feel a little more self-conscious in the disco lights of a dance floor than up on stage, and don’t want to make too much of a statement.
You make up and down movements right in time with the music, but not much more than that: You are open-minded! Your mind is free and unworried so it can tap into the music and what it makes you feel. You have an impeccable sense of rhythm and timing, and can adjust easily between different musical styles and songs.
You move your body in smooth side-to-side motions while swinging your hands: You have an agreeable personality! Like with other things in life, you go with the flow and let the music move you. People gravitate toward you, and you love when the size of your dancing circle grows.
You dance your way around the room, never staying in one spot too long, and are constantly making big motions with your hands: You have a conscientious and dutiful personality! You are a dedicated worker, always staying late after class to nail your choreography. You hate being bored and want to make sure you get the most out of whatever you do and live life to the fullest.
And finally, if you always point your toes, no matter where you are: You are a true dancer at heart! This one wasn’t in the study, but if your friends always point out how your toes are always curled in impeccable form it can only mean one thing: You always have the spirit of dance within you, wherever you go!
Congratulations! You finally are given the chance to choreograph your own dance. However, choreographing isn’t as easy as it looks. While you may have watched your dance teacher choreograph your performances with ease for several years, it can be scary to get started on your own. Many dancers experience the same pitfalls when choreographing their first dances. Consider these tips to avoid those issues.
When dancers think of beginning to choreograph something, they may get worried about walking into a room full of people who are looking at them for guidance. As a result, they plan out every single step and movement to a tee before even entering the room. While this might seem like a good idea, usually it’s not. When dancers aren’t following your direct lead and mastering every move and breath right away, you may get angry and become over controlling. This could lead to disarray among the group instead of making the practice about having a fun time, which is most important.
Many dancers forget how critical it is to go with the flow when choreographing a dance. As this is such a creative act, people need to listen to their changing thoughts and alter the dance as they go. Otherwise, it might not be as great of a collaboration as it could be.
Don’t Forget About the Audience
Some choreographers tend to be a little narrow-minded when starting out. They might be eager to start and choreograph, but only have interest to create a dance that pleases them, not anyone else. This is a seriously faulty mistake. When crafting a dance, it’s important to think of the audience along every step of the way. What do they want to see? What music would excite them and cause them to really pay attention? How can you draw them in?
Understanding and answering these questions before you begin creating your dance is critical. If you go into the dance only looking to please yourself, you may create a dance that isn’t interesting to anyone and essentially wastes the audience’s time when they’re watching it.
Don’t Forget About the Learning Curve
You might be the kind of dancer who can pick up a new dance within a day. However, not every dancer is like you. Others need a few practices before they can really nail down a whole song, and even then it might not be perfect. As a choreographer, it’s important to understand the learning curve that comes with dancing.
Even if you’re working with a group of advanced, experienced dancers, not everyone will pick up the moves as easily as you created them. Have patience with your dancers and help them along the way to allow them to understand certain moves better. Don’t get frustrated or upset with your dancers, which can only make the whole process worse for everyone.
Don’t Copy Someone Else’s Dance
Of course, as a dancer there were most likely some dances you watched that you loved, and probably some others that you hated. However, when you look for inspiration, it’s important not to mimic those beloved dances to a tee. While you can pull some moves from them, use your creative spirit to come up with a few new moves or reframe them in a new, refreshing way. You don’t want your audience to see the dance and believe that they’ve seen this routine before.
Instead, you want to wow them with pizzaz and originality and think a little bit outside the box. Look at several dances you like and pull from those to make sure you don’t end up reverting back to one performance you love. If you’re having a creative block, ask your dancers what they think. They might have a favorite dance too that they want to pull from or will suggest a new move they saw that helps take the dance in a new direction, instead of a familiar one.
You’ve finally narrowed down the list of schools you’re going to apply to, and have been daydreaming about life after graduation and all the excitement that comes with growing and maturing as a dancer in a college program. Big things are on their way! But first, you have to get through the college dance audition process. The pressure is tough and the competition can seem intense, but there’s a better way to think about auditions. They’re a chance for your unique personality to shine and for you to get a better sense of whether the school is the right fit for you.
A typical college dance audition begin with a ballet class and is followed by solo performances, improvised performances, classes in other styles like jazz and contemporary and even an interview process. While nervousness is natural, don’t let your anxiety get in the way of showcasing all you have to offer as a dancer. Extensive research and preparation and a positive attitude are key to making the best impression and helping you stand-out from the rest of the pack.
Follow our tips below to perfect your college dance audition.
Do Your Homework
Every college dance program is unique, and judges want to see that you’re a good fit for their program. Spend time in the weeks leading up to your audition learning all you can about the college and its program, the types of courses it offers, the styles of dance it performs and its values and mission. Think about how you can contribute to the program, and which of your personal and dance qualities line up with its values. Having these kinds of answers ready will prove useful in the interview phase.
Once you register for the audition, you will receive a packet detailing the schedule and specific requirements of the audition and what will be expected of you. Pay attention to this document and refer back to it frequently, noting the requirements for your clothing, costumes, makeup and shoes, and whether you need to bring photographs of yourself, an audition tape or a dance resume. If you have a better idea of what to expect you will feel more confident, and following the requirements carefully shows you pay attention to the details, which is a quality of any great dancer.
Devote Time to Preparing Your Solo
The solo performance is usually only 90 seconds long. In this short time you have to show the judges who you are as a dancer, which can be overwhelming! To make sure you’re truly showcasing all that you have to offer, prepare and practice your solo far in advance of the audition. Heather Guthrie, the dance coordinator at Southern Methodist University, told DanceSpirit Magazine that she recommends starting to practice your solo at least two months in advance.
It’s fine to choreograph the dance yourself, or have a coach or instructor do it for you. Even if you do it yourself, make sure you’re practicing the dance in front of teachers and receiving feedback on it so you can make it the best it can be. Focus on showing your personality in the dance, and not the number of high-flying tricks you can do, since coaches want to see your spirit and style more than flashy skills. Make sure both your technical precision and presentation skills are as well-developed as they can be. And when the time comes to perform, take a deep breath, smile and go for it, knowing you’ve prepared as best you could.
Practice in Multiple Styles
A typical feature of a college dance audition is being asked to perform in a style other than your primary one, for example having to participate in a hip-hop or jazz class when you’re trained in ballet. This is because judges want to see that you’re versatile and can adapt quickly and confidently to new choreography. Prior to audition season, add a class or two in a different style to your schedule so you can get more comfortable dancing an unfamiliar genre and also get better at learning new skills and memorizing new routines quickly.
“Focus on personality in your solo dance, not your tricks.”
However, don’t drive yourself crazy trying to learn every style of dance on the planet. These tests are more to see how you dance and act in uncomfortable situations. “Our predominant technique is Graham,” said the dance chair at SMU Patty Harrington Delaney in an interview with DanceTeacher Magazine. “A lot of people have never done Graham before, and we know that. We’re looking for their openness to the direction, their attentiveness and spatial quality.”
Calm Your Nerves
Being nervous on the big day is normal, but it’s important to keep your nerves under control so they don’t impact the quality of your performance. Don’t think about all eyes being on you, but instead think about how you are talented and have prepared to the best of your ability. Remember why you dance – for the passion, the excitement and the ability to tell a powerful story through movement. Focus on the moment you are in, and not the next test or whether you are going to be accepted or not.
Follow these tips, then take a deep breath – you’ve got this!
Just like writers and painters, dance choreographers hit artistic blocks once in a while. If you’ve experienced this lack of inspiration while creating a performance, you know how frustrating it is! It can be especially stressful to have choreographer’s block if you’re on a tight schedule with a recital or competition coming up. However, there are a number of ways that you can get those creative juices flowing and start planning plies and box turns again. Here are a few choreography tips and tricks to help you create newly inspired choreography.
Find New Beats
If your jazz students do a final number to “All That Jazz” every year at the recital, chances are you’re going to lose momentum while choreographing after a few seasons. After all, how many different routines can one person come up with for the same song?
When this type of block hits, the easiest way to overcome it is to simply pick new music. Try not to choose a song that you’ve done before. Instead, look for something fresh that you’ve never worked with. You’ll be amazed at how naturally the steps flow when the music inspires you.
Get a Fresh Pair of Eyes
Sometimes the moves seem disjointed because you’ve spent too much time in your own head. When this happens, ask someone to give you feedback on your progress.
“I have people come in throughout the process. Friends, colleagues, some who aren’t even dancers,” Amy O’Neal, a dancer and choreographer, explained to Dance magazine. “It helps you get out of your own head, whether you agree with their opinions or not.”
You may want to turn to other dance teachers or even advanced students. A fresh pair of eyes can help you see why the steps aren’t working and get you back on the right track.
Clear Your Mind
Sometimes you just need to step away from the studio, especially if you’ve been working for a long time.
“Take personal time, even if it’s just 20 minutes,” teacher and choreographer Rhonda Miller suggested to Dance Teacher magazine. “Have dinner, read a book, get a cup of coffee – anything that has nothing to do with dance.”
Don’t think about what you’re working on while you take a break. After you’ve relaxed a bit, return to the studio with your fresh mindset and jump back into choreographing with a new perspective.