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At different points in a choreographer’s career, one discovers how they create best; what works for them and what doesn’t; in terms of the creative process. When one is just starting out, the ways in which we use trial and error to bring us to the point of consistent choreographic stimulation may change mid-career and even further down the road. Different events in our lives may alter the way in which we work and the things that inspire us or were once catalysts, may no longer stimulate us in the same way they once did.

As with the movement, our process is fluid and is on a never-ending evolution itself; taking on a life of its own and transforming, the way we do as individuals. Inevitably, we are the heartbeat of our process. While some may choreograph in the same way and stick to “what works for them,” getting out of one’s comfort zone, and re-discovering new ways to create movement can be just as profound an experience in terms of delivering refreshing new work as seeing it on stage for the first time.

Below, is my little go-to inspiration guide I use to check in with myself when I’m feeling in a rut or want to just try and experiment with my creative process. As soon as I get a feeling that my work may be starting to look too similar to things I’ve done before, I know it’s time to shake things up and get out of “Jessie’s comfort zone.” Versatility and being innovative are what’s going to keep our works individual and varied, so try this little guideline out and hopefully it works for you too! Good luck choreographers!


Who is this piece about? Who is it for? Who are the dancers? Who is the audience? Thinking about how this work will affect you, the dancers, the audience, etc. may change the approach and content during your process. The “who” in the creative process will make you stop and think about who the movement is being designed for, the talent and level of your dancers as well as the venue you are playing for.


What is this piece about? What is your concept? What is the storyline? Is there a storyline? What things inspired you to devise this concept? Things in nature? A book? A song? A poem? Art- work? A life event? An emotion? The “what” is the meat of the process. It’s really how you’re getting started. It’s the initial inspiration that will be the stimulus to create a work whether or not it’s pure movement or based on a concept.



What places, locations inspire you? Places you’ve been, want to go to, dream of going to? Could that place be a back drop for a new work? Where do you envision this work occurring?

Where do you usually create work best? In the studio? Facing the mirror? Where do you usually work least? Perhaps try out new places, spaces (even ones that make you uncomfortable or are unfamiliar) to choreograph to pump fresh energy into your work.



When do you usually choreograph? In the morning? Late in the evening? By yourself? When your dancers are in the studio with you? Do you wait until the last minute or give yourself ample time to experiment, improvise and edit? Again, altering even the time of day in which you choreograph can change the mood, dimension and scope of your work. For me, this is a hard one to adjust to myself. I always choreograph best first thing in the morning no matter how hard I try to vary it, so if you’re like me and are trying a late-night choreo session, make sure you keep some energy on reserve that day! ;)



Why are you choreographing this piece at this exact point in time? Is it a yearly piece for the kids at the studio? Are you choreographing a piece for your own choreographic showcase with professional dancers? Have you not choreographed in a while and want to set a work of art this time around? Is it your first time presenting a piece of choreography? Why is this particular work important to you? Thinking about the weight of the work you present can be a double-edged sword. While all of the work we put out should have a close meaning to ourselves, putting so much weight in it to be a masterpiece can also stifle the creative process. So, be sure to find a balance between the two!


How do you choreograph? What is your current process? Find music first then choreograph to the lyrics? Base it off a thematic concept? Use improvisation and then create phrases from it? Write it out in your notebook, etc? Try working out of your comfort zone. If you rely on music, maybe try choreographing phrases you like first and then find music. If you always choreograph about a thematic concept, maybe try to choreograph for solely movement’s sake with no theme. The “how’ is important because it’s the basis for the way in which you’ll work, so try different avenues to explore multiple ways of approach.

See you in the studio…


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Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford is a native New Yorker and graduate of NYU Steinhardt's Dance Education Master’s Program; with a PK-12 New York State Teaching Certification. Her double-concentration Master’s Degree includes PK-12 pedagogy and dance education within the higher-education discipline. She also holds a BFA in dance performance from the UMASS Amherst 5 College Dance Program where she was a Chancellor's Talent Award recipient. Jess now works extensively with children, adolescents and professionals as choreographer and teacher and conducts national and international master-classes specializing in the genres of modern, contemporary, musical theatre and choreography-composition. Jess’ national and international performance career includes works such as: The National Tour of Guys & Dolls, The European Tour of Grease, West Side Story, Cabaret, Sweet Charity, Salute to Dudley Moore at Carnegie Hall, guest-dancer with the World Famous Pontani Sisters and IMPULSE Modern Dance Company. Jess has been a faculty member for the Perichild Program & Peridance Youth Ensemble & taught contemporary and jazz at the historic New Dance Group and 92nd Street Y in NYC. She was Company Director at the historic Steffi Nossen School of Dance/Dance in Education Fund and in 2008 traveled to Uganda where she taught creative-movement to misplaced children. The experience culminated with Jess being selected as a featured instructor at the Queen's Kampala Ballet & Modern Dance School. She has conducted workshops for the cast of LA REVE at the Wynn, Las Vegas and recently taught at the 2011 IDS International Dance Teacher Conference at The Royal Ballet in London, UK. She is also on faculty for the annual Dance Teacher Web Conferences in Las Vegas, NV. Currently, Jess is a faculty member at the D'Valda & Sirico Dance & Music Centre and master teacher & adjudicator for various national and international dance competitions. Recently, she has finished her NYU Master’s thesis research on the choreographic process of technically advanced adolescent dancers and is the creator of “PROJECT C;” a choreography-composition curriculum for the private studio sector. Jess is also faculty member, contributing writer and presenter in the choreography and “how to” teaching segments on the celebrated For more info, visit her website at

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