It’s always inspirational as choreographers to walk into rehearsal and feel confident you have dancers who are both technically and artistically mature enough to handle the material you are about to give them. What excites us more is having those able bodies execute our vision as we see it and are limitless to the complexity of the movement we can give them.
On the flip side, as teachers and choreographers, we are also presented with dancers at times who are not as technically advanced, who are beginners or are at the studio for recreational purposes only. Yet, each dancer still deserves the same experience of having a dance set on them they feel good about performing and look forward to.
Sometimes, thinking in basic terms is harder for us than more complicated ones. We are artists as well and when we have movement and ideas our own bodies can do, going back to more simplistic phrases and music can be even more challenging for us. So how do we do it? Below, are some of my tips for setting a fun, well received and professional looking piece for dancers with beginner or limited technique.
Have fun with your music: Especially with younger or beginner dancers, choose music that will inspire them, keep them moving and resonates with them and an audience. The music selection can often be a hit or a miss, so this is a great place to start. Choose music that inspires YOU as well. This will make it easier for you to come up with the phrases and variations you want to set.
Simple movement doesn’t have to be boring: Remember that just because you have beginner dancers doesn’t mean you still need to add every trick and turn in the book. Choose movement that is going to showcase what they can do now, not what they can’t do yet. Clean, single turns are always more impressive than incorporating turns in second with bent legs and sickled feet where they are turning on their heels. Keep extensions at 45 degrees or 90. Choose jumps that they execute well and keep transition steps clean and clear. Think of stylized movement as well which fits the number. Can you incorporate a Charleston step? The Twist? A Grapevine? A Jive/Lindy Hop step? Etc….
Keep it exciting & keep them moving: While the actual choreography may be on the simpler side, your formation changes don’t have to be. They should be constant and interesting. Try using different pathways and intricate changes in formations and groupings. Try multiple exits and entrances coming from each side of the stage. Try small groups and large groups, solos, duets and trios within a large group number.
PROPS: Incorporating a prop is always an excellent way to draw the eye to something visually stimulating and detract from the flaws you’d like to hide. One idea? Beautiful silk scarves or ribbons are an excellent way to enhance a lyrical dance with less technical dancers and can really be a beautiful array of color and movement for the eye from the audience vantage point.
Work on performance quality: While you may not have the most technically advanced dancers, you may have amazing performers and little actors in your group. Play that up! I would always rather see a dancer with less technique who wowed the crowd with their personality, storytelling and charisma vs. a dancer who could pull out five pirouettes in their sleep but are a bore to watch on stage. There is something to be said for the performance aspect of technique, so don’t discount that. Make sure your dancers are understanding what they are dancing about and try to get them to tap into the emotional component of reaching the audience. With the right music that fits their personality and movement which makes them look their best, you will, without a doubt have a piece that audiences will remember and love!
See you in the dance studio,