As teachers of Dance we are constantly called upon to create movement, whether it is a few counts of eight, a complete number or a full length Ballet. Some teachers find it an easy continuation of their daily classes and others struggle with the entire process. The reality is that teachers in a dance studio or any school that teaches dance are sometimes going to have students that are technically phenomenal and at other times will be challenged by students who are perhaps mediocre or worse in their technical knowledge. Unlike professional choreographers who are blessed to be able to create their works on elite dancers, the typical dance teacher has to create choreography on students of all ages and types and make them look their best. Why we create choreography usually has very little, if anything, to do with the business side of the studio or schools continued success, however, very often what happens with the choreography does affect the success of the program.

As teachers of Dance we are constantly called upon to create movement, whether it is a few counts of eight, a complete number or a full length Ballet. Some teachers find it an easy continuation of their daily classes and others struggle with the entire process. The reality is that teachers in a dance studio or any school that teaches dance are sometimes going to have students that are technically phenomenal and at other times will be challenged by students who are perhaps mediocre or worse in their technical knowledge. Unlike professional choreographers who are blessed to be able to create their works on elite dancers, the typical dance teacher has to create choreography on students of all ages and types and make them look their best. Why we create choreography usually has very little, if anything, to do with the business side of the studio or schools continued success, however, very often what happens with the choreography does affect the success of the program.

As a general rule of thumb it is better to choreograph for the lowest denominator in any group rather than the highest. If you try to give a group a step or steps that can only be executed correctly by a small minority you have two choices. Either feature the dancers that can do the steps or substitute with other steps that will give the group a uniform appearance. Sometimes, if the dancers can give the choreography a lot of style it will have a better result than trying to give them something that they are just not ready for. As a judge of dance competitions I know that lower scores are always given when technique is too advanced for the dancers. Fouette turns and turns in second are typical steps that simply do not work when multiple dancers are involved because if they are not completely in sync it becomes a mini disaster.

Using a theme is very helpful and gives character to a piece. It also helps the dancers by giving them a chance to use their acting abilities. Keeping those themes age appropriate is important too. There are plenty of years ahead of young dancers when they will be able to dance as young adults. A child of, for example, thirteen cannot possibly feel the same emotions as a seventeen or eighteen year old and so to give them emotional content beyond their comprehension only confuses the dancers and makes them come across as pretenders and not genuine performers.

Personally, I always find that the first step to any choreography that I do must be to find a piece of music that gets inside of me and touches my soul. When it does I know that good things are going to happen! It just makes the whole process seem to go better. Then the key for me is to listen to the music over and over, generally when I am driving in my car, until I know the music inside and out. When teachers have asked me advice on how to choreograph I always give them a small checklist to help them focus in on the components that will make it work.

Find a piece of music that you really like.

Identify the story line or style that you feel the music is leading you to.

Decide which of your dancers would best be able to carry off your idea.

Make a decision if you feel there are opportunities to feature any of the dancers.

Use steps and combinations of steps that the dancers are familiar with and then plan to add some special and different movements to challenge them.

Only give featured dancers technically difficult choreography, especially turn sequences and leaps.

Keep the piece short and sweet. There is an old showbiz saying, Leave them wanting more!

Make sure that the costumes are suitable for the piece in every way. Including but not limited to the design, color and body types. Remembering that what is fashionable for street clothes very often does not flatter the dancers bodies onstage.

Choreograph the way you feel comfortable. There is no law that says you must start at the beginning and go straight through. With some of my most successful choreography I have begun in the middle and worked outwards to the beginning and the end.

Try not to be influenced by your dancers opinions. As their teacher, you are very familiar with each dancers strengths and weaknesses and know what steps and style will suit them best.

Shut yourself in the studio alone and tell everyone that you do not want to be disturbed, then play the music and let your mind and body come together to make the shapes that will work.

As a footnote, choreography should be one of the fun parts of our job. Follow your musical taste and let your creative juices flow. When people ask me what my format is I tell them that I try to get my first count of eight and away I go. The rest will follow!!!