Hey there, choreographer! Do you ever wish there was an all-encompassing list that you could refer back to to make sure you’ve covered all your bases and made a great piece of choreography?
Well, there is! I call it the Choreographer’s Checklist!
I have years of experience choreographing in a variety of settings, so this list is an amalgamation of all that knowledge.
Here we go!
First things first. Does your piece properly tell the story or create the atmosphere that you’re going for? Will someone who doesn’t have the privilege of seeing what’s going on inside your head understand the piece upon watching it for the first time? When watching your piece, do you feel the sadness you’re trying to convey or are you feeling more blah?
Have you made an appropriate music choice for the style of dance you’re creating? For the age group you’re choreographing for? For their skill level? For the theme of the show?
Do you need to make edits to your music? Are there curses that need to be removed? Are you splicing multiple songs together? Is your piece too long? Do the edits sound seamless or will they jar the audience out of the performance?
Music is such an important part of your choreography! This is one major aspect of your work that you’re going to want to really carefully consider.
We’re still just building the foundation of your piece, but dance style needs to be considered. If you’re choreographing a high school dance scene in a musical, you may want to rethink the contemporary combination. If you’re choreographing a ballet routine, audiences might get confused when you throw in a shuffle ball change.
If you’ve chosen to choreograph within a dance style, stick to that dance style. There is always room to push to the limit, but that needs to be done with purpose and with the audience in mind.
You always need to ask yourself, “Are my dancers capable of doing this piece well?” Now, I’m a big fan of challenging my dancers with their choreography and encouraging them to reach for those difficult steps. You have to be careful about that, however. With time and experience, you’ll be able to better gauge what’s a challenging combination that just needs a little extra practice, and what is beyond the abilities of your dancers.
It still amazes me how a simple formation change or a travelling step can make a routine so much more exciting! Use your stage!
When choreographing for a soloist or a small group, be mindful that you might have one small dancer on a massive stage. Use the space. Incorporate travelling steps into the routine so the dancers don’t stay on stage left for the entire performance. Ugh, I feel so bad when that happens.
If you have a larger group to work with, play with different formations throughout the routine. Some classic formations are horizontal lines, columns, circles, and clumps. Try to get creative with your formations so your audience doesn’t get bored. Bonus points for using your set if you have access to one!
- What is a Choreographer’s Job?
- How to Choreograph a Dance Combination
- 6 Ways Music Theory Made Me a Better Dancer
Ask yourself if you’ve used your music to enrich the choreography. This will have a lot to do with your music choice and creating the appropriate atmosphere for the routine. Questions to ask yourself include: Have I brought out any important lyrics? Are there certain accents or instruments I want to feature? Does the rhythm of the dancers match the rhythm of the music? (Or does it purposely not match?) Have I considered any changes in the music?
Humans are naturally musical. Maybe your audience won’t realize how genius it was for you to have the dancers move along the floor for the quiet part of the song, but they will feel weird if you decide to continue doing massive jumps even though the song went quiet.
Especially if you’re choreographing for competitive dancers, you’ll want to consider which and how many tricks go into their routine. Double check that you haven’t put the same double pirouette in 4 times while you’ve neglected other turns. You want these tricks to be challenging, yes. But ultimately, you want your performers to feel confident about their routine before they go on stage.
So so so so so so important! Nothing takes an audience out of a routine like a dancer stopping their flow in order to very obviously prepare for their next dance move. Dancers aren’t gymasts – they don’t get that moment to stare down the tumble track and take a breath. The choreography needs to do that job for them.
Transitions are everywhere, though, and need to be as seamless (or purposely jarring) as possible. Transitions to consider include moving from a standing position to the floor, from a trick back into stylized movements, from one side of the stage to the other, from a loud section to a quiet section, etc.
I personally dread getting told that my work is boring. At least if someone actively doesn’t like my work, it’s strong enough to induce an opinion. But boredom means the work didn’t do anything!!
Add variety in your choreography to avoid the dreaded boring routine – variety to the speed of movement, levels, what you draw out of the music, dynamics, fluidity, etc.
Choreographing is hard. But it is so much fun and so rewarding to see your work come alive. I’ve had moments watching a routine go on in front of an audience where the dancers did everything just as I had dreamed they would and the vision in my head unfolds on the stage and everything falls into place and I’m just in awe of how it all came together. I want this checklist to help you reach that same place, too.
I’ve created a free download for you called the Choreographer’s Checklist so you can access it easily any time you’re choreographing a routine. You can get it by signing up for the See Heather Smile email newsletter here. If you’re already sighed up for the newsletter and want the checklist, shoot me an email and I’ll confirm you’ve already subscribed.
This list is meant to be a helpful guide if you get stuck. Don’t let it rule your choreographing process. And if there are rules you want to bend, go for it! But bend them on purpose.
Good luck with your creating!