With being a choreographer comes running choreography rehearsals. You have to teach 1-50 people the movements that you have whirling in your head or jotted on your Dance Planner Worksheet. You only have a set amount of time, you have a whole dance number to get through, and you have a lot of translating to do from your ideas to their bodies’ abilities.
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It’s clear that you need to be able to run a great choreography rehearsal or else you’ll come to the end of your time with a subpar product and an unfavourable reputation.
So how do you run a decent choreography rehearsal?
Don’t walk into the room not having thought about this rehearsal and what you expect from the choreography. Arrive knowing what the choreography is or at least how you’re going to workshop with the performers in order to make it. There is a difference between letting the choreography come to life through workshopping and coming to rehearsal with the idea that you’re just going to wing it. Everyone will be able to tell if you’ve come to rehearsal unprepared and it will leave them feeling either a lack of respect for you, disappointment, or like they’re an afterthought.
Have a plan for your time.
This one can be tricky. It’s tough to know how long teaching certain pieces or sections is going to take. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. Whether you’re a seasoned choreographer or not, you know how long your rehearsal is going to be. That means if you have a three hour rehearsal and three pieces to work through, you’re not going to want to spend two hours on the first piece and leave an hour for the other two – not the best time management.
Ways to break up your rehearsal are into songs if you have multiple pieces to work through, sections if you only have one piece, parts if you have different groups of performers doing different things, difficulty level of sections, or by combination.
For example, I once had a rehearsal with 3 pieces to teach; I taught the hardest first because I knew it would take the longest, the easiest second because I knew it would go by very fast and it would be a good pick-me-up for the performers, and the moderate song last.
Give performers breaks throughout rehearsal.
Depending on how many performers you’re working with and how long your rehearsal is, you need to give your performers breaks. It’s a good time for them to re-energize (either by chatting with a friend or sitting alone for a moment), get out their chatty energy, grab a snack or water, review work they’ve already learned, or write their choreography. Decide ahead of time if you’re okay with performers using break time to ask you questions or if you need to have a break yourself.
Make your rehearsal expectations clear.
Especially if this is your first time with this group of performers, you need to set your rehearsal expectations. Make clear your expectations on talking, leaving the rehearsal space, what the goal of rehearsal is, when performers can expect a break, and anything else that you think your performers need to know.
You might be a drill-sergeant in rehearsals, but your current group is used to a far more lax style of rehearsal. It’s not fair to anyone to expect get upset at performers for not changing their regular rehearsal style if you haven’t given them the chance.
Don’t take disrespect.
Once you’ve made your expectations clear, don’t let anyone you’re choreographing for treat you with any disrespect. That includes talking while you’re teaching, leaving the rehearsal mid-explanation, undermining your authority over that rehearsal, and any other general rudeness. The fact is you’re in charge, you’ve been hired because you have a legitimate skill and talent, and you deserve the respect of the people you’re working with. Do not take disrespect. I repeat. Do not take disrespect!
Your first explanation of your choreography might not make sense to some people. Try saying it a different way. If you used counts, try lyrics, or percussive sounds (one of my favourites – “Ka! Ba-ba! Boom, boom!”).
Find different words or pictures to describe the kind of movement you’re looking for. You want the performers to move sharper? Faster? Smoother? What about silky? Slinky? Robotic? Like they’re flailing? Like they’re moving through water? Like they touched something hot? Like they hit a wall? Like someone is pushing them down? Like someone is holding them back? Find a way to say what you’re seeing so your performers can see it, too.
Also on the communication front, sometimes I get questions that I’m not sure to answer. We all speak differently and that’s okay. So every time I answer a question, I turn to the question asker and say, “Did I answer your question?” It gives them a chance to stop me from moving on if my answer wasn’t helpful.
Spend the last 10-15 minutes of rehearsal on review.
Unfortunately, people are prone to forgetting half of what happened in rehearsal, so don’t spend the last 10 minutes trying to cram in as much choreography as you can. The performers won’t remember it. Instead, use that time at the end to review what they’ve learned so far and drill it so it sticks as much as possible. It will save everyone some head ache down the road.
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I’ve definitely broken some of these rules and seen first-hand the gong show that ensues, which is why they’re on this list!
Running a choreography rehearsal is hard work! You have a big job of setting movement to people that might not move the same way as each other or yourself. But if you keep these tips in mind, you should be able to run a decent choreography rehearsal.
Do you have any other tips for running rehearsals or practices?
Enjoy the journey!