If you’re a choreographer, you might get the opportunity to create pieces for multiple kinds of movers. There are trained dancers at a variety of levels and in a variety of styles. You’ve also got vocal groups who want to add flair to their performance with some choreographed pieces. Choreographing for these populations are very different experiences.
Here’s the difference between choreographing for dancers and choirs.
In a purely dance routine, the focus of the choreography is going to be on dance skills and style. The movement of the performers is the primary artwork.
When choreographing for a choir, the performers still need to be able to sing. The choreography is then complementing the music rather than taking centre stage. Your choreography for a choir will be not as physically demanding as it might be when choreographing for a dance routine.
The only limitations for choreographing a routine for dancers are your performer’s abilities (skill level and endurance) and your imagination. You can play with timing and physicality all you like.
With a choir, however, you don’t want the movement to take over the routine. If the movement is too complex, the choristers might lose their lyrics or vocal quality because they’re trying to handle so much information in their head. Because of complex movement, you might fatigue the choristers, which will affect their singing. The intention of a choral performance with movement is not necessarily to wow the audience with a fabulous dance routine, but rather to add another layer of entertainment.
Dancers often get to use a whole stage. Choristers are often set on risers. You’ll want to carefully consider whether or not you want to try formation changes with 40 people squeezed onto a set of risers. Safety is the most important aspect of being a choreographer!
One bonus with choreographing on risers is that it opens up opportunities for playing with levels among the group in a whole new way.
Frankly, when instructing a choir, you’re not going to use the dance terms you might use with your trained dancers. Say pas de bourrée to them and they’ll scratch their heads and ask if you’re okay.
In dance you might speak to your performers using dance terms, counting in phrases of 8, or using lyrics to help explain your vision.
With choristers, you’ll find it extremely helpful to speak to them in terms of their lyrics, their rhythms, their cut-offs (the moment the conductor tells them to stop singing), and even in terms of the different parts they’re singing (the sopranos aren’t singing the same thing as the basses!) Which brings me to the final difference between choreographing for dancers and choristers.
When choreographing for dancers, you are working with a blank slate. You get to decide what each performer is doing and when.
Working with a choir is different because each performer already has a job in terms of singing their parts, and you as the choreographer have to work around that. Sometimes it works out and you can just have everyone doing the same movement for the whole song. Other times the different vocal parts (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) might be so different that they call for different movement. (Here is where reading music is a really great skill!)
- The Choreographer’s Checklist
- 6 Ways Music Theory Made Me A Better Dancer
- What is a Choreographer’s Job (in Musical Theatre)
Being able to choreograph for different kinds of performers is a great skill and will only make you more valuable as a freelance choreographer. It takes time to figure out what works best with different skill levels and performance types, but it’s a lot of fun working towards those new challenges.
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