Choreographing to Music or Without? Which is Better?

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Photo Provided by Dance Teacher Summit

As a Conference Manager of a Dance Teacher event, I am constantly looking at trends of other events, reading blogs/Facebook posts, and gathering one-on-one feedback that gives me insight on what dance teachers need to continue to improve their educational outlook.  One of the conversations that I keep seeing are requests on song suggestions.

It is an interesting concept to start with music before developing the choreography/movement phrasing.  Of course there are benefits to both creating with music and creating without. So, let’s take a look at the pros and cons as well as what is really important in the choreographic process.

  1. Story line – If you have a theme for your recital or performances, having dedicated songs that have the story line built in could help in the creative process of setting the scene for your audience.  If you do not have a set theme, it could pigeon hole you to choreograph to the words of the music instead of developing unique and cohesive phrasing that fits with what your dancers are capable of doing.
  2. Phrasing – One of the greatest things I loved about going to college for dance was my composition classes.  In class, we developed our own choreography as well as learned how to develop work that could expand into more than just a small movement phrase or even longer than a 2-3 minute piece.  We learned about inversions, speed changes, repetition…etc.  Each step/phrasing doesn’t need to be different or a trick or connected to a word.  It needs to be intertwined to what already has been created.  Ask yourself what are your building blocks in the choreography?  This will help you to develop the work without music.
  3. Emotion – What is the emotional connection?   Music has the power to invoke feeling, but the real question is can the choreography stand on it’s own, or is every piece of emotion in the music?  When you are choreographing a piece, record and watch it in silence.  You will be surprised to see what affect a piece of music can do to your phrasing.  A song can help blossom your work to a new level, or it can carry your piece and be the only thing the audience remembers. Remember this!
  4. Dancer Connection/Artistry – Coaching and directing is an important part of teaching choreography to your dancers.  It is vital that they feel connected to the piece.  As discussed previously, music can draw emotions out of people.  A song can help dancers relate, remind them of a personal experience, or inspire them.  Can your choreography do that?  Have you explained the meaning of the piece to your dancers?  Have a discussion about this.  If you have choreographed to specific music, the music can be a guide for the dancers.  If you are just working with phrasing, explain the story to them.  Ask them how they can connect.  This in turn will drive a personal connection to the piece for your dancers and help them to invest in your vision.

Music verse no music?  At the end of the day it can be either.  It just depends on your approach.  How you choreograph as an individual.  It is about the four items above – story line, phrasing, emotion, and artistry.  Connecting your dancers is vital to the process.  Every movement, piece of music, facial expression, and dancer should be invested in the best interest of the performance of the work.