“To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful… This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking” - Agnes De Mille
There are an estimated 17,000 dancers or choreographers in the UK. If you want to join them and learn how to dance, you’ll also need to learn choreography and how to make your own. No matter which type of dancing you do, be it contemporary dance, hip hop, Argentine tango, or rock, you’ll probably end up choreographing routines at some point.
Even if you’re not a choreographer, practising and creating dance routines can be enjoyable. Here’s our advice on how to do it.
Creating Choreography: Choosing a Style of Dance
The first thing you need to do is choose the style of dancing you’ll use in your choreography. You should probably choose a style that you’re familiar with as there are plenty of different types of dance:
- Ballroom dancing, waltz, tango, rock ‘n’ roll, cha-cha, jive.
- Latin, Cuban salsa, samba, rumba.
- Modern jazz dance.
- Oriental dance
- The Lindy hop, foxtrot
- Latin dance
- Folk dance
- Contemporary or modern dance
- West coast swing dance
- Classical ballet
You can also blend several styles of dance. However, this means you’ll need to master at least two types of dancing. For example, you could fuse oriental dance and jazz to create something quite original.
Find out more about learning choreography.
Creating Choreography: Choosing the Music
This is a crucial step when it comes to creating music. The music needs to speak to you, mean something, and make you feel. You can’t just pick some music out of a hat and create choreography to it.
Of course, it’s much easier to create choreography when the style of music matches the style of dancing you’d like to do. Certain genres of music are made for dancing. However, when you create a fusion, you can break a few rules. You could always do some hip hop dancing over classical music.
Study the Music
Before you start any choreography, you’ll need to study the music that you’re going to use. Listen to it a few times until you remember it. You’ll need to know the music off by heart if you want to dance to it.
You can also make a note of the emotions that the music inspires.
If there are lyrics, do they tell a story or have any personal significance to you?
Focus on some of the lyrics and try to translate the emotions they make you feel into your choreography.
Analyse the structure of the song: the intro, the verse, the chorus, the bridge, etc. Pop-rock music is often constructed similarly. Here’s what your notes on the structure should look like:
- Intro: 2 x 8 beats.
- Verse 1: 4 x 8 beats.
- Chorus: 2 x 8 beats.
- Verse 2: 4 x 8 beats.
- Chorus: 2 x 8 beats.
- Bridge: 3 x 8 beats.
- Chorus x 2: 4 x 8 beats.
- Outro: 1 x 8 beats.
This is an important stage of the choreography process so that you can plan out what you need to do. Focus on the stresses within the music.
If there are words in another language, you might want to look up what they mean so that you can be sure that you’re conveying the right feelings.
Now it’s time to start planning out your choreography. If you’re doing jazz, African, or ragga dancehall, your teacher may ask you to improvise.
In oriental dance, for example, it’s quite common to improvise in a circle at the end of each session.
If you’ve never improvised, you’re going to have to dive straight in. Improvisation can free up your emotions without you having to think too much about technique. Follow the rhythm without feeling trapped in a particular choreography. This might seem quite paradoxical. However, everything comes from improvisation.
It’s a good idea to film yourself while you improvise. After having studied music and dance, you can start improvising while filming yourself. Don’t watch the videos between sessions as it’ll influence your improvisation.
Leave the videos to one side for a few hours or come back to them the following days. Regard the videos you’ve made and highlight the parts that you’d like. Note down the minute of each part you’d like to use.
You may even want to write down your ideas on a sheet of paper if it helps you with your choreography. Don’t forget about using visual aids as it’ll be much easier to correct mistakes further down the line.
Discover some of the easiest dance routines.
Creating Choreography: Putting the Steps Together
There’ll be gaps where you’re not exactly sure what you should be doing. Don’t worry about them for the time being.
Fine-tune the parts that you’ve already got. Perfect these movements and consider filming yourself doing them so you remember them.
Fill in the Gaps
As you practise your choreography, you can still improvise during the gaps. If you’re still fresh out of ideas, go back to your original footage and see if there are any steps of movements that you might want to use elsewhere.
Film yourself improvising again and check if there’s something you could use as a transition between two parts.
Check out some of the best online choreogrpahy tutorials.
More Advice for Creating Choreography
Whether it’s modern jazz, hip hop, or dancehall, dancers who’d like to create choreography need to keep a few things in mind:
- Warm-up before you start: warming up is essential if you don’t want to hurt yourself.
- Focus on the beginning and the end. In the beginning, you need to grab the audience’s attention. Start with impressive movements and your entrance. In the end, you need to leave a good impression.
- Vary between calm and quick movements: you can’t go full-throttle throughout or you’ll be exhausted. You’ll need cardio performance for jumps, spins, etc.
- Keep it simple and go with the music: you don’t need to show off everything you’re capable of. You can have technical sections but you need to ensure that they go with the music. Like with rests in music, a moment of “silence” in a routine can express more than a dozen spins or doing the splits mid-air.
- You can use the same sequence multiple times: just like music has a chorus, you can use the same sections and sequences multiple times. This allows the audience to gain familiarity with your routine. Sometimes you might want to bookend the whole performance by making the start and finish similar.
- No half-measures when it comes to your movement. Each movement needs a good reason to be included in your routine and well-executed from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. This can also help give your choreography some intensity.
- Don’t mime the words: there’s nothing more ridiculous than a dancer lipsyncing. You’re a dancer, not a comedian. The audience came to see dancing. Avoid singing along, too. The audience doesn’t want that, either.
- Use the space: if you’re performing in a small space, you mightn't be able to move around much, but you should make the most of the space you have, especially if you’re the only dancer. It makes your routine more dynamic and will capture the audience’s attention. Use every inch of the stage you can. And make sure you use the right moves to get around.
Regularly study your choreography so that you don’t forget it!
So are you ready to show off what you’ve created?
If you're interested in learning more about how to dance, consider getting in touch with the many talented and experienced tutors on Superprof. You can get either face-to-face tutorials, online tutorials, and group tutorials and each type of tutorial comes with its pros and cons so you have to think carefully about which will work for you, your preferred learning style, and your budget.
Face-to-face private tutorials are between you and your tutor. The lessons will be designed with you in mind and your tutor will be spending time outside of the lessons planning and preparing them. Of course, this all comes at a cost so expect to pay more for these types of tutorials than the others available.
Online tutorials, while better suited to academic subjects rather than hands-on subjects, are also available for dancing. Since the tutor doesn't have to travel to you and can schedule far more tutorials a week, they can charge more competitive rates.
Group tutorials tend to cost less per person per hour because everyone in the class is paying for it. While you won't get as much one-on-one time with your private tutor, the lessons take on a very different dynamic. Furthermore, group dance classes mean that you won't always have to dace with the same partner or your tutor in every single lesson.