How To Become a Better Choreographer

Over the past five years or so, I have accumulated an array of tips that have enabled me to become a better choreographer. Just under two years ago I published “3 ways to become a better choreographer” and, after a short review of this text, I have realised how important it is to remain open and to steer clear of my own and others’ rules when it comes to creating dance. You see, at the time of writing that post, and all of my previous posts, I was going through a process of learning by sharing information. The logging of key points, like those listed below, has given me a database to refer back to whenever I need it. Plus, it allows me to connect with other performers and choreographers around the world whose comments can enlighten me further. Below, you will find the three points that were listed in the post mentioned above, along with an updated reflection of each idea. This can be very useful to you if have been creating dance for a little, or a long time. Allow my words to prompt you to question your own way of working.

Stick to what you know, unless you know that the new way works

There are many ways to create dance and because I am interested in movement research, I enjoy playing the trial and error game in order to find new and innovative ways of working. However, until I know what works and what doesn’t, I think it is best to stick to methods that I know are effective and expand from there. There is no point in fixing something that is not broken. This would only complicate things. If you have a successful way of working already, use it and add to it. Don’t eliminate it, especially when you are in a time restricted creative process.

Whilst I continue to agree with and adhere to the first point “stick to what you know, unless you know that the new way works”, I would now add on to it. Actually, I would just switch it around to this; “find new ways of working and then, if necessary, refer back to what you already know”. The “if necessary” could be something like a time restricted creative process where you have to use what you know works in order to get the job done in a short time. Approaching practice with an enthusiasm to employ new methods will expand your creative tool kit and amplify your openness as a choreographer.

Don’t Finish the Work Before You Have Started

I used to always be so eager to finish a new work that I would know what the dance looked like before I had even started. This might sound like it is a really positive thing. However, it was, for me, quite the opposite. It was restrictive and left no room for spontaneity. If this sounds like you, you should use your “end goal” as a guide but don’t let it prevent you from allowing accidents to happen in the studio. If you are filming your work and you or one of your dancers performs a movement wrong, but it actually looked better than the original movement, change it. Allow change to happen and see it as an added bonus that can truly enhance the work you had in mind.

My view on this point remains static, particularly because it has encouraged me to pay close attention to the details that have occurred throughout the creation of my most recent dance works. For instance, on several occasions, I have often reverted back to 40% completion of a work that I thought was at 95% complete. This pivot point occurs as a result of further reading and or improvisation. Although this can be fairly annoying because of the hours I had already dedicated to the work, I am grateful for those moments because they teach me to let go of what is not working and to keep searching until I find something that does work.

Look at You Beliefs. Do you tell yourself you are not very creative? For a long time, I did. I told myself I wasn’t good at improvisation and that I preferred to be a body as an instrument for someone else, rather than a body who has a voice and mind of its own. This is fairly common amongst dancers; I listened to a podcast(source unknown – wifi dropped and lost) the other day about what it is to be a choreographer and the guy who was leading the show told himself he wasn’t very good at choreography and so he just danced everyone else’s ideas instead. Of course, he later went on to realize his talent as a choreographer, but it took time. It took time to learn and to believe that he did have a mind of his own. If you look at it this way, choreography is just a physical language. Think about how you arrange a conversation when you speak; the tone of your voice, the pauses, and the gaps when you are thinking of what to say next… Dance can be the same. Also, remember, before you had the ability to speak, you used gestures to communicate. Ask yourself if you still use them.

This piece of advice, “look at your beliefs”, again, still stands, but I approach it from a deeper perspective. For instance, instead of considering my ability as a choreographer and whether or not I am superior or inferior, I reach for a core belief of mine that never shifts in value. This belief is that I am able to speak through my body. This means I am intrinsically driven by the fact that my body can speak for me, so even if I do go into the studio feeling a little inadequate, I spend a few moments expressing those thoughts through my body (trust me, I have hundreds of improvisations about what it is to be a choreographer). Not only does this act as a great starting point for a movement warm up, but it also strengthens my capability to draw from autobiography as stimulus for movement.

In addition to all of the points above, I think the self-review of this post, alone, is an accurate demonstration of how you can shift thinking as a choreographer if you are prepared to consider dance making as more than putting steps together. Question yourself and your process as you move forward. If you already know that, then all of the above is will be relatable. If you don’t question yourself, start with the above.

Rowena x

Don’t forget to check out “choreography cards” to enhance your own creative tool kit. And “Speaking through Movement”.

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