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If you’re a dancer, you’ve probably learned plenty of routines—but what if you want to choreograph a dance yourself? Even if you have years of experience in a studio and know how to learn choreography, sequencing your own dance can be a challenge. Below, learn everything you need to know, from the basics (how do you spell choreography, anyway?) to a step-by-step guide for creating dance choreography.
What Is Choreography?
Let’s start with a choreography definition: It’s the art of creating and arranging dances. Think of it like the art of composing music. A composer writes music, which musicians then perform. Similarly, a choreographer creates a routine for a dancer (or a group of dancers) to perform.
However, there’s more to dance choreography than stringing together a few moves. Choreographers incorporate a range of elements into their work, including music, floor patterns, a narrative or storyline, the expression of emotions, and the audience’s perception.
The Difference Between Dance and Choreography
Dance and choreography are intertwined, but they’re not the same. Dance is a performance art form. It consists of sequences of movement that can be improvised or planned—and that’s where choreography comes in. Choreography is the process of creating those planned movements.
There are also important differences between dancers and choreographers. While choreographers plan sequences of movement, dancers bring that work to life. It’s important to note that not all dancers are choreographers, and not all choreographers are dancers.
5 Famous Choreographers
- Paul Taylor is known as one of the early pioneers of modern dance, as both a dancer and choreographer.
- George Balanchine served as the artistic director and main choreographer for the New York City Ballet. Today, he is regarded as one of the most influential ballet choreographers of the 20th century.
- Martha Graham was a dancer and choreographer who created a unique modern dance style known as the Graham technique.
- Alvin Ailey was an African-American dancer, choreographer, and activist. His work fused together multiple styles of dance, including ballet, jazz, modern dance, and theater.
- Isadora Duncan was a dancer and choreographer who preferred natural movement and improvisation over traditional, rigid ballet technique, and strived to express emotion through movement.
8 Different Types of Choreography
Choreography is used in a wide range of fields, including:
- Dance (across multiple styles, including ballet, jazz, hip-hop, ballroom, contemporary, and tap)
- Marching band
- Ice skating
- Synchronized swimming
- Cinematography (action scenes, for example, often require fight choreography)
How to Choreograph a Dance Yourself
Step 1: Let the Music Inspire You
First, choose your music and spend some time listening to it. Think about the mood it evokes and what you want to convey through the dance, whether you tell a story or simply want to express an emotion. Envision what types of movements and formations will work with the music to bring that vision to life.
Step 2: Move Your Body
Next, let your body move to the music. See what movements come naturally at different points in the song. Test out different steps and sequences to see what works and what doesn’t. This step isn’t about getting the dance perfect—it’s about experimenting and allowing the dance to come together organically.
Step 3: Think Through the Dance in Sections
You don’t have to design a dance in sequence from beginning to end. If there’s a certain section of the song that inspires you, start there! Develop a few main portions of the routine, and then fill in the gaps between those sections.
Step 4: Edit and Polish
Once you have a complete routine, take a look at it as a whole. Are there any sections that need refinement or don’t feel right? Choreographing a dance is about trial and error, so don’t hesitate to re-do sections of the dance until you are happy with the entire routine.
Finally, make sure to write down your choreography so you don’t forget it. Strategies for how to write choreography differ for every creator, but it typically includes recording stage directions, descriptions of formations, and notes about steps, counts, and lyrics.
The best choreography is choreography that’s true to you. Take the time to listen to the music and experiment, and you’ll create a dance that’s a true expression of you as a dancer.
Master the Art of Choreography
Create Memorable Dance Choreography