Choreography and creating your own performance can be daunting. I was racked with nerves for my first solo, not just because it meant getting up on stage in a bikini, but because I was about to share something of me …with you…out there. An idea, a feeling, a story. The act of expression is still something that opens me up and leaves me vulnerable. It’s an art however that I’m attempting to hone as I learn what different movements and body language can mean. Beyond body rolls and hair flicks I want to tell a story with my dancing, take the audience on a journey and leave them breathless.
After committing myself to my first solo performance in 2011, my instructor asked me to come along to a practice time in the studio. I showed her my song and she gave me tips about how to match my movements to the tempo and feeling. She encouraged me to use familiar combos in the chorus and work with spins and floor work in the verses. A simple format that offered me structure and direction as a beginner.
At the time I had only been dancing for about six months and my combos were easy to choose from – climb to sit, layback, hangback, dismount. My repertoire of spins was also small – an angel, chair spin, ankle spin, and lots of forward and back hooks.
I fleshed out a routine and used my most impressive move at the time (a bat AKA ankle grab) for the big climax. In retrospect I can see that the dark, melancholic song was the perfect match to allow me to hide a little on stage, close my eyes and pretend the audience might not be there. The familiar combos got me through, but this style of dancing is a long way from my preference and my current goals that I try to achieve in my performances today.
Over the years, I’ve found new ways to choreograph routines. A standard process involved choosing a song, then mapping out the lyrics, changes in tempo and feeling, and standout musical elements and then going from there, adding combos that emphasize the feeling or character I wish to portray and connecting all the pieces with dance elements and floorwork ideas. This process offered a consistent approach that lent itself to over 15 different solos. Relying on the music to set the tone contained my ideas to 2-4 minutes yet still offered scope for me to begin to develop characters and story telling techniques.
Recently however, I became addicted to watching Merce Cunningham on YouTube. Cunningham died in 2009 but his legacy and contribution to modern dance continue through the Cunningham Dance Foundation.
One element of his approach suggests making the choreography stand on it’s own aside from the music and he often asks his dancers and composers to work separately. Intrigued by this idea I started experimenting with movement, both on and off the pole, without a song in mind. A concept evolved and a connection to a story. Gradually I had a sequence of movements, a flow, a pole combo, and floorwork and it had no music.
When I found the song that I wanted to dance to, it was fascinating how it suddenly came together. I pressed play and taped my choreography so I could watch it back. Small movements hit beats and expressed a musicality I could have never imagined. It wasn’t perfect, and in many ways it was disturbing as I watched my body out of sync, so to speak, with the rhythms of the song. But as I continued watching there was a new meaning that emerged from those inconsistencies.
Now reaching the end of the choreography process and having a finished routine, it looks different to the original musicless flow. I have made adjustments for the sake of musicality and narrative. However the thread from those initial experiments is still there, and I doubt I would have such an unique performance if I had stuck to my previous choreography methods.
On a side note, the way I record my choreography has also evolved to account for this change. In my pole journal I have pages of documented moves, matched to lyrics and musical annotation – rise, fireman spin, land, right hand high, turn under, angel. Or even simpler notes related to combos – straddle, outside leg hang, cupid, butterfly.
Changing the way I think about movement, and seeking inspiration from Merce Cunningham and other contemporary dancers, I have had to find new ways to explain what I am doing when I’m dancing. Researching how best to do this I came across Labanation . This dance notation blew my mind with it’s complexity and attention to detail. It was way to in depth for me to adopt for my current needs but it has influenced my recording process, inspiring a more visual diagrammatic record.
This is just one of the images from my current choreography, a small but poignant window into what’s been going on inside my head and inside my body.
If you’re looking to create a solo performance or would like advice for your routine, I’d love to help! I am also available to take bookings for workshops related to choreography. Click here to contact me directly.