Choreography: the magical process

Recently I had a discussion with one of my university business lecturers about how he can appreciate dancing but what most impresses him is how the choreographer can actually come up with the moves in the first place. He said to me “I love music. I understand some of the technical recording and mixing. I can sing it back to you reasonably well. Can I translate it into meaningful movement? Nope. That’s the bit that fascinates me. That creative leap that some people can make but most can’t.” It’s an interesting thing to consider – how, out of nowhere, we can decide ‘yep, this is what my body should do next’.

So I guess the question is: how does the brain and body manage to connect sound to movement? And not only movement, but something with motives and emotional charge. Realistically, it’s really hard to define and most choreographers will probably just say: I don’t know, it just happens. But I’m going to try and flesh out some thoughts from my own brain and from those of some amazing dancers and choreographers who I’ve met and worked with over the years! Here goes…

For me, I think it’s sort of like everyone has the potential inside of them to choreograph but only some people have the key inside them to unlock it, allowing you to intuitively decide where your body is going to move next. Like, yes, you may think I’d like to include moves x, y, and z in your dance piece but when you listen to the music it’s like your brain shuts off and your body just moves in different ways that you can play around with and judge if it  feels right or not. What I also find particularly curious and amazing is that when two choreographers collaborate you sometimes sync up and can both sense the same next step, harder still to explain but fascinating. This creativity is kind of this intangible presence that guides your body as you make these decisions and I think that is one of the most amazing and magical forces that you can experience as a human. Not everyone is lucky enough to know how to channel their emotions into something as cathartic as dance but if you are, nothing will ever compare to dancing it all out – anger, fear, joy, sadness can all be worked through in a physical way that is not only harmless but a beneficial creation of art. This subliminal but personal side of dance is what makes it not only a sport but an art too. That undefinable intuition is pretty magical.

Shakeel Singh, beautiful contemporary dancer who studies at Laban, an absolute star and one of my best friends of all time from Rock Challenge: “I think choreography is a craft. Quite a daunting craft for dancers, sometimes, who struggle to articulate their ideas through movement in ways that ‘look good’. When in fact, there is no sense of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ choreography, but rather successful and unsuccessful choreography. Successful choreographies can vary; that of which depicts and portrays a clear intention/narrative/theme/starting point, is entertaining and engaging, or perhaps coherent between all constituent features. These days, choreography, more so in the contemporary world, is often created through task-based improvisation. Successful movement is identified and more improvisation occurs, perhaps with a narrower idea/stimulus, then movement is further evaluated, refined and constructed. After this, you usually move from the construction to the ‘play’ stage where you manipulate, exaggerate and exploit your intentions. I find it interesting how some people have a natural niche for choreography and others struggle so much. However, all dancers utilise their artistic licence in the studio – with choosing exactly how long to sustain or suspend a movement, or what dynamics to input into movement.

Rebecca Miller, one of my dance competition friends who now runs her own amazing street dance studio called The Edge in Thurso: “I think choreography comes from the music rather than the dance steps. I think anyone can have the ability to put moves together, but to link music, steps, dynamics, transitions and emotions etc., that’s what I class as a piece of choreography. Which I do believe only select people can do well enough so that people grasp the aspect or story-line of a dance. I think it’s just those gifted with the ability to portray a story or link movements with other aspects of performance who can really call themselves a choreographer, otherwise all you are doing is linking moves and steps and well anyone can do that if given a couple moves”.

Katrina Clark, another lovely Rock Challenge pal and the fantastic Dundee University Dance Club President 2016/17: “I think choreography is something you either have or you don’t, some fantastic dancers just can’t choreograph and will openly admit that. It’s such an individual thing and everyone does it in their own way. For me, I listen to the music and just stand there and I keep listening to it, and then I just start to move in the way I want to and the way I feel is right, and if I like it I repeat it so I remember it, and if it’s rubbish I listen again and try again. I am so much better at it on my own, because I can choose exactly what I want to do. It never takes a lot of time because I always choose music I am passionate about, and that’s where a huge part of my inspiration comes from. If I listen to a song and picture myself dancing to it, then I’ll choreograph easily to it, if I can’t see or feel anything with music then I wouldn’t choose to dance to it. In my opinion it’s very difficult to be told by someone else which song to choreograph to, or a specific style because I can’t work to what other people want, it’s more about what I feel and what I visualise. We all do different things and it’s one of my favourite parts of dancing. I love picking a song that I love and just dancing to the music whatever the style. But more than that, I love choreographing to music and telling a story through movement and the sound and I think this is one of the most special parts of choreography, is that you can tell more stories than words ever could, and can express emotions that we can’t verbally. And to me, this is a very powerful tool.”

Please feel free to discuss in the comments what choreography is to you!

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