This nerdy tip will forever change how you choreograph
Choreographing can be a pain in the butt if you’re not used to it. Even if you mainly improvise, if you want to be a pro and teach regular workshops or classes, you’re going to have to get used to creating choreography for your students at some point or another. Just like the art of improvising, the art of choreography is a skill all pros need to learn and will use regularly. Knowing how to choreograph is also imperative if you are entering the world of competitions (that is its own beast, I’ll write a separate email about competitions in the future). Luckily, creating choreography doesn’t have to be complicated and it uses some of the general principles I’ve talked about when it comes to Improvising.
How Excel Spreadsheets will help you choreograph your next piece
I learned this tip from Karen Barbee a few years back and it’s forever changed how I choreograph.
First you want to create an Excel Spreadsheet as such:
In the first column I group together the counts. Second column I have lyrics and in the third I have translations (if there are any). The fourth column is for combinations or sets of movements. After I have the first two columns filled out, I dance the piece out a few times to see if there is anything that immediately jumps out at me and I note it down. I pay attention to what parts repeat (such as the chorus or opening and finale parts), and see how I can repeat the same type of movement or feeling but with a slight change. For example, I want to repeat a traveling movement such as a chasse’ where previously I had my arms in 2nd position. Next time I want to the same chasse’ but with my arms in 5th position, or with a turn in between chasse’. You’ll notice that in the fourth column I also mark when it’s vocals, instrumental, an intro, chorus and finale. This helps me make note when there is any repetition happening and helps me break down the song easier. Once I start filling in the columns and fill the sheet, I go over it a few times to see how it feels and make any changes. It helps to film myself dancing the choreography a few times to see it if conveys what I want it to.
The benefits of using a spreadsheet to choreograph
The beauty of this method is that you visually see the gaps you have to fill in, so there is less overwhelm when you have to start from scratch. You can mark what parts repeat and when you have the translation you can see if there is some gesture that you can make note of. I don’t like overplanning such little interactions but it’s obviously good to know when a certain meaning comes up in the song (and as I’ve mentioned before, it helps to know your stuff). You don’t want to be gesturing something if that doesn’t make sense in that part of the song.
Writing it all out like this may seem like a lot of work but what’s great about this template is that it’s a system you can use and re-use in the future which can save you a lot of time. You just create a new spreadsheet with the same idea, fill it out, and get to work. For me, it’s better than writing out the moves on a piece of paper, not knowing what I meant to do at what part in the music. If you plan on teaching the choreography in a workshop, you can easily refer your students to the spreadsheet and give it out as a workshop note, or you can make changes for other workshops. This is also great to refer to when you are traveling: just upload it to your own Google Drive account, set it to ‘offline’, and you can view it anywhere while you are on the go. Can you tell I’ve created many choreographies mid-flight?
If you choreograph for a troupe this is also a great way to stay organized and share it amongst your troupe members to have as a practice tool. You can even create a separate column and write down stage positions. For example, any row changes, or members 1-5 are stage left while members 6-10 are front and center.
I understand this method won’t work for everyone. Some people have better memories than I do and can just dance it out a few times and remember their own choreography. I used to learn an average of 10 pieces of choreography per month by taking workshops and being part of a troupe back in Orlando, and I would remember them for many months afterwards. My own choreography was always the hardest to remember but if I danced someone else’s at least twice, I forever had it in my muscle memory. Sadly, I’m no longer 17 and after almost 10 years of dance and hundreds of choreographies later, I can’t remember it as easily.
If the way you choreograph now works for you, then great! Feel free to share your tips in the FB group ;) But if you are struggling putting a piece together or don’t know where to start, then try out this method and see how it works for you. I personally like having files of a song with the translation and what I’ve worked on, especially when I’m teaching that choreography at a workshop. When I teach a workshop, I always give out my notes for free (because you paid for it!) and I believe that it’s my job to help you as much as I can. By giving away my notes and spreadsheets, I hope that it’s another way for you to learn and memorize choreography.
Click here to grab the sample spreadsheet and create your own.
This post was originally featured in the Advance Your Bellydance Weekly Newsletter. To get more free tips straight to your inbox, click here to join.