My process for choosing music:
If the song has a specific context that I know about or came across through research, that gets considered as well. I may also watch the video.
So many songs with a great groove that would be fun to dance to get disqualified because they are either overly suggestive, or demeaning towards women.
I try to find a workable balance across all those criteria. Once I’ve made my choices, I purchase the music, then cut or remix it as necessary.
Creating a dance is a little like cooking. You need ingredients to combine in order to have something to eat by supper time. Students have been working on technique since September, learning steps and combinations (the ingredients), and how to perform them with dynamics and style. Last week we really got rolling on creating dance pieces for the show, which involves taking those ingredients (steps and combinations) and combining them into a delicious dish (choreography).
Unlike baking, where the recipe is very clear about what goes into the cake and in what proportions, there are no set recipes for creating a dance piece. Depending on the theme of the piece and the music or soundscape chosen, a choreographer might choose to come up with movement and structure first, and then set it to music, or look to the music to guide their movement ideas.
In this show, many of the songs we use have a verse-chorus, verse-chorus, bridge, chorus structure. By mirroring the song structure for some of our choreography, it limits the amount of material a student has to learn and perfect for performance, and also provides emphasis through repetition, allowing the audience to take in more of the message of the dance piece. Another benefit is that students learn about music by experiencing the structure of the song through their movements.
Once I’ve found the music for a piece (a journey in itself!) I spend time with pen and paper, listening to the music on repeat and mapping out the shape of the music and adding choreographic ideas. In the studio, we’ll try those ideas out, and adjust, add and subtract where necessary.
In other situations, I’ll come into the studio with some movement ideas to try with students. This can be a slow process, full of trial and error, but there can be a richness to the movement that is developed through this more collaborative process.
Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been working with each class to craft their movement vocabulary (ingredients) into phrases associated with particular musical cues. The rough outline is starting to form for each piece, and students are getting an idea of what the overall feel of the dance will be. Once they understand the current material, we’ll mix it up to create a more complex and interesting piece. It’s a sometimes labourious, occasionally boring, and overall exciting process.
For the month of January, our dining room was covered with swatches of shiny material in vibrant hues. I was looking for colours and patterns that suit the music and style of each dance, fabrics that would be exciting and fun to wear, and looks that are unique that help each class feel special. Estimating how much material to buy is always nerve-wracking! I ordered my first batch of fabric in February, and am now making prototypes of each costume. If they work out (they had better), then I can get to sewing! I don’t have my intrepid assistant this year, as she’s away on exchange, so I’m facing this task alone. Wish me luck!
A year-end performance is the highlight of any dance studio’s year. The lights, the costumes, the audience, all make for a memorable event for students and audience alike. Over the last four years, we have been gaining knowledge and experience through our in-studio concerts, and now we are ready to take the leap to a new venue: the spectacular Meaford Hall! Our show is set for June 5, 2020.
I thought it would be interesting to document the process of show creation, both to help me keep track of what I’m doing, and also to share the process with our dance families!
Some of what I’ve done so far:
Time spent so far: 91.39 hours
On the first Saturday of December, our studio did a “downtown takeover”, turning several shop windows in downtown Meaford into tiny stages. We had been preparing for months, practicing at the studio and at home, getting costumes sorted and fitted, and organizing dancers into duos, trios and quartets, and in one case, a solo.
When the day finally came, each group of students stood on their own inside a shop window, looking out at the audience of friends and family assembled on the street. Music played inside and out, and the first team performed their dance, then exited the stage while the other team performed theirs. Over the period of each hour, each team performed their tap, ballet or contemporary dance several times. A quick switch over brought a new group of dancers to each window for another hour's worth of dancing.
It was a transformative experience. The very first performance was full of jitters and nerves, and dancers were relieved when it was over. Just as quickly, it was their turn to perform again, so up they went! Each time they returned to the stage, they performed with more assertiveness and confidence. By the end of the hour, students were demonstrating a “star quality” that seemed inborn, but is actually only achievable through this kind of concentrated work.