Tips for Creating Choreographies. Part 1 of 4

How to start creating your dance...

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Tips for Creating Choreographies. Part 1 of 4

There are many ways that you can start creating your own choreographies. Sometimes it begins with an idea and general vision, sometimes with a melody, sometimes with a teacher's assignment, etc. ☺ For the sake of this article, let’s assume that you have already chosen the music and now you are questioning yourself: Ok, how can I start creating the actual dance...? Here are some tips/steps that can help you with it, although they don’t need to be necessarily in this order, and can be alternated as you wish.

Listen to the song as many times as possible. 

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You need to know the music really well. By knowing the song well, I mean not only knowing the main melody, and how each section changes, but also listening to all those layers within the music. For instance, at the beginning you may notice the changes in the main rhythmic structure, next time you pay attention to the ornamentation (all those little Dums and Taks that may not be obvious right away), then pay attention to what the violin says, then separately to qanun or oud, etc. It doesn’t mean that you have to choreograph your dance to each single aspect of the song, but knowing your music's ins and outs provide you with a range of possibilities, and cues on how to make your dance more interesting. Maybe instead of doing four simple hip drops, you’ll notice that a drummer added a quick tremolo on the third count, so here it is – you vary your combination with an unexpected shimmy accent. At some other point, you may want to emphasize a violin section, at other times you can bring attention to an accordion part. All this not only helps to come up with a more engaging choreography, instead of repeating the same three-four moves, helping you to capture the audience’s attention.

Find out the translation of the lyrics.

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Even if your recording doesn’t have any lyrics, make sure that what you have isn’t just an instrumental arrangement of some famous song. If the music originally has lyrics, you should stick to their meaning even if the recording you are using doesn’t include a voice. 
Why is it important to know and understand the lyrics of a song?

  • Firstly, it will give you an idea of the general feel: happy, sad, lyrical, etc. In Arabic music, it’s tricky to rely just on the “feel” : sometimes a melody can be very happy and upbeat, but with some dramatic and heartbreaking verses.
  • Secondly, it can save you from many embarrassing situations. For instance, prayer-sons or songs with a religion theme are probably not the best choice for a belly dance performance. Another example is modern shaabi songs in which singers often mention drugs or curse words. It may be fun to dance in a nightclub, but you probably will want to avoid using such songs in family oriented restaurants, or at a wedding setting.
  • Thirdly, understanding the lyrics gives you lots of choreographic ideas and cues, the same way as melody or drum ornamentation. Your dance should reflect not only the instrumental music or percussion, but the voice and specifically words too. Of course, don’t go into extreme of mimicking every single word. Your task is not to repeat exactly what’s already has been said in the lyrics, but to color it with your own emotions and artistic expression. For instance, if a singer sings about falling in love with those beautiful eyes, you can either put your hand to the heart, or to your eyes: just one little detail to reflect the lyrics in your dance. And it can be already an independent movement, or a layer on top of your shimmy or maya, or whatever else according to your artistic vision.

Start with improvising and listening to your body.

Setting up a camera and capturing your dance impulses and how your body naturally wants to move to a specific song can help you dramatically, especially if you haven’t developed your choreographic memory yet. And even if you are already an experienced choreographer, sometimes it’s almost impossible to recreate that beautiful combination that you somehow magically did just a second ago… Documenting your process always helps. Always remember that at this point you are capturing just a working process, so there shouldn’t be any pressure on creating a perfect piece/movement/combination right away. Otherwise it may block your spontaneous creativity. Let yourself be free and experiment first. Later you’ll shape it in a more structured way. ☺

Author: Iana Komarnytska
Photographer: Pedro Bonatto

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Read Part 2 of Tips for Creating Choreographies



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