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Choreograph a dance

How to teach choreography for a dance and get it to stick with students


As a dance instructor, one of the most challenging things to teach is choreography. You have to be mindful that no student is on the same level, and some will move more slowly than others. This post is going to share some pointers on how to better teach choreography to a dance class and get it to stick.

How to Choreograph a Dance

5 women dance a choreographed dance

Setting dance choreography is a tough job. No matter what type of dance you’re planning on performing, the faster you can get the choreography set the better. There are of course many strategies to get started, but one of the best ways is through improvisation.

Improvisation is especially valuable when you’re choreography has to be based on a piece of music. Working within the constraints of music can be seen as either a challenge or an opportunity. A good trick is to film yourself as you’re improvising movements so you can keep a record of what you come up with.

Try to work outside of your comfort zone and break with tradition as much as possible. You could do things like getting outside of the studio and work, or bring in elements from other dance techniques, your imagination is the only limiting factor. During the process, you’ll need some type of way to record your steps and build your movements. The most basic way to do this is through a notebook, but you could also use a project management software like Asana or Notion as well.

Teaching Choreography from the Beginning

Teaching choreography from the beginning

The toughest thing about teaching a class of students is that not all of them move at the same pace. You will undoubtedly have some students who are going to struggle with the material. A group of dancers is only as good as its weakest link, so you need to make sure everyone in your class is getting the proper amount of attention.

The first thing you need to get your students to understand before they can learn the choreography is the why. Take some time and really think about why the choreography is the way that it is, then figure out the best way to communicate that to your students. Dance tells a story and if that story is not crystal clear in the mind of the dancers, then you’re dead in the water.    

One of the better ways to start is to show a phrase first to your students, and then have them follow along with you afterward. Seeing what the final product looks like can be really helpful for some students.

How to Help Struggling Students

Not everyone in your class is going to get it right off the bat. In fact, some might need a good deal of additional help, but what’s the best way to give it to them? How do you help struggling students without making them feel self-conscious or delaying the progress of the rest of the class?

One method is to give them tools to help learn better on their own. Help them build a vocabulary around the choreography by cementing imagery in their mind for each phrase. Assist them in breaking down complicated sequences into more manageable pieces. Sometimes, the sheer length of a sequence can make it difficult to understand. While it’s true that some of your dancers will pick up on it right away, many more will struggle.

Another strategy is to empower more advanced students to help the less advanced ones instead of you helping them directly. Stopping class and going to assist a student that’s struggling can make them feel self-conscious and actually work against you in some circumstances. Sometimes a better plan is to note that a student is having trouble and then pairing them with a more advanced student who can help.

Make sure that you engage with the students who are having trouble and give them ways to practice more on their own outside of class. You can even work with them to devise small training routines they can do to help get them up to speed faster.

Making the Dance Choreography Stick

Now that you have your class all moving in the right direction, the next phase is to rehearse enough so that the choreography sticks. Try to make sure that there is plenty of time between when you start and when the time of the show to learn all of the choreography and rehearse enough so that everyone in your group can do their best.

Get your class working as a team on the project and open the floor up to suggestion. Your dancers might have some great insights on better imagery to use or possibly they can share how they learn best.

Put on a Great Show

The last step is to bring together everything that you have been working so hard on and show it to the world! Nothing beats the anticipation and sheer excitement that comes along with an upcoming recital. So get out there and put on a great show!