By: Susan Angell-Gonzalez (President/CEO ShowMakers of America / Former Texas State University Strutters Director/Choreographer)
By the end of competition season, judges have seen it all…amazing routines, one-of-a-kind props and costumes, along with many stand-out dancers. But there are some things they wish they’d seen less of. Directors, take note as you create routines for your team. The elements you think are important to that routine may actually do your dancers more harm than good. If you find yourself adding something solely because you saw it on TV or because every other team in your district performs the same thing (and you think it’s what the judges expect), that could actually be your teams’ downfall. Stop following current trends, and create your own trends by doing something completely out of the box. If you as a choreographer will focus on pushing yourself artistically, your dancers will rise to the challenge and judges will take notice. It is good to look to the past to gain appreciation for the present and perspective for the future. It is good to look upon the virtues of those who have gone before, to gain strength for whatever lies ahead. Be unique, different, and make a point NOT to look like anyone in your district. Take ownership of your program!
Identify them as your dancers’ power moves AND be sure they will grab the judges’ attention. Keep in mind that judges may not be as wowed as you think they are. Sometimes a routine is so jam-packed with skills and stunts that it is hard for the judges to enjoy. And many teachers think they need to keep up with the trends by emphasizing skills over technique, artistry and creativity. Technique is most important! The idea is to showcase good technique embedded in fresh and innovative choreography, which does not necessarily mean all skills. Skills can be impressive but should never override technique and choreography. Instead, try focusing on quality of movement, technique, precision, dynamics and musicality (with a few skills incorporated). Showcase your teams’ talents not their flaws!
Examples of Over-used and Dated Skills:
Avoid incorporating skills that have been overused. If you must use the old skill, get creative by changing up the arms and transitions to apply a new updated look to the skill. A few skills that have been overused and should be laid to rest:
There are few things worse than poorly placed skills, and that is skills that are executed unsafely. Many drops to the floor (on the knees) look painful and unsafe. Keep in mind that you do not need to have your team fall to their knees dramatically and create a loud earthquake sound in order to give an emotional effect. They will eventually hurt their bodies, and there are safer ways to go to the floor that show far more strength and control. A good general rule before adding an attention-getting move is to try and think about what it adds to the routine overall. Keep in mind that a safely executed and well-placed skill can be surprising and impressive. Your team must be solid in all elements before placing unpolished skills in a performance routine.
So, you think your best option is to choreograph to that song from “So You Think You Can Dance”? Think again. If a major choreographer on that show uses a song, you can bet that everyone in the state will then use it. That is not to say if you feel a connection to a popular song you should not use it, just make sure that you use it well. If using it at contest, a judge is more likely to get past hearing it for the 100th time if the choreography and dancing is perfect. The biggest problem comes with choreography that looks like you could exchange in any song and it would work just as well. It should seem as though the music was written specifically for the movement. Use music that inspires you!
Your choreography may be brilliant, your costumes and props perfection, and your concept crystal-clear, but if your team is not executing the moves with proper technique, nothing else matters. As mentioned above you want to showcase your team’s talents and NOT their flaws. Make perfection count! Your team should be “technically sound” before hitting the floor. There is no substitute for solid technique!
When competition time rolls around and what has been prepared for your team originally is not being executed perfectly, it is then time to simplify the choreography. Sometimes routines are too busy and over-choreographed, and directors need to learn how to let the choreography breathe a little bit. Do not choreograph every single syllable and accent in the music. When dancers are not rushing from move to move, they are more likely to pay attention to their transitions and technique.
Judges appreciate that the creative use of a prop challenges both the choreographer and the dancers. But when poorly used, a prop can seriously bring down an otherwise high score.
Judges have a problem waiting on a prop that takes five minutes to set up only to find it used in the very beginning, not touched for 1 minute, and then dancers go back to the prop at the end to pose. Not only is that wasted money on the part of the school, but it is also a wasted moment to push yourself creatively.
Sometimes props and set pieces can hinder the performance, since it distracts judges from really seeing the dancers perform. Background-designed props just to “set the scene” very rarely add to the piece.
Unoriginal Themes and Inappropriate Movement
It is nice when choreography tells a story but be mindful of repeating the same or similar plot lines in every piece you present. Personally, I would love for teachers to phase out all choreography that involves booty popping. Twerking is not appropriate for young dancers, and competition judges and audiences do not want to see it. Not only does it look out of place, but it does not show off your teams’ best abilities. There are so many other ways to be creative with hip hop, jazz and pom…you could find humor, for example.
Are you stumped about finding a theme your dancers can relate to? Consider throwing out a story line altogether. Dancing for dancing’s sake is a concept and trend that I would like to see more of. In the past 10 years, especially since dance has been televised so much, I’ve noticed that everyone thinks they need a story behind a routine to do well. It is OK to just feel a piece of music and dance! In fact, it would be nice to see MORE choreography and fewer skills.
Finally, great choreography isn’t about emulating the latest trend or the award you may win. Greatness is present in the choreographer who has the ability to make every dancer look good (and feel confident) regardless of the skill level of the students. You accomplish this by creating works in which the audience can’t tell the difference between the strongest and the “not as strong” students because of your genius choreography.
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