To choreograph remotely sounds impossible. I am here to tell you, it IS!
Over the Fall 2020 semester, I got the opportunity to choreograph for the University of Tampa’s Fall Dance Happening. It is a student choreographed show. I went through an entire proposal process and defense and was gratefully approved for it!! The UT dance faculty also gave me the approval to choreograph remotely.
I had no idea what I was getting into, but somehow I DID IT! It was not easy, but to choreograph remotely IS possible. Alongside a strong cast and a positive mindset, here are some recommendations for you! If you are teaching classes remotely or if you are working on choreography remotely, I want you to do so with ease.
1. Go in without expectations
I think in a dance class it is natural to have expectations from your students, yes. Specifically for me, I was choreographing a piece for an entire production, so my process and mindset had to be a bit different. Yes, I selected my dancers from virtual auditions, but in my first rehearsal, I did not know what to expect. Keeping my mind open helped me and didn’t put me back or let me down. I think it’s good to have an overall skeleton or generalization of what you want to get done and what you want accomplished by the end of each rehearsal anthe entire process. This kept me on track still and enabled me to ebb and flow with guiding my dancers throughout all of my rehearsals.
2. Be clear and transparent
… with yourself and your dancers. This helped me because technolgoy always challenged me in a good way. Being clear about how I was feeling each rehearsal opened up spaces for conversation and also made my dancers comfortable with me too. This made my process easier. It opened a safe space and helped us to communicate and work together virtually which strenghtened the dynamis. This is important in-person as well! Ensuring transparency during virtual rehearsals made time way smoother and more efficient. I did not feel overwhelmed.
3. Be patient.
Be patient with technology and with natural mental blocks. On numerous occasions I had to be patient with technology not working, wifi down, mics not working, videos not working… it’s inevitable. Be patient with the tools that you are working with. They are not working against you. Find easy solutions and work through those obstacles. I was so open to these challenges and that made my process much more bearable and workable. As for mental blocks, those are inevitable too. It happens to the best of us and all dancers and artists and even writers know this. I think this ties into being honest with your dancers as well. Let them know you are having a block and they may even help you! You’ll be surprised at what you may still be able to discover and accomplish!
4. Know what you are going to teach.
I think this is a given for all dance teachers and choreographers. I am very organized and I love planning things out. Like I said previously, having a rough skeleton of what you want to accomplish will help you succeed in your sessions. But, don’t plan it out meticulously. Let it ebb and flow and let yourself be open to changing things on the fly when you observe your dancers. Don’t stray away from your main focus but enable that freedom to explore and see where it takes you!
Additionally, this also ties into teaching choreography. I know some teachers like to work on the fly and this is their creative process; great! I worked opposite and spent some time in my studio days before my rehearsal days/times and worked, created, and explored choreography by myself. This was set, and I was able to teach it broadly to my dancers. Once they learned it, I then gave them opportunities to put their own techniques and styles with it, manipulate parts of it, and discover new ways to move using my choreography as a foundation or base. This was great for me and my dancers and enabled us to create together and shoot ideas to and from each other.
5. Give your dancers pre-recorded videos.
I sent them videos of me dancing to help them learn the choreography better. They had a bit more clarity to what they were learning. I did this when they missed a rehearsal or had designated parts. This also helped with directional changes and movement qualities I wanted for my piece as well as understating its musicality. Again, these were all set but subject to change, so keeping that open mind is good for being successful in this process as well.
6. Working one-on-one with dancers or with groups.
I used this simply for the concept of my piece and I worked one on one with my dancers so they had time for conversations with me and feedback on what I wanted and time to process and discover how to find certain qualities for my piece. I think that this can be effective for many choreographic works. Working with your dancers individually gives you that time to give them proper/personal feedback as well as things you can challenge them with or work on during your creative process.
7. Don’t overwhelm your dancers or yourself.
Sometimes I felt like I was giving my dancers so much content to work with to apply to their dancing or new things to try… I get excited easily haha! One of my professors gave us her strategy for feedback to dancers and that is The Rule of Three:
Give your dancers three things to think about while they are dancing or learning choreography.
Before each rehearsal, I would make a rough draft of things I wanted to work on and always had three things that I wanted to focus on specifically that I thought encapsulated all of my thousands of notes and bullet points and ideas. This not only helped me but helped my dancers. It kept us all from being overwhelmed and flooded with too many things to focus on at the same time.
8. Treat it like a normal in-person class.
This helped me to not treat it like it was drastically different even though it lowkey was and took some major adjusting and adapting. I was always on time for my rehearsals and actively participated with my dancers be it leading a warm-up for them or doing my choreography ‘alongside’ them. It still felt very real and I was able to still establish my presence in both dance studios which was such a blessing!
9. Always ask questions (both ways).
I think this was my biggest takeaway learning to choreograph remotely. Asking questions always enabled open conversations and let me build actual relationships with my dancers. I was always asking questions and asking them if they needed anything clarified or shown again and I think being so open with the kind of intimated them at first but eventually it helped and created yet another safe space to communicate and work together for this!
Throughout this entire process, I am amazed at what I accomplished when I chose to choreograph remotely. I can only encourage those of you reading this right now that you can do this too! Sure, there are many obstacles, but take them with an open mindset. The virtual world can still keep us very much inspired as long as you try!