Every choreographer feels “stuck” now and again. We all go through periods where inspiration fails to come, or when we struggle to find the motivation to even get into the studio. These times can feel devastating, especially for student or novice choreographers. For experienced choreographers, creative burnout can become an issue as years of making dances and the demand to come up with new and fresh ideas takes it toll. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to always be “on” as choreographers, and that pressure can feel overwhelming at any stage of your career as a choreographer.. But creativity is a muscle, and just like any other muscle, it need to be exercised in order to get stronger.
To help me get through these difficult periods and keep myself from experiencing creative burnout, I created the #ChoreographyAdventures. The choreography adventures are short and simple choreography prompts that encourage choreographers – including myself – keep their creative muscles strong and flexible. The goal of these choreography prompts, like those found below, is to help choreographers make informal dances on a regular basis – daily or weekly if you can. Creating dances regularly allows you to develop your choreographic muscles and build up a “stock” of short movement and creative ideas, little “dancettes” as I like to call them, that you can draw from when you need them. I use the Choreography Adventures to focus on quantity – make as many dancettes as I can, without judging their merits. Try something new without the worry of whether it will be “good” or “bad.” I like to record each one for later, as I never know when I will want to return to the idea!
Here are the guidelines for the Choreography Adventures:
- Set a goal for yourself. Will you take a Choreography Adventure monthly? Weekly? Daily? The more you practice the stronger your choreography muscle will become.
- Each Choreography Addventure should take about 15 minutes to complete.
- Each resulting “dancette” should be approximately 1 minute long, as a general rule, but you can make them as long or short as you feel necessary.
- If you like what you’ve started, feel free to edit what you’ve started and continue growing the piece!
These choreography prompts are great to incorporate into your personal creative practice as a choreographer, or to use with your students in dance composition, choreography, improvisation, or dance technique classes. The Choreography Adventures can be used as prompts for student informal choreography assignments, formal projects, or as dance improvisation prompts in improv or technique class.
A quick word of thanks to Sara Pearson, my choreographic mentor, for encouraging the use of mini-choreographic explorations as a daily practice. Adventures marked with an asterisk* below are based on concepts explored in her classes at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Find more Choreography Adventures here, or on my Instagram account (@shannondoolingdances).
1.) Do 5 minutes of cardio dancing or exercise (put on some pump up music!), get your heart rate up and sweat! Then, spend the next 5 minutes improvising, maintaining the same energy level (take note of things that feel good, feel free to repeat those or expand on them). Spend the final 5 minutes compiling the best parts of your improv into a short dance.
2.) Do 5 minutes of meditative, pensive, quiet movement (breathe deeply and get into quiet mental place as well as physical). As in number 1, spend the next 5 minutes improvising in a similar state of mind and body. Spend the final 5 minutes compiling the best parts of your improv into a short dance.
3.) Tell a story about a significant older male relative (dad, grandfather, uncle, etc.) while creating an accompanying dance. Repeat on another day with a story about an older female relative.*
4.) Make a dance in a constrained space (bathroom stall, shower, car, closet, pantry, etc.). Let the space, it’s function, it’s physical challenges (shelves, seats, etc.) and your personal feelings about being in the space all influence your movement, should you choose.*
5.) Pull up the 17th photo on your phone (or choose another number at random to use this prompt more than once!). Create a dance inspired by the visual quality of the image: color, texture, line, shadow, negative space, perspective, etc.
6.) Open a non-dance related magazine or newspaper to a random page and choose a photo. Create a dance inspired by the emotional impact of the image: What/how does it make you feel? Try not to look at the headline or surrounding story until after you’ve created the first draft of the dance.
7.) Choose a poem and make a short dance inspired by it. Return to the poem and cross out or “erase” at least one word or phrase from each line, until you’ve distilled the original poem down to a new piece of text. Complete a similar process with the dance, “erasing” single movements or short bits until you’ve distilled the original into something new. The new dance may or may not be related to the new piece of text.
8.) Make a barefoot dance on a new or unusual surface – a bed, couch cushions, the grass, gravel (carefully!), sand, dirt, slick linoleum, scratchy carpet, etc. How does your movement style change?
9.) Sing a song from your childhood as part of your dance. The movement may or may not be related to the song.*
10.) Spend 5 minutes investigating the space in which you are creating your dance. Find a “flaw” in the space (crack in the wall, gap in the floor, watermark, etc.) Create a dance inspired by the flaw in some way – it’s physical features, visual impact, real or imagined backstory … allow a few “flaws” to find their way into your movement as well!
11.) Sit in a park or other public space and people watch for 5-10 minutes. Take notes on the way people move – anything from specific actions to movement qualities to relationships created through the movement of people in space. Create a short dance based on those notes. Bonus points if you go back and “perform” it in the space where you conducted your observations!
12.) Do a silly line dance from your youth – think the “Hokey Pokey,” “Chicken Dance,” or “Electric Slide.” Use this as the basis for your choreography by reordering the movement, adding or changing movement, playing with the levels or quality, etc.
13.) Use social media to crowd-source 10 action words and 10 descriptive words. Use only these action words to create a movement phrase, and allow the 10 descriptors to inform how you perform the phrase. Use the same words to create 2 more phrases, interpreting the words in new ways each time.
14.) Give yourself an extreme physical limitation: I will not get up from this chair; I will keep my back against the wall; I will always have 3 appendages touching the floor; I will never let my right leg bend; etc. Create the longest dance you can without compromising the limitation you set.
15.) Make the “worst” dance you can imagine. Go ahead, get it out of your system. It can actually be kind of fun!
Check out The Holistic Collection of Dance Improvisation Prompts & Activities, with 25 ready-to-use ideas for dance improvisation or choreography, from solo explorations and prompts to games and community building activities, designed to help students grow as dancers, artists, and individuals.
Deepen your choreography practice with The Holistic Guide to Journaling for Choreographers, a list of 52 prompts to help choreographers and dance composition students reflect holistically on their creative practice and growth as dance makers.