What is choreography block?

The dreaded feeling of choreography block … chances are that if you’re reading this blog post, you’ve experienced it! Almost every choreographer goes through choreography block at one point or another. Choreography block can look and feel differently to everyone, but some common features can include:

  • Feeling “stuck” in your choreography, as if you cannot move on to the next section or get the dance piece finished.
  • Feeling uninspired, as if you don’t even want to think of new movements, ideas, or concepts.
  • Feeling as if you are repeating the same choreography movements or ideas over and over again in your piece.
  • Feeling like you are copying other choreographers’ work, even unintentionally, because you are out of your own ideas.
  • Feeling burnt out, with the process of creating choreography feeling overwhelming, stressful, burdensome, or just not fun anymore.

Why do choreographers experience choreography block?

If you are feeling choreography block, you are not alone! It is a common experience for choreographers. You might especially feel choreography block if you work for a dance studio, creating multiple dances for recital and competition every season, or if you work on a commission basis, creating dances for a variety of companies, schools, or programs throughout the year. You may also be feeling choreographer’s block after dealing with the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic. With so little work or opportunities available for choreographers during the pandemic, it can feel as though you’ve lost some of your choreographic skills or passion for choreography.

How can you overcome choreography block?

In this blog post, I will share seven strategies to help choreographers overcome choreography block. These strategies include embracing creative rest, starting a reflective practice, challenging your choreography skills, developing a choreography plan, practicing movement manipulation, collaborating with others, and reviewing and refining the choreography you’ve already created. These strategies can be used by choreographers of most dance genres, working in any dance environment, overcome choreographer’s block and reignite their creativity. These ideas are based on my experience as a dancer, dance educator, and choreographer working in ballet, modern, jazz, musical theatre, and jazz-derived forms including lyrical and contemporary for over 15 years. It is my hope that they will be applicable to a wide range of dance forms, although they come from the perspective of Western Concert Dance. If you are experiencing choreography block, you will find the seven strategies below helpful!

7 strategies to help you overcome choreography block

Embrace Creative Rest

 When you are on a deadline or getting to the end of the rehearsal process, anything involving the word “rest” can feel counterproductive! But we are not machines, and we need rest to operate our best. Forcing yourself to push through when you are exhausted and burned out will only exasperate choreographer’s block and make it worse. Creative rest, in particular, consists of purposeful and thoughtful exercises and activities designed to give us the time, space, and intention to reconnect with our bodies, refresh our energy levels, reignite our creativity and artistry, and restore of enthusiasm, passion, and love for the art of dance. You can learn more about creative rest in this blog post: Embracing Creative Rest in the Dance Studio. Find 15 creative rest exercises to incorporate into your dance classes, rehearsals, or personal practice in The Holistic Collection of Dance Activities for Creative Rest.

Start a Reflective Practice

Taking time to reflect on your creative processes, growth and evolution as a choreographer, and goals for your choreography career can help to ease choreography block. There are many different reflective practices that you can try, including journaling, blogging, making video logs (vlogs), reviewing and analyzing videos of your past choreography, and talking to dancers or other collaborators that you have worked with. Taking a little time each week to reflect, either in writing or verbally, can help you to move past choreography block and feel invigorated in your creative practice. To start a healthy and productive journaling practice, check out The Holistic Guide to Journaling for Choreographers.

Challenge your Choreography Skills

 Several years ago, I started creating little informal dances to out of the box movement prompts that I call #ChoreographyAdventures. These choreography prompts can help keep your skills sharp between creative projects, encouraging you to create dance consistently without the pressure of performance. However, you can also use the #ChoreographyAdventures as inspiration when you are experiencing choreography block. When you get choreography block, use a prompt or two to generate some new, original movement and get your creative juices going again. Even if the prompt is not related to the theme or concept of the dance that you are stuck on, you can adapt the new movement to fit the original piece. Sometimes, getting “out of your head” about the dance’s theme or concept, and creating something totally new and different, can help get you inspired and moving again! Check out the #ChoreographyAdventures here.

Have a Plan

Before you start a new piece of choreography, it can be helpful to have a plan in place. A choreography plan can help you find new sources of inspiration that will keep you invigorated throughout the entire creative process. It can also keep you organized, with your ideas for movement, musicality, formations, staging, and relationships between dancers all in one place. When you have a solid plan for your choreography in place from the start, it can help prevent choreography burnout later in the process. However, it’s never too late to develop a choreography plan! Even if you have already starting experiencing choreography block and are halfway or more through the rehearsal process, creating a choreography plan can be transformative. Put your inspiration and ideas down on paper and develop a written plan for how you want to finish the piece. Check out The Holistic Dance Teacher Choreography Planner to create the ultimate choreography plan with ease!

Manipulate What You You’ve Already Created

 In choreography, there is no need to continually add on new and original movements. Sometimes, it can be incredibly powerful and effective to manipulate the choreography that you already have. This helps you make movement that related to what you have, but also unique! Using choreographic tools and devices like inversion, retrograde, and accumulation can be a great way to overcome choreography block by helping you to come up with new twists on your existing movement. You can also make simple changes to the level, pathway, tempo, or quality of the movement, or try it in new formations and relationships of dancers on the stage. To discover more choreography tools and devices that can help you overcome choreography block, check out this blog post: 10 Choreography Adventures to Hone Your Compositional Skills.

Invite Collaboration

 Getting some help from your dancers or other collaborators can be one of the most efficient and effective ways to overcome choreography block. As choreographers, we often get stuck in our own intention for the piece and the ideas that flow from it. When you get choreography block, it can be helpful to discuss the piece with your dancers and other collaborators to get their takes on the dance and where it can go choreographically. Ask them about their experiencing dancing in the piece, their interoperation of the theme and concept behind it, and what ideas they may have for adding to or changing the choreography. You may also have them choreograph a few 8 counts based on what they’ve done already in the dance, or take a movement phrase that you created and manipulate it using different choreographic tools and devices. Take their ideas with an open heart, and use those that speak to you.

Review and Refine What You Have

 Sometimes, it is best NOT to move on to the next section of the dance if you are experiencing choreography block. Going back to the existing choreography and editing, refining, and polishing it can help give you inspiration on how to move forward. Take some time to review and refine what you already have, and see what new ideas flow from that process. This blog post will help you edit and refine your choreography, no matter what stage of the process you are at: 10 Strategies for Editing and Refining Your Choreography.

Have you experienced choreography block? What steps and strategies did you use to overcome it? Share in the comments – I love to learn from you!

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