Igniting your creative spark


As choreographers, it can be easy to feel burnout or bored with our creative work. We are constantly trying to push ourselves creatively and get better at our craft. On my blog, I offer a number of tool to help ignite your creative spark – and keep it lit for the long term! These include the #ChoreographyAdventure prompts, numerous blog posts for choreographers, and choreography resources in my online store. But sometimes, there’s nothing like a good choreography book. It is helpful to read others’ perspective on the creative process and their approaches to choreography. This list includes books on choreography, creative process, and dance composition, as well as books with significant chapters related to those topics.

It’s my hope that these books will help inspire your creativity and help you hone your choreographic skills. If you are in a creative rut, I hope they will help break you out of it. If you are a dance composition student, I hope these books will help you develop your unique voice as a choreographer. If you teach dance composition, choreography, or creative process, I hope you’ll find these books helpful for as you develop your syllabus.


About the books on this list


In this blog post, I’ve compiled a list of books on choreography, dance composition, and creative process that you can use as a resource in your own creative process or with your students. These books make great additions to your library if you are a dance composition student, novice choreographer, or experienced choreographer looking to shake up their creative practice.

This blog post contains affiliate links for Bookshop.org, where you can purchase each book. Bookshop.org “began as an idea to help support bookstores and their communities at a time when more and more people were buying their books online. We had a better idea — give readers the convenience of online shopping while supporting independent bookstores at the same time.” I am a huge believer in the importance of local shopping, and in particular local bookstores. I invite you to support these shops by making a purchase through the links provided if you are interested in any of the choreography books below. If you prefer to shop Amazon.com, Ive also included affiliate links to purchase the books through that platform. When you purchase from either site, you’ll help support my blog, newsletter, and social media resources. I receive a small commission from sales through these links, at no extra cost to you, and that support helps make my work possible. Thank you!

It’s worth noting that most of these books come from a Western, modern dance-based approach to choreography. I’ve tried to curate the most diverse list possible, but unfortunately, most of the published work that I have found – and was recommended to me by colleagues – comes from this perspective. There are two books on the list that touch on jazz choreography, two that focus on choreographing for musical theatre, and one that discusses diverse and inclusive approaches to choreography. There are also historical books on choreography and some reflections on creative process from choreographers. What are your favorite books on choreography and creative practice? Please share in the comments – I’d love to learn from you!


Recommended Books on Choreography and Creative Process


Choreography: Creating and Developing Dance for Performance

By Kate Flatt

“Choreography is the highly creative process of interpreting and coordinating movement, music, and space in performance. By tracing different facets of development and exploring the essential artistic and practical skills of the choreographer, this book offers unique insights for apprentice dance makers. With key concepts and ideas expressed through an accessible writing style, the creative tasks and frameworks offered will develop new curiosity, understanding, skill, and confidence. This is an ideal companion for dancers and dance students wanting to express their ideas through choreography and develop their skills to effectively articulate them in performance.”

Dance Composition Basics

By Pamela Anderson Sofras 

“If the saying “To be the best, you must learn from the best” holds true, then this book is gold for all aspiring dancers. Dance Composition Basics, Second Edition, doesn’t just feature the works and brilliance of dance and choreographic legends Alonzo King and Dwight Rhoden–it is completely based on the choreographic operations and forms in three of their original works: Chants and Dreamer by King and Verge by Rhoden. All compositional exercises in the book are based on those three works, and the book itself is expertly crafted by Pamela Anderson Sofras, who has 34 years of experience teaching dance at the university level. Dance Composition Basics, designed for beginning dance composition courses, introduces dancers to choreography through a series of problem-solving activities. The activities are starting points for novice dancers to embark on their own attempts at choreography.”

Dance Composition: A Practical Guide to Creative Success in Dance Making

By Jacqueline M. Smith-Autard

“Dance composition – the discipline that translates ideas into dances – is an important part of dance education. This book, a bestseller for over twenty years, is a practical guide to creative success in dance making and is a popular textbook for all those who are interested in dance composition, from secondary school to university. This new edition includes a DVD with video taken from Choreographic Outcomes, a groundbreaking advanced technology resource pack aimed at comprehensively improving students’ choreography. The book has been revised, redesigned and expanded. Reference to the DVD examples are made throughout the book and new assignments based on the video material are included.”

The Intimate Act of Choreography

By Lynne Anne Blom and L. Tarin Chaplin 

“A comprehensive book that covers all aspects of choreography from the most fundamental techniques to highly sophisticated artistic concerns. The Intimate Act of Choreographypresents the what and how of choreography in a workable format that begins with basics- – time, space, force — and moves on to the more complex issues faced by the intermediate and advanced choreographer — form, style, abstraction, compositional structures, and choreographic devices. The format of the book evolved from the idea that improvisation is a good way to learn choreography. This approach is in harmony with widely accepted dance philosophies that value the unique quality of each individual’s creativity. After discussing a concept, the authors provide improvisations, and choreographic studies that give the student a physical experience of that concept. The language is stimulating an innovative, rich in visual images that will challenge the choreographer to explore new directions in movement. The book is for serious dance students and professionals who are interested in both the practical and theoretical aspects of the art, dancers who are just starting to choreograph, and teachers who are seeking fresh ideas and new approaches to use with young choreographers.”

The Art of Making Dances

By Doris Humphrey

“Written just before the author’s death in 1958, this book is an autobiography in art, a gathering of experiences in performance, and a lucid and practical source book on choreography.”

Letters on Dancing and Ballets

By Jean-Georges Noverre 

“The dancer and choreographer Jean-Georges Noverre’s ‘Letters on dancing and ballets’ were first published in 1760, and set forth his ideas for the reform of ballet, ideas which were considered revolutionary in their day and were not fully implemented until more than a century later. ‘Letters on Dancing and Ballets’ is one of the most important dance books ever published, and through its influence Noverre can be seen as the grandfather of ballet as we know it today. The present translation was made by the great dance historian Cyril W. Beaumont, and first published by him in book form in 1930.”

Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes from a Choreographer

By Liz Lerman

“Award-winning choreographer shares insights and methods for making real art in the real world. The unique career of choreographer Liz Lerman has taken her from theater stages to shipyards, and from synagogues to science labs. In this wide-ranging collection of essays and articles, she reflects on her life-long exploration of dance as a vehicle for human insight and understanding of the world around us. Lerman has been described by the Washington Post as the source of an epochal revolution in the scope and purposes of dance art. Here, she combines broad outlooks on culture and society with practical applications and accessible stories. Her expansive scope encompasses the craft, structure, and inspiration that bring theatrical works to life as well as the applications of art in fields as diverse as faith, aging, particle physics, and human rights law. Offering readers a gentle manifesto describing methods that bring a horizontal focus to bear on a hierarchical world, this is the perfect book for anyone curious about the possible role for art in politics, science, community, motherhood, and the media.”

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

By Twyla Tharp

“All it takes to make creativity a part of your life is the willingness to make it a habit. It is the product of preparation and effort, and is within reach of everyone. Whether you are a painter, musician, businessperson, or simply an individual yearning to put your creativity to use, The Creative Habit provides you with thirty-two practical exercises based on the lessons Twyla Tharp has learned in her remarkable thirty-five-year career. In Where’s Your Pencil? Tharp reminds you to observe the world — and get it down on paper. In Coins and Chaos, she gives you an easy way to restore order and peace. In Do a Verb, she turns your mind and body into coworkers. In Build a Bridge to the Next Day, she shows you how to clean the clutter from your mind overnight. Tharp leads you through the painful first steps of scratching for ideas, finding the spine of your work, and getting out of ruts and into productive grooves. The wide-open realm of possibilities can be energizing, and Twyla Tharp explains how to take a deep breath and begin.”

The Artist’s Way: 30th Anniversary Edition

By Julia Cameron

“Since its first publication, The Artist’s Way phenomena has inspired the genius of millions of readers to embark on a creative journey and find a deeper connection to process and purpose. Julia Cameron’s novel approach guides readers in uncovering problems areas and pressure points that may be restricting their creative flow and offers techniques to free up any areas where they might be stuck, opening up opportunities for self-growth and self-discovery. The program begins with Cameron’s most vital tools for creative recovery – The Morning Pages, a daily writing ritual of three pages of stream-of-conscious, and The Artist Date, a dedicated block of time to nurture your inner artist. From there, she shares hundreds of exercises, activities, and prompts to help readers thoroughly explore each chapter. She also offers guidance on starting a “Creative Cluster” of fellow artists who will support you in your creative endeavors. A revolutionary program for personal renewal, The Artist’s Way will help get you back on track, rediscover your passions, and take the steps you need to change your life.”

The Essential Guide to Jazz Dance

By Dollie Henry and Paul Jenkins 

“From its African roots to our present-day global dance community, the jazz idiom has afforded a cross-fertilization with all other artistic, cultural, and social representations within the arts industry, providing an accessible dance platform for dancers, teachers and creatives to enjoy both recreationally and professionally. This guide offers a practical and uncomplicated overview to the multi-layered history, practices, and development of jazz dance as a creative and artistic dance form. It covers the incredible history and lineage of jazz dance; the innovators, choreographers, and dance creatives of the genre; specifics of jazz aesthetic, steps, and styles; a detailed breakdown of a practical jazz dance warm-up and technical exercises; creative frameworks to support development of jazz dance expression and aesthetic; performance and improvisation; jazz music and musical interpretation; and finally, choreographing and creating jazz works.”

Rooted Jazz Dance: Africanist Aesthetics and Equity in the Twenty-First Century

By Lindsay Guarino, Carlos R. a. Jones, and Wendy Oliver 

“An African American art form, jazz dance has an inaccurate historical narrative that often sets Euro-American aesthetics and values at the inception of the jazz dance genealogy. The roots were systemically erased and remain widely marginalized and untaught, and the devaluation of its Africanist origins and lineage has largely gone unchallenged. Decolonizing contemporary jazz dance practice, this book examines the state of jazz dance theory, pedagogy, and choreography in the twenty-first century, recovering and affirming the lifeblood of jazz in Africanist aesthetics and Black American culture.Rooted Jazz Dance brings together jazz dance scholars, practitioners, choreographers, and educators from across the United States and Canada with the goal of changing the course of practice in future generations. Contributors delve into the Africanist elements within jazz dance and discuss the role of Whiteness, including Eurocentric technique and ideology, in marginalizing African American vernacular dance, which has resulted in the prominence of Eurocentric jazz styles and the systemic erosion of the roots. These chapters offer strategies for teaching rooted jazz dance, examples for changing dance curricula, and artist perspectives on choreographing and performing jazz. Above all, they emphasize the importance of centering Africanist and African American principles, aesthetics, and values.Arguing that the history of jazz dance is closely tied to the history of racism in the United States, these essays challenge a century of misappropriation and lean into difficult conversations of reparations for jazz dance. This volume overcomes a major roadblock to racial justice in the dance field by amplifying the people and culture responsible for the jazz
language. Publication of this work made possible by a Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.”

Dance Pedagogy for a Diverse World: Culturally Relevant Teaching in Theory, Research and Practice

By Nyama McCarthy-Brown

“Issues of race, class, gender and religion permeate the study of contemporary dance, resulting in cultural clashes in classrooms and studios. The first of its kind, this book provides dance educators with tools to refocus teaching methods to celebrate the pluralism of the United States. The contributors discuss how to diversify ballet technique classes and dance history courses in higher education, choreographing dance about socially charged contemporary issues, and incorporating Native American dances into the curriculum, among other topics. The application of relevant pedagogy in the dance classroom enables instructors to teach methods that reflect students’ culture and affirm their experiences.”

Musical Theatre Choreography: Reflections of My Artistic Process for Staging Musicals

By Linda Sabo

“Musical theatre choreography has indisputably evolved over the years and choreographers develop methods of working and philosophical approaches that should be documented but rarely are. Textual information is limited, and what has been written is generally more practical than theoretical, and is minimal compared to those books written for choreographers of modern and contemporary dance. By pointing out the similarities and dissimilarities between concert dance genres and theatre dance, and by identifying the specialized demands of crafting artistic and script-serving theatre dance and staging, this text differentiates musical theatre choreography as a separate and bona fide art form and suggests that 1) universities recognize it as such by offering training possibilities for future musical theatre choreographers, and 2) established choreographers of musicals begin to write down their own artistic processes to help fill the choreographic toolbox for young choreographers wanting to work in this field.”

The Art and Practice of Musical Theatre Choreography

By Cassie Abate

“This book firstly debunks the misunderstandings around what musical theatre choreographers actually do, demonstrating their need to have an in-depth understanding of storytelling, music theory, performance practices and plot structure in order to create movement that enhances and enlivens the musical. Secondly, it equips the musical theatre choreographer with all the tools needed to create nuanced, informed and inspired movement for productions, through structured activities that build specific skills (such as ‘notating the script’ and ‘scoring the score’). Traditionally, this training has been something of a series of secrets, passed from mentor to apprentice. The author demystifies the process to make the previously undisclosed “tricks of the trade” accessible to all choreographers, everywhere. Covering the entire process of choreographing a musical from the first script reading to the final curtain call, this book makes case for the absolute integrity of the choreographer to any musical theatre production and sets out the theoretical principles of choreography alongside the practical application during every step of the production process.”


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