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Secrets of Choreography, Composition, and Improvisation

"For Beginners" (reprinted from ZAGHAREET! Mar/Apr. 2002)
by Anthea Kawakib Poole

Does choreographing a dance seem a mysterious process? Maybe you think that "the ability to compose is somehow heaven-sent and that inspiration is damaged by the cold hand of thought and analysis" (Doris Humphrey: The Art of Making Dances). Inspiration IS divine, but we can use our heads to help articulate it. Let's take the mystery out of this process and look at some compositional devices choreographers use to create dances.

The Beginning of your music, when you enter (or start dancing if you're already onstage) may or may not sound different from the rest of the music. Music that's especially composed for Oriental Dance does have an overture, then an entrance, but the piece you've picked may not - then it's up to you to distinguish the Beginning from the Middle from the End, etc. The way I do this is to make the opening passage simpler, using larger and less-complex movements than I will later. Travel steps are almost a necessity here - so let the rhythm "drive you around" the stage. It's so easy to dance when you let the music tell you what to do!

As we mentioned last issue, your dance "has a place in space" - a Front, Back, etc. Consider "Center stage", facing Front, to be your main spot or home base in a dance piece, and then think of shapes to trace on the floor with your travel steps:

Try traveling along these lines (called the Line of Dance - LOD) while facing forward, sideways, or even backward on your LOD. For instance, you can trace a circle on the floor by traveling with a shuffle step, or a grapevine. During the former, you're facing your LOD, during the latter, you're traveling sideways on your LOD. Facing a different direction is the easiest way to develop a new look in your dance. 

Are you still with me? So far, we have: Dance; Think About It; Dance Again - and make notes!

Now that you have an idea, you can develop it. Choreographers use Forms like ABA, Pattern/Change, and Theme and Variation to extrapolate from a simple movement idea.

  1. ABA signifies a repeating element alternating with something else (either a step, movement, sequence, combination etc.). For instance, I have a travel-step combination that goes: 1 slow step (A), 2 fast steps (B), 1 slow step (A), traveling turn (C); put them together = ABAC.
  2. Pattern/Change probably happens the most often in dancing. The step, movement, body part, etc. that is used MOST in a particular sequence is the "pattern", the "change" within that sequence may just be the transition to the next sequence, or a more definite departure. 
    For example, in an 8 count travel-step sequence using a plain walk for 6 cts. and something else for 2 cts., the plain walk is the pattern and that "something else" (turn? directional change? stop? hop? step-together-step?) is the change. The change can happen anywhere within the sequence, but most often you see it at the end acting as a transition.
  3. Theme and Variation is an interesting form to explore. You have a sequence of steps or moves that you keep repeating; but you change something about each move or step when you repeat it.

Another travel-step example:

While making a large circuit of the stage, holding the veil out at shoulder level, a sequence as follows:

That's the sequence. On the repeat of the sequence, one simple variation would be to hold the veil in a different position during the steps. So the sequence remained the same, but the your bodily position (staging) changed.

This brings us to one of the MOST interesting concepts in our dance - the seemingly infinite variety of movements possible. I'll wait till next issue to discuss "Motif & Development" further, it's a BIG subject!

When you learn choreographies in class or workshops, analyze the underlying concepts of the dance piece. You'll see it's not just a series of steps or movements strung together, but there are recognizable compositional devices being used. We all unconsciously search for patterns in our daily experiences, to create "order out of chaos". If you do this when learning a dance it'll even be easier to remember what comes next - a BIG plus!

Next, learn about more forms and concepts for your choreography (or improvisation).

*Like these ideas? Read more in my booklet, Kawakib's Dance Tips
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