Do you ever watch a video or take a class and wonder HOW the choreographer came up with the masterpiece they did?
I do, all the time. But most likely, it wasn't created overnight, and I'm sure the process wasn't free of struggles or roadblocks.
If you're like me and are hungry to grow as a choreographer, or are just curious about the behind-the-scenes dirty work that goes into the artistry.. I did some snooping for you, asking some of our favorite choreographer friends on their best pieces of advice/ personal tips to utilize when choreographing. Hope this helps!
Also, check out their work through their YouTube channels!
Gina Hong "One very important thing that I have learned while choreographing is to understand the song completely. The lyrics, meaning, beats, etc. I found myself stuck at many times when I would rush to choreograph to a song I barley listened to. But when I choreographed to a song that I connected with or knew very well, my movement seemed natural and carefree. It's like a study guide for your test. You need to learn and understand the material in order to pass the test."
Phuong Le "I don't really consider myself a 'choreographer', but I would suggest anyone to keep an open mind. There is no 'perfect combo.' Just keep what you got, come back to your piece, edit, edit, edit until you're sick of it. That's when you know you're body is comfortable with your combo and that you are at a good point."
Darian Patterson "What helps me choreograph is the fact that there is no wrong way to choreograph so it's all trial and error with the movements you choose. The choreography has to make you proud rather than having the mindset to please your audience. Also, be inspired by the movement of everything and not just people because you can get ideas for choreography from anywhere!"
Devin Pornel "One tip i can give to other choreographers is that you should be yourself! Don't focus on what's cool, but more on what feels good to you. The purpose of choreographing is to show your art and creativity so do you!"
David Lee "Tips for choreographing... 1. Freestyle! It’s the best way to understand HOW your body moves and what looks most natural on you. It also helps you get out of that choreographer’s block. 2. Take CLASS! It’s probably one of the best ways to expand your dance vocabulary. Get inspired by another teachers’ movements and put your own twist on it. 3. Collaborate! Working with other people to create a piece is one of my favorite things to do. You’ll be surprised by what you can learn from another person’s creative process!"
Tracy Seiler "For me the hardest part of starting a new piece is finding the right song. Lately I've realized that my best work comes from the songs that make me want to get up and move -- regardless of genre, artist, feeling, lyrics or otherwise. When I make the conscious decision NOT to care about the product itself and who will see it or learn it in class, then my mind is so much more free and the movement is much more genuine. I often find that I actually like those pieces (I know that's rare for a lot of us, haha) more than the pieces I just force out to songs that I think people want to learn to or are popular right now. With all of that said, one tip I can give choreographers is to LET GO of your own thoughts that are the only thing from holding you and your choreography back. Don't choreograph to impress other people, do it to share a story. YOUR story."
Michelle "Shimmy" Shim"When choreographing, it's easy to get stuck. So when that happens, try 'weird' moves- moves that make your body feel uncomfortable- or 'funny' moves- moves that help you get out of your head and just having fun with it. This allows your mind to create 'out-of-the-box.' It's not easy, but if you just keep practicing changing up and interrupting that constant, somewhat dragging flow, you'd be surprised at what comes out of you."
Anthony "Shaboobs" "For aspiring choreographers, I say 2 things: 1) Understand your craft (body,skill, expertise, strengths). 2) Understand your audience/medium. For instance, choreographing for a team is different from choreographing for an artists, or a commercial (one where dance has to be basic), television, stage, e4tc. Each piece therefore should have its own intention/purpose- visual appeal, musicality, "feeling," etc. Learning your craft and being confident in your knowledge and experience will help get to that next level in the industry- doing commercials, tours, music videos, etc. As for me and how I choreograph, I generally choreograph bits at a a time and am learning to base my choreo off my feeling the music out than thinking about it so much. I disscect the song and try hitting key points lyrically while riding the music as much as possible. Always try to keep in mind the purpose of the piece- character, portrayal, musicality, execution, etc."
Mikey Mesina"If I have 1 tip to give to choreographers it'll probably be....... "Just do YOU. Cause nobody does YOU, better than YOU do YOU." Got that from one of my big inspirations, Phil Tayag from the Jabbawockeez. And most importantly- don't forget to have believe in your craft and have fun doing it."
Jaime Soriano "What helps me most whenever I make a piece is I develop a character in my head and I give myself a reason behind the piece. I find myself emotionally attached to any piece I choreograph because it just becomes much easier to move and connect to the song because then, it develops a cohesiveness throughout!"
Dom Byrd "When I'm choreographing I always try to stay in tune with with my music, my body and my mind during the creative process. I never aim to do any more or less than what the music is asking of ME. I feel like the natural flow and intention behind my moves bring out MY best interpretation of the feeling I get when I hear that song."
Julian "Juju" Sena"There are a lot of things a choreographer can do to get better, but I think the most important thing ANY choreographer can do is to stay true to themselves. Too many people think that their choreography needs to look like whats "in," but by doing so we fail to realize one of the most important aspects of dance: Self- Expression. Never limit your movement, and just be yourself."
Robin Ching "One tip from me would be to try hard not to try hard. What that means is, let the choreography come to you rather than overthinking and forcing yourself to move in ways that you're not really comfortable executing. Stay true to what you can offer. Expand your dance vocab via dance classes or other sources of inspiration, then structure your sentences in a way that should still speak your own individual language through your choreography. Also, music is your foundation, the skeletal structure of a building. Build your way around it so that the end product makes sense. An engineer or architect wouldn't place a roof on the side of a building or a toilet in the middle of a living room. Understand the music. Understand your style. Stay true to yourself and how you interpret music.
Sean Cortes "One thing that's really helped my choreography is increasing my focus on execution. Creating movement is only half the choreographic process. The other half is presenting. You know those moments when a move looks really cool in your head but looks weak when you dance it out? For me, 9/10 those moments happen because my execution can be stronger, and not because the move itself is weak."
Mitch Villareal"Believe in your own abilities. Your very own, strictly organic, self-proclaimed abilities. A lot of us tend to have choreography blocks because we are investing too much time into what a piece should look like (based off of what we've seen from other choreographers), than what it should genuinely feel like. What helps me most when I create, is making sure I transit a message; therefore, there is contained purpose within every movement. Of course, not every piece has to have a complex meaning, but there should be an immediate goal that's waiting to be accomplished through music and movement. With that, you will know where you want to go with the entire combination."
Janel Mallari"What helps me most when choreographing a piece is figuring out what type of character/mood I want to portray... or figuring out how a song makes me feel. Once that's figured out, i analyze the music in a way to highlight certain parts, whether they are beats, or wanting to change the motion/feeling. And what makes it all easier is to freestyle!"
Cye Bongalos"It's hard to give just one tip for choreographing since it's such a complex idea. But if I had to isolate the one piece of advice to give, it would have to be that you can't keep throwing moves away. There's a tendency most of us have when we're choreographing that we get dissatisfied and keep trying to find a better move for the same part of the song, that the choreography becomes unnatural. The routine is more fluid when you keep what you came up with, naturally, in the beginning. It also helps to keep your momentum if you don't throw your moves away. This is something I had to work on myself until I learned from my mentors." Christian Lumba"Listen to the song a ridiculous number of times, like a ridiculous amount. It makes it a lot easier to start a rough draft of what you want! You catch every sound and it's easier to experiment with different syncopations"
Kevin Garcia"Connect with the song you are choreographing to - know what it's about, what its intention is, and tell its story through your own movement and soul. And just have fun! We dance because we love to dance, because it feels good; when you're choreographing and something feels good, go with it!"
Kathleen Tung"Remember back to a class where you really learned something or left the class thinking to yourself..."MAN! That was such a good class!" And why. Then apply it. Most likely than not, it was because it was taught well. Sometimes, choreographers' mentalities change when it comes to certain "hierarchy" of classes when it shouldn't. Listening to the song on repeat. Day and night; day and night. I want to get the exact feel of the song that I want to portray as well as the certain faint background beats that possibly slipped past me the first two times I heard the song before I start making the piece."
Nigel CortezMost important thing to me while choreographing is to freestyle and interpret the music through natural body movement first. From that point connect your movements. If you choreograph move by move in a more forceful manner it's almost as if you are trying to put two puzzle pieces together that don't match. It sometimes causes choreography to look unnatural which in return could make the musicality look hollow.
Nic Ballecer"If I were to give advice to anyone, it would be to find out how you're most comfortable choreographing. For example, I always sit down when I choreograph and put the moves together in my head first and then try it. If it doesn't seem to flow, then I try something else."
Aaron Mondares"If I ever get stuck and hit a road block with choreographing I usually throw my mind somewhere else, eventually coming back to it when my muse speaks up again. A nice walk and "people watching" or even just gazing at a random phrase in a book- there's movement everywhere. From random passerby's subtle mannerisms to the curls and twists of the alphabet- there's sparks of inspiration in places you wouldn't think about if you hadn't just taken the time to breath and enjoy."
William Ortega"What helps me choreograph a piece.. It's always a mental battle for me, but I always think about what everyone else is doing first. I like to be unique so I try not to do what everyone else is diong with the choreography (music selection, vibe, movement, and presentation). When I have picked the song, I listen til I can feel what type of energy and mood the music is giving my body. Then I pick a setting. I put myself in a performance scenario (on stage, music video, etc.) to give me excitement and motivation, because I love to perform and share who I am as an artist. After that whole process, the movements start to come. I do all of that before I start to choreograph, because everything before inventing moves is the most difficult part. I believe that we are all individuals with our own unique personalities so I stray away from YouTube so that I don't unconsciously copy other people's choreography.
Jin Lee"I think being yourself is the most important when creating your choreography. I feel lik ea lot of people dance like one another nowadays, and it's difficult to find something new and fresh. Everyone has different musicality and interpretations of a song, so it's important to showcase YOU through dance, not your favorite choreographer."
Sheng Poon"#1 thing to remember as a choreographer: Your work should be a reflection of you, not someone you admire. Learn things and recreate them in your own way. That's what Hip Hop is. There are always the big names we aspire to emulate, but choosing to not play on your strengths is a disservice to you! Questions to ask yourself: 'Who are you as a person? As a choreographer? Now how can you bring out those things in your work?'"
Julian Talens "There are so many different things that help me when I choreograph, but if I had to choose one specific aide, it would be to listen to the music consistently without any prior dancing. I listen to the song I plan on choreographing to for two to three days before I even touch it, sort of planning out what I want to do with my choreography."
Aaron Ngor "When I get frustrated or run into a mental block, I like to remind myself to breathe and just listen to the music. I began as a freestyle dancer, so I naturally allow my body to move in different ways even though I am listening to the same beat or music. I like to imagine what I want to portray at the exact moment of the song into the choreography by experimenting what feels and looks best with my body."
Nico Peji"What helps me most when I make a piece is constantly listening to a song- breaking down the beats and lyrics, and deciphering the ambience of the song in order to envision what and how I want the piece to look like."
Nikko Alegre "For me, what helps most when making a piece is when I can relate to the situation described in a song. When I have that personal connection to a song it makes it easier for me to choreograph because then it's just a matter of outwardly expressing my feelings and thoughts- it's like I have ideas ready to go, now I just have to put them in action. On top of making it easier, the choreography process becomes more meaningful to me because I've attached myself emotionally to that particular song."
Eric Torres "Stay true to yourself and the reason you fell in love with dance in the first place. Believe in your own abilities and the countless hours of work it took you to create something original and beautiful. No matter how many YouTube hits you get, no matter how many numbers you have in a class or how many shoes may be thrown at you, you are someone's inspiration. Don't forget that."
Brandon Yang Byang’s guide on how to choreo good and dance nice too:
First things first, figure out your motivation. What are you choreographing for? I don’t mean this philosophically, I mean what are you literally choreographing for? Is it a class? An audition? A video? Without some kind of deadline you’re going to be dead in the water before you even start. So first 2 steps, find a reason and a deadline. Clarity of intent is key: you can’t go after what you want unless you know what it is you want exactly. Then start choreographing at least 2 weeks before said deadline. Great art doesn’t come out of nowhere—it needs to simmer and percolate in the back of your mind constantly. Pick a song. Listen to it religiously. Ready? Let’s get started. Spend 5 hours choreographing 4 counts. Watch dance videos for inspiration. Be motivated. Come back the next day. Watch more dance videos. You’ll never be as good as Brian Puspos. Wallow in self pity for 30 minutes. Watch more dance videos. Choreograph 4 more counts over the next 3 hours. You now have 1 full 8 count that you don’t like very much but at least its progress.
Day 3: decide the last 4 counts don’t fit. Re-choreograph the last 4 counts—it should only take about 3 hours. Watch more dance videos. You’ll still never be as good as Brian Puspos.
Day 4: Come back with new motivation. Choreograph a whole 8 count in just 30 minutes. Does it look too much like Brian Puspos? Scrap it.
Day 5: Guiltily shove all thoughts of choreo down into the back of your conscience.
Day 6: catch up on Orange Is The New Black.
Day 7-9: watch more dance videos. You just need inspiration right?
Day 10: try to choreograph. Nothing looks good. Brian Puspos sneers at you. It’s not your fault. Its just the song. Maybe you should pick a new song? No. we’re too far in now. Theres no time to pick a new song. Day 11: Pick a new song. Choreograph 2 full sets of 8. Progress.
Day 12: Shitshitshitshit. Choreo block. Cry for 20 minutes. Go back to the old song for 30 minutes. Its still no good. New song it is.
Day 13: Okay, we can do this. Stress is a great motivator. Cry. Use your pain to fuel the artistry. You’ll never be like Brian Puspos.
Day 14: Revelation: Just be yourself. You finish the piece. Hmm. Not bad.
What are some habits you practice when making a piece? Share by commenting below!Want more advice on how to become a better choreographer? Check out these tips!