How to Choreograph Your Own Competition Solo


Today, 20-year-old choreographer Emma Bradley spends her days touring with the dance convention NRG Dance Project, making work for students across the U.S. and Australia. But her first choreographic ventures were far more personal: During her junior and senior years of high school, Bradley started creating her own solos for dance competitions. “Making work on my body totally influenced the way I think about and process choreography," she says. “And it set me on a different artistic path than I imagined."

These days, more and more dancers are testing out self-choreographed solos at competitions. It can be risky—you could be going up against seasoned choreographers like Travis Wall—but the potential rewards make it worth taking the chance. “Choreographing your own solo is an invaluable learning experience," says Andrew Winghart, a judge and choreographer for JUMP Dance Convention. “It forces you to look outside of yourself as a dancer, to really analyze your facility and how you can look your best." Tempted to try your hand at self-choreography? Read on to find out more about taking creative control.

Emma Bradley performing her self-choreographed solo, "Hater," at The PULSE on Tour (photo by Propix, courtesy Emma Bradley)

Choosing Music

Do pick a song you enjoy listening to. “It's so much easier to choreograph for yourself if you choose a song that already resonates with you," says 18-year-old Regan Norton, who competed self-choreographed contemporary solos during her junior and senior years of high school. Finding a personal connection with your music is a great first step toward making something that's truly you.

If you know what style you want your solo to be, start by listening to music that will complement it—and you. Take note of musical artists that catch your attention, and explore their greater bodies of work on iTunes or YouTube. Or, look to your own iPod for inspiration, like Bradley does. You never know what gems you'll rediscover.

Don't use a song that's in the Top 40. There's a good chance that many other soloists have “connected" with it, too. “We tend to get a lot of the same songs," says Brett Hahalyak, a judge at Nexstar, World-Class Talent Experience and International Dance Challenge. “I like to hear things that are kind of out of the box, rather than popular or current music."

Setting Movement

Do create a solo that showcases you and your talents. One way to learn how you move best is to improvise when you start your choreographic process. “I would record my improv and see what kind of choices I made repeatedly," says Bradley. Incorporating those

favorite movement patterns into your choreography will help the final product feel more natural to your body.

Don't rely on tricks alone. It can be tempting to pack all of your most crowd-pleasing stunts into one solo. But with little more than two minutes onstage, you need to leave some time to tell your story. Throughout your creative process, think about what the piece means to you—and how you can communicate that message through movement. “I want to see a moment where you become more than just a dancer onstage," Winghart says. “I want to see you take time to connect with the audience." As much as you may love the wow factor of 16 turns in second, it's probably not the best way to make that connection.

Do challenge yourself. Setting goals for your solo throughout the year can keep it from getting stale after the first few performances. Both Bradley and Norton adjusted their solos after competitions, adding new, more difficult movements as they felt ready. “The great thing about doing your own solo is you can kind of edit as you go," Winghart says.

Don't present something unpolished. While it's important to push yourself, make sure you allow enough time to practice and clean each section before your performance. The stage is not the place to debut that new triple pirouette or switch leap. “You have to be super-solid in all elements before you get onstage," Hahalyak says. If you can't consistently perform a move in the studio, don't bring it in front of the judges!

Getting Feedback

Do ask a teacher to stop by and help you with your process. Sure, you have ultimate creative control, but it's still a good idea to have another pair of eyes looking on. This can be especially helpful when the dreaded choreographer's block sets in.

It can also keep you on schedule. For example, when Winghart was choreographing his own competition solos, he would give his teacher a specific time to watch the finished piece. “She would hold me to those deadlines," he remembers.

Don't let your teacher's opinion overshadow your creative vision. As the choreographer, you have the final say about what goes onstage. And while your teacher may have more experience making work, you know yourself better than anybody. Trust your gut!

Show Comments ()
Cover Story
(From left) Mean Girls dancers Riza Takahashi, Ben Cook, Kamille Upshaw, Jonalyn Saxer, DeMarius R. Copes, and Stephanie Lynn Bissonnette (photos by Erin Baiano)

Get in, losers. We're going to Broadway.

OK, not losers, actually—more like the bajillion die-hard fans of Tina Fey's 2004 cult hit Mean Girls, who've been wearing pink every Wednesday since a musical adaptation of the film was first teased back in 2013.

Now their world is like a cake filled with rainbows and smiles, because Mean Girls the musical, which had a trial run in Washington, DC, last fall, is set to open at Broadway's August Wilson Theatre April 8. And in a very grool twist, it turns out the show—with direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw and a book by Fey herself—is delightfully dancey.

Keep reading... Show less
Maddie Ziegler (via @tiffanyandco on Instagram)

Take a look at Tiffany & Co.'s new ad campaign and you might recognize a familiar face. The one and only Maddie Ziegler has partnered with the luxury jewelry brand and the resulting video is pure brilliance. The glamorous collaboration reveals Maddie's candid thoughts about life as a dancer and the work ethic that's gotten her to where she is today.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Photo by Erin Baiano

We've all seen the videos on Instagram: a professional ballerina, casually perched atop a BOSU ball, développé-ing like it's no big deal. When done properly, BOSU ball exercises are both insanely impressive and incredibly effective for strengthening your core, ankles, and overall stability. Dance Spirit turned to Joel Prouty, a NYC-based personal trainer and injury prevention/exercise-conditioning specialist, for his top three BOSU ball moves, ranging from easy to hard.

Photos by Erin Baiano. Modeled by Lauren Post, dancer with American Ballet Theatre.

Keep reading... Show less
How To
Illustration by Lealand Eve

A few years ago, 16-year-old Kayla Gonzalez found herself dancing alongside a mean-spirited girl. “She could be so rude," says Gonzalez, who trains at The Dance Zone in Henderson, NV. “It got worse at competitions. She'd make up lies, saying my teammates and I were doing things we weren't. She was always trying to get ahead." Sound familiar? A competitive environment can bring out the very worst in some dancers' personalities. When put in a stressful situation, students can become bossy, overdramatic or downright mean. Here, DS breaks down four toxic types you might encounter, and offers tips on how to respond.

Keep reading... Show less
The Lethal Ladies performing in STEP (courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures)

"A dancer's body is her instrument"—we've all heard the saying. But for steppers, who use their bodies to emulate rhythmic drumming, that saying is everything.

Step swept the U.S. last summer with the release of the documentary STEP, which followed three members of the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women step team. The team also made it onto the "So You Think You Can Dance" Season 14 stage, after member Blessin Giraldo's audition ended in an invite from Nigel Lythgoe himself.

For dance fans, it may have seemed like the summer of step. But this art form has been around for well over a century. What is it, where did it come from, and why is the wider dance world taking notice?

Keep reading... Show less
Evans as Captain America, saluting tap-dancers everywhere. Giphy

So WHY isn't there more video evidence of this hidden talent?

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Brian Friedman (photo by Louise Flores, courtesy Friedman)

Brian Friedman is not only a legend in his own right—he's also worked beside the biggest legends in the business. Growing up a Scottsdale, AZ, comp kid, Friedman was soon dancing behind Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, and Paula Abdul, and as an OG Newsie in the 1992 film. Now he calls the shots: He's choreographed and been creative director for icons like Britney, Cher, Beyoncé, and Mariah. Nominated for five MTV VMAs, two Music Video Production Association Awards, and four American Choreography Awards, Friedman's won an Industry Voice Award for best choreography, and a World of Dance award. Dance Spirit talked to Friedman to find out what inspires him. —Helen Rolfe

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Caissie Levy as Elsa in Frozen (Deen van Meer, courtesy Disney)

Let it gooooo! The much-anticipated musical version of Frozen, with choreography by the fabulous Rob Ashford, opens on Broadway tonight. And to get you even more excited about this latest dancy Disney venture, the show's team just released a brand-new trailer—a sneak peek at how they've translated the film's special magic into perhaps-even-more-impressive stage magic.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
#1: Remembering all the choreography for your approximately 37 different routines. (Evolve Photo, courtesy New York City Dance Alliance)

Dance competitions are where great memories are made. But—between the traveling, the challenging routines, and the bazillion costume changes—they're also the source of many, many #struggles. If you're a comp kid, you'll 100 percent be able to relate to these 10 problems.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer

Veteran Brooklynettes dancer Asha Singh knows what it takes to get a crowd pumped: This NBA season marks her fifth year on the squad. And as team captain, she's also well-versed in the art of keeping a team looking picture-perfect. An Overland Park, KS, native, she trained in ballet, modern, jazz, hip hop, and tap as a child, and later majored in dance at the University of Missouri. Since then, she's danced with music legends, including Beyoncé and Alicia Keys, and performed in commercials for big brands like ESPN and T-Mobile. Catch her courtside cheering on the Brooklyn Nets—and read on for The Dirt.

Keep reading... Show less


Want to Be on Our Cover?





Get Dance Spirit in your inbox