Though a trusted teacher traditionally choreographs solos, duets and group pieces, scores of savvy dancers are starting to enlist outside choreographers for their competition routines. We’re not suggesting you break away from what works, but if you need an artistic tune-up, working with someone new just might be the ticket.
Bringing well-known artists into the mix may not be as daunting as it sounds. Choreographer Tony Gonzalez, for instance, divides his time between working with celebrities like Jewel and Sum 41 and award-winning dance teams such as those at The University of Memphis and Indiana University. He admits that he’s usually hired to shake things up and to add a new perspective. “The main reason [to use outside choreographers] is to challenge the squad when they get too comfortable,” says Gonzalez. “I’m not as familiar with the squad’s boundaries as their regular choreographer, so I challenge them to perform outside their normal limits.”
Angie Klevorn, co-owner of Charmette Academy of Dance & Acrobatics, Inc. in St. Louis, says she and partner Margie Rowe hire choreographers to expose their dancers to someone who can teach them something new. “While Margie and I love doing stylized jazz and musical theater pieces, Dennis [Caspary, a master teacher and choreographer on the convention circuit] uses every beat and moves a lot of body parts at once. We’re older, and we just can’t do that anymore. We also don’t have any male teachers at our studio, so it’s good for our male dancers to be exposed to [choreographers like Dennis],” says Klevorn.
Plan Of Action
Start your search by making a list of your top ten favorite choreographers. To figure out who can be realistically approached, ask dance agencies which of their clients work with studios and dance teams. Agents can also tell you choreographers’ rates and what other expenses would be accrued by bringing them in. Though there is no set industry standard, Dana Bailey of Dana’s Studio of Dance in Southlake, TX, says that in her experience,
hiring choreographers has cost anywhere from $300 to $2,000 per piece. Wendy Kelman, whose daughter Kalie has entered many competitions as a soloist from Betty Johnson’s Studio in Phoenix, AZ, adds that choreographers have charged her between $300 and $800 per piece.
Another way to find a choreographer is to ask your teachers to attend local or regional dance workshops and conventions in search of artists with intriguing styles and ideas. To find out if a choreographer meets your objectives, Klevorn recommends asking potential candidates to teach a master class. Don’t be afraid to speak up about whether you like a choreographer’s style. “Ultimately, the students are the ones who have to be happy,” says Bailey.
After finding the right choreographer, be ready to stick to a designated schedule—you may not have a lot of face time with him or her. Bailey hires choreographers for just one weekend. Then, she and her teachers clean and perfect the pieces later. “My main focus is what the kids can learn and how they are benefiting stylistically and technically,” she says. “The bottom line is what the choreographer can produce for us.”
Though it requires outreach, a healthy budget and an accepting faculty, broadening your choreography horizons is a great way to boost your competition mojo and gain new skills.
A Smooth Transition
Your current instructors or coaches may be somewhat taken aback when you first ask for an outside choreographer, but if you explain that your main objective is to get as much training as possible, chances are they’ll accept your decision. If money is a factor, offer to fundraise.