What It's Like to Choreograph for Madonna

Meet Megan Lawson: choreographer to the pop star (by Rob Daly)

Few gigs compare to creating the moves for Madonna. Choreographer Megan Lawson is living that dream.

Lawson, whom you might know from Fanny Pak, began working on Madonna's Rebel Heart Tour a few months ago. But it's not her first rodeo with the Queen of Pop. The Canadian-born choreographer was also responsible for the moves in Madonna's "Living for Love" and "Ghosttown" videos, along with Madonna's 2015 Grammy Awards performance, and was a contributing choreographer to Madge's MDNA tour.

Dance Spirit spoke with Lawson about her work on the upcoming tour.

Dance Spirit: What's the process of choreographing for a tour of this scale?

Megan Lawson: Jamie King is the show's director. The process starts with a discussion between Jamie, Madonna and I about ideas and concepts. Then, my dancers, Jamie and I get into the studio and experiment for a while before presenting to M. She always has a hand in the choreography. She loves to be part of the process and collaborate with everyone, from the lighting designer to the makeup artist. I'd say every number in the tour has at least one part Madonna choreographed herself. It's a really fun process.

DS: Are there other choreographers working with you?

ML: Since I'm the lead choreographer on this tour, I got to recommend other choreographers to collaborate with. I was so fortunate to bring in other artists, including Jillian Meyers, Matt Cady and Kevin Maher, who are all friends of mine. The great thing about involving other choreographers is that the show becomes really diverse. Every song is different stylistically, and each has a unique choreographic vibe.

DS: Does anything about the tour scare you?

ML: Getting it all done in time! It's been a challenge to coordinate everything. Madonna doesn't settle for anything but the best. It takes time. This is certainly the biggest-scale production I've ever experienced. I can't wait to see it all come together. I know it will. But right now it's crunch time, and that's a little scary.

DS: What are your top three favorite Madonna songs?

ML: "Human Nature," "Messiah" and "Falling Free."

DS: What's your advice for Dance Spirit readers?

ML: Explore as many avenues as you can. I never really had goals or plans that were set in stone. I just knew I wanted to dance and create for living. I tried lots of different things—from taking a wide variety of classes to assisting choreographers to picking up small gigs here and there. What really paid off the most, though, was grabbing some friends and making a few little videos of my own. Those experiences were more satisfying than working as a backup dancer—and Madonna ended up hiring me after seeing some of the clips! It's OK if your goals change over time. Be open to your desires and follow your heart.

Madonna's Rebel Heart Tour begins September 9. Visit madonna.com for more info.

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"I saw a beautiful, black Clara," Ashton says, "and I wanted to be just like her."

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Don't worry—you won't have to shoulder the load alone. Dance Spirit spoke with two physical therapists who specialize in working with dancers to find out what dance bag is best.

What should dancers look for in a dance bag?

Dr. Meghan Gearhart, physical therapist and owner of Head2Toe Physical Therapy in Charlotte, NC, recommends dancers opt for a backpack-style dance bag rather than a duffel or cross-body bag.

"A bag that pulls the weight all to one side creates a side bend and rotation in the trunk," Gearhart says. "That is going to lead to muscle imbalances that will affect dancers while they're dancing, as well as just in regular everyday life." Muscle imbalances can mean limited mobility on one side of your body, as the muscles on one side are overly contracted and the other side is overly extended to compensate.

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How should dancers wear their bags?

Even if you've selected the perfect dance bag, it's important to be mindful of how you wear it.

Gearhart advocates wearing both straps when carrying your backpack. She also suggests placing heavier items towards the back of the bag, where they will sit closer to your body. A bag with straps that are too loose (or a bag that is too heavy) can create an increased arch in the lower back or cause a dancer to compensate for the weight by leaning forward. Ideally, Gearhart recommends a dancer's dance bag weighing no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight.

"I usually tell dancers to use their common sense. If you don't have tap today, you don't need to bring the tap shoes," she says. "If your water bottle makes the bag too heavy, just carry it." If your studio offers lockers, take advantage of that storage space to lessen the number of clothes, shoes, and dance accessories that live in your dance bag.

And if you think your bad dance-bag habits have given you alignment issues, seek out a dance physical therapist to prevent further injuries.

"As a dancer, your body is working so hard all day," Sinha says. "It does not need excess strain from your bag."

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