Dancer to Dancer

8 Dance Pros on the Biggest Mistakes New Choreographers Make

Tracie Stanfield's company, SynthesisDANCE performing at the 2017 Young Choreographer's Festival (Photo by Jaqi Medlock, courtesy Young Choreographer's Festival)

Whether it's for a gig at school, a community theater production, or just for fun, the first time you choreograph a dance can be both exhilarating and intimidating. The Young Choreographer's Festival is a platform that helps choreographers ages 18-25 gain experience by giving them a platform to present their work. The festival gives the newcomers a chance to grow as artists as they receive feedback from some of the best in the business. We caught up with eight established choreographers, artistic directors, and instructors who mentored at this year's YCF to find out what mistakes new choreographers should be aware of—and how to avoid them.


Laura Diffenderfer

Associate director of Context and Interpretation at The Joyce Theater

"Don't be discouraged if you don't get the grant or the gig you want. Great artists can work for years before receiving recognition. Be bold and believe in yourself."


Ginger Cox

courtesy Young Choreographer's Festival

Professor, Pace University

"I think one of the biggest mistakes choreographers make is not considering the 'business' side of the process. Get all of your required materials (program information, music, bio, headshot, lighting, etc) in on time. Come to technical rehearsal prepared with a vision for your lights and cues. Being prepared helps on all levels of a performance."


Eric Campros

courtesy Young Choreographer's Festival

Artistic director of youth programming, Brooklyn Dance Festival

"Many choreographers choose the wrong dancers to portray their art. You need dancers with the skill and ability to magnify your intention, and that group might not include your friends. At Brooklyn Dance Festival I've seen excellent work set on dancers who are unable to maintain the integrity of the movement. It's not the audience's responsibility to see potential; it's the choreographers responsibility to overwhelm the audience with their voice."


Tracie Stanfield

courtesy Young Choreographer's Festival

Artistic director, SynthesisDANCE

"Don't create what you think someone else wants to see. Be true to your vision. Be bold in your choices. Be thoughtful in your presentation. I'll often see seven or eight pieces that have a cast of five females wearing black t-shirts and socks. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this choice, but at the end of the day, it's hard to remember which of those works was the strongest. I appreciate simple and clean, but give viewers a twist that will help them remember you.

If you hit a setback, don't stop choreographing. There are many variables that factor into the choices adjudication panels make: your music choice may be similar to that of another artist we love, we may have had 24 submissions for duets, your dancers may not be at the level to give your work a strong voice, etc. Many of those elements aren't in your control. Take a risk and do what you were called to do—choreograph. There will be a tribe that loves your work."


Maurice Brandon Curry

courtesy Young Choreographer's Festival

Artistic director, Eglevsky Ballet

"One of the most common mistakes I see among young choreographers is what I call KSS (Kitchen Sink Syndrome), where they attempt to put everything they know into their six minute piece! Choreographers should develop their ideas fully without including every step they have ever done. It becomes very cluttered.

Choreographers who use familiar music should also find out if that music was used in another dance piece—and HOW it was used in that work. Despite the adage 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,' imitation done poorly is not so enchanting! Stay away from familiar music if possible. Try to find a young composer to work with. Set your standards higher than what is expected."


Ryan Daniel Beck

courtesy Young Choreographer's Festival

Curator, On1Condition at Dixon Place

"Young choreographers are often very hesitant to use the power of repetition. However, when you look at your favorite music, you'll see that repetition of a chorus or a melody gives the song a structure. When a visual movement phrase is repeated in choreography, with slight variations in formation or level, it gives the audience a chance to remember that phrase, which is highly satisfying for the viewer.

Young choreographers often fail to realize that creating work for the stage is vastly different than creating work for TV and music videos. The stage exists in three dimensions, whereas a screen is flat and two dimensional. If you model your stage choreography after YouTube and Instagram videos, it'll look flat and two-dimensional onstage. Works created for a stage should take advantage of pathways, depth, canon, theme/variation, levels, volume, change in direction, and change in speed, and use the primary movement qualities (sustained, pendular, percussive, and vibratory) to give the choreography a rich palette."


Shelly Hutchinson

courtesy Young Choreographer's Festival

Producer/curator, New York Moves

"The most common mistakes a choreographer can make? First, not trusting themselves. Your instinct will always prove right. Second, seeking perfection in the lab. We know that out of 10 pieces created, maybe one will be a home run. So don't swing for the fences every time. And third, congesting a dance with too much movement. Stillness is powerful and can grab attention, just like silence can. Try not to over-talk the point with a lot of movement. Give your audience a chance to download what they see."


Matthew Shaffer

courtesy Young Choreographer's Festival

Choreographer and author of So You Want To Be A Dancer.

"Often, new choreographers feel the pressure to conform to the styles and trends in the current market. While fads are an important aspect of art and pop culture, a new choreographer should remember that it's their unique point of view that will gain attention and maintain longevity in their careers.

Remember that professional communication is essential. Often new choreographers ignore the 'business' side (responding to emails, reaching out to new venues, seeking opportunities with established festivals) and focus entirely on their choreographic work. You must find balance in doing both.

Don't try to prevent your dancers from working with other choreographers. I think that's a huge mistake. The more opportunities your dancers have to work in a variety of styles, the more perspective they can bring to your work.

Collaborate more. When we create choreography alongside our peers or established choreographers, everyone's work benefits. Healthy competition and creative exchanges help us reach new heights!

Don't overcomplicate your work. If the story demands invention, so be it; otherwise, just be clear with your content.

Finally, I've seen too many new choreographers abuse their dancers. Remember that they're emotionally sensitive artists, too. Be kind, generous, and articulate with your performers and they will be more confident taking risks with your work!"

Show Comments ()
Dancer to Dancer
James Whiteside and Misty Copeland showing off Odile's Gemini tendancies in "Swan Lake" (original photo by Gene Schiavone)

Over the last couple of months, I've gotten really (like really) into astrology, by way of memes on Instagram. If you're a millennial or Gen-Zer locked in an eternal scroll like I am (except it's my job, so I have an excuse!), then you're no stranger to these types of posts. One popular format? A list assigning zodiac signs with their corresponding "things," from foods to colors and everything in between. And since y'all love our memes (we're making more, we swear), I decided to spend my Friday afternoon figuring out each sign's classical ballet equivalent. I recruited fellow DS editor Helen Rolfe, and we proceeded to conduct a VERY scientific and THOROUGHLY researched study. If you don't like yours, I truly am sorry, but the stars don't lie. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Behold, the signs as classical ballets!

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
@brittanytemple_ Bohemian And Barefoot Blog

From Mandy Moore to Boston Ballet, the most trusted professionals in the dance community are recommending Apolla Shocks. We decided to investigate further and learn more about the footwear company that has started a new revolution in the dance world.

The revolution begins

Apolla Shocks are everywhere right now. Your favorite dancers on "So You Think You Can Dance", on tour with "Shaping Sound", at conventions, in class, and on competition stages. These dancers are not just wearing socks. They are wearing Shocks!

What do all these dancers know that you don't? Why are they building such a strong and loyal customer base? To understand better, we asked some of the most trusted dancers, choreographers, and physical therapists in the dance community why they recommend Apolla Shocks?

Mandy Moore (award winning producer, director & choreographer)
"I wear Apolla Shocks when I am in the studio all day creating. They make my feet feel like they are on clouds! Who knew that a little sock could bring such happiness to my aching feet…"

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
(L to R) Vikas Arun, Gerson Lanza, and Jabu Graybeal in Chloe Arnold's "GLORY" (screenshot via Facebook)

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Tap dancer and choreographer extraordinaire Chloe Arnold was inspired by these words from Martin Luther King, Jr. to create a piece in solidarity with the #SayTheirNames movement (a campaign to highlight stories of police brutality as told by the victims' families).

Released earlier this week, the heartbreakingly beautiful clip stars Vikas Arun, Jabu Graybeal, and Gerson Lanza, all dancers with Arnold's Apartment 33 company. Watch closely: Reigning NYCDA National Teen Male Outstanding Dancer David Keingatti also makes a memorable cameo towards the end.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy San Francisco Ballet

San Francisco Ballet soloist Lauren Strongin's classic grace and powerful acting skills captivate audiences. The Los Gatos, CA, native trained at the Kirov Academy of Ballet and the John Cranko School before joining Houston Ballet in 2009. In 2015, she came to SFB as a soloist and has since danced principal roles in ballets including Giselle, Swan Lake, "Rubies," and Onegin. This month, catch her performing with SFB in New York City Center's Balanchine: The City Center Years program. —Courtney Bowers

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun
#2: High School Musical. We've waited long enough! (Giphy)

Producers just looooove turning hit movies into huge Broadway shows. From Legally Blonde to Hairspray to Billy Elliot, some of our favorite dancetastic musicals got their start on the big screen. So listen up, Broadway: Here are 10 movies that need to be turned into musicals ASAP.

Keep reading... Show less
Editors’ List: The Goods
Dance Theatre of Harlem's Alison Stroming in a Capezio leotard (via capezio.com)

There's a change in the air these past few weeks—is it fall? Not quite yet. More importantly, it's PUMPKIN SPICE SEASON. And now, the quintessentially autumnal flavor isn't just for lattes anymore. Dancewear companies are picking up on the trend, offering more and more pieces in rich, sweet orange shades. Behold, eight of our favorite pumpkin spice-inspired pieces for your dancing enjoyment.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer

This past January, 18-year-old Jay Ledford did what tons of aspiring dancers do every day: She posted a beautiful dance shot to Instagram. But this photo carried more weight than most. Clad in a black leotard, tights, and pointe shoes, and hitting a stunning arabesque, she was beginning a new journey—as a transgender ballerina. Ledford, then a student at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC, never thought she'd come out on Instagram, let alone experience such an outpouring of support. Here, she talks to Dance Spirit about the experiences she's had over the last 10 months, her hopes for the future, and what she wants the dance world to understand about trans dancers. —Olivia Manno

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
James Whiteside and Misty Copeland showing off Odile's Gemini tendancies in "Swan Lake" (original photo by Gene Schiavone)

Over the last couple of months, I've gotten really (like really) into astrology, by way of memes on Instagram. If you're a millennial or Gen-Zer locked in an eternal scroll like I am (except it's my job, so I have an excuse!), then you're no stranger to these types of posts. One popular format? A list assigning zodiac signs with their corresponding "things," from foods to colors and everything in between. And since y'all love our memes (we're making more, we swear), I decided to spend my Friday afternoon figuring out each sign's classical ballet equivalent. I recruited fellow DS editor Helen Rolfe, and we proceeded to conduct a VERY scientific and THOROUGHLY researched study. If you don't like yours, I truly am sorry, but the stars don't lie. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Behold, the signs as classical ballets!

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
@brittanytemple_ Bohemian And Barefoot Blog

From Mandy Moore to Boston Ballet, the most trusted professionals in the dance community are recommending Apolla Shocks. We decided to investigate further and learn more about the footwear company that has started a new revolution in the dance world.

The revolution begins

Apolla Shocks are everywhere right now. Your favorite dancers on "So You Think You Can Dance", on tour with "Shaping Sound", at conventions, in class, and on competition stages. These dancers are not just wearing socks. They are wearing Shocks!

What do all these dancers know that you don't? Why are they building such a strong and loyal customer base? To understand better, we asked some of the most trusted dancers, choreographers, and physical therapists in the dance community why they recommend Apolla Shocks?

Mandy Moore (award winning producer, director & choreographer)
"I wear Apolla Shocks when I am in the studio all day creating. They make my feet feel like they are on clouds! Who knew that a little sock could bring such happiness to my aching feet…"

Keep reading... Show less
Editors’ List: The Goods
Dance Theatre of Harlem's Alison Stroming in a Capezio leotard (via capezio.com)

There's a change in the air these past few weeks—is it fall? Not quite yet. More importantly, it's PUMPKIN SPICE SEASON. And now, the quintessentially autumnal flavor isn't just for lattes anymore. Dancewear companies are picking up on the trend, offering more and more pieces in rich, sweet orange shades. Behold, eight of our favorite pumpkin spice-inspired pieces for your dancing enjoyment.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope in An American in Paris (courtesy Trafalgar Releasing)

Couldn't make it to the Tony Award–winning Broadway revival of An American in Paris? Or DID make it to the show, but now miss it like ca-razy? Either way, we have fabulous news: Both today and Sunday, September 23, movie theaters across America are screening the gorgeous musical, directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Thinkstock

You've probably heard that protein is essential in a dancer's diet. But you might not know what protein actually does for your hardworking bod, how much you should be eating, and—gasp!—why it could actually be overrated. We asked Andrea Chernus (a registered dietitian nutritionist who advises Juilliard students and Hamilton cast members) and Nora Minno (a certified personal trainer, registered dietitian, and former pro dancer) to spill all the protein pointers they share with their dancer clients.

Keep reading... Show less
Arthur Mitchell and Diana Adams in George Balanchine's Agon (courtesy Dance Magazine Archives)

Former New York City Ballet principal dancer and Dance Theatre of Harlem founder Arthur Mitchell passed away today in a Manhattan hospital. He was 84 years old.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News

The iconic New York City dance studio Steps on Broadway has a new leader coming on board: Joe Lanteri. The New York City Dance Alliance founder will be Steps' new co-owner and executive director.

"For me, it's a big full circle," says Lanteri, who used to take class at Steps when he first moved to New York City, and started teaching there in the mid-1980s. The 4:30 p.m. Tuesday/Thursday Advanced Intermediate Jazz slot he held down for many years taught a slew of young talent—including choreographers-to-be like Jessica Lang and Sergio Trujillo. "As a young teacher, Steps was a platform for me to travel the world giving master classes; it became the underlying foundation for what I'm doing now in my life."

Keep reading... Show less
Videos
Screenshot via YouTube

Kylie Shea is no stranger to showcasing her quirky take on ballet to the masses. The Instagram star continues to entertain us with her unconventional dance routines on pointe, be it on her social media platforms, in music videos, and even commercials. And her collaboration with the Canadian band MAGIC is one of our favorites yet. Dancing to their hit song "Expectations," Shea and the band's lead singer Nasri have a low key dance-off. The video starts out somewhat somber, but as things progress, Shea's sense of humor shines through—culminating with a fabulous scene that has her jiving in a tutu.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Hayden Hopkins studying in the theater before transforming into Mystère's La Belle (courtesy Mystère 'by Cirque Du Soleil)

A full-time university isn't your only option for earning a degree. Enrolling in college part-time while pursuing a pro career is a challenge well worth the rewards.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Video

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored

Giveaways