How To

Tips and Tricks for Achieving Picture-Perfect Synchronization

A perfectly synced-up DanceMakers of Atlanta routine (Propix, courtesy DanceMakers of Atlanta)

We've all gaped at those YouTube clips of dancers executing fiendish fouetté sequences, complete with doubles, triples and spot-changes, in astonishing unison. When it comes to wowing a crowd, there's nothing quite like unison movement—and when it comes to dancing in unison, “perfect synchronization is what carries the vision of the choreography," says University of Cincinnati Dance Team coach Jennifer Bernier.


For dance-teamers, the importance of moving in sync is reflected in competition score sheets. “The unison score can be what sets two teams with amazing choreography apart," says University of Tennessee Dance Team coach Kelley Tafazzoli. But synchronization isn't just valuable to dance teams. Whether you're performing on football fields or on competition stages, in concert halls or on concert tours, all dancers can (and should!) learn to harness the power of perfect unison.

Count It Out

A strong sense of musicality is crucial for coordinating unison movement. Before the Rebel Girls of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, learn a new routine, they sit in a circle and simply listen to their music, counting as they go. “Counting aloud helps us begin to interpret the piece in the same way," says senior Rebel Girl Kasey Phillips. Rehearsals begin similarly at Impulse Dance Project in Wilmington, NC: “We listen not just for the music's downbeat, but for all of its different dynamics," says 13-year-old student Madi Toney.

When it comes to actually setting counts for the choreography, most coaches and teachers come prepared with a flexible idea. “We'll have all the counts mapped out, but it sometimes makes sense to adjust the original pattern to fit the dancers," Tafazzoli says. Kasey adds that her coach will sometimes pick out a dancer who is executing a section especially effectively. “We'll break down and practice her counts until everyone is nailing them," she says.

The key to synchronization is to be extremely precise about what those counts are. This often means dividing the downbeat into sections (“1e and a, 2e and a"), so that every single moment gets its own count—even the smallest of transitional steps. “Everyone knows how to hit a high V on 8," Bernier says. “It's the transitions that really benefit from clarified counts."

Get Nitty-Gritty

While you're learning those super-specific counts, it's important to keep an eye out for the tiny choreographic details that will make your synchronization even sharper. “By the time you get to the stage, you should be certain of every arm, every head, every angle," Tafazzoli says. “Don't leave any stone unturned." Denise Heard-Latimer, co-owner of DanceMakers of Atlanta, recommends spending extra time working on unison partnering sections, since angles and transitions tend to get sloppiest when tricky lifts and partnered turns are involved.

Train your brain to remember the details by thinking about them in class as well as in rehearsals. At Impulse Dance Project, for example, dancers are prompted to pay special attention to the often-forgotten upper body: “Every class, we do an across-the-floor combo of just synchronized arms," Madi says. “Focusing on simple movements helps us clarify the bigger picture of our more complex unison routines."

Polish Your Placement

Perfectly synchronized unison will still look chaotic if a routine's formations aren't spot-on. The Rebel Girls use the “tick method" for spacing out their routines: “We measure out tape for each performance venue and mark our spacing 'ticks,' " Kasey says. “Then we bring the tape to every rehearsal, so we can block out our football ticks or our basketball ticks, no matter where we are."

When you can't rely on blocked marley or courts, you'll have to get creative. That's especially true for studio competition dancers, who may be performing in a different venue every weekend. “When we get to competition, we block ourselves onstage and agree on spacing markers like a letter on a sign or even a fold in the marley tape," Madi says. Her studio also practices while facing the back wall, which helps them learn to use their peripheral vision, rather than the mirror, to determine if their spacing is correct.

Synchronizing style can be the trickiest part of mastering unison choreography. “The first time we run through a routine, we're all over the place, because each dancer interprets the movement in his or her own way," Kasey says. Cleaning often involves a sort of stripping away of style, which can leave a routine feeling cold. “We pick it apart until everyone is exactly the same, but we don't want it to seem robotic," Tafazzoli says. What's the cure for “robot syndrome"? Energy. “Once a routine is completely clean, we crank the energy level way up, bringing it back to life," Tafazzoli says.

You'll find that as you work with your team or studio members more and more frequently, unison sections will become easier and easier to synchronize—because you'll start moving as a unit. “We're together so much, we do start to all dance the same, even the freshmen," Kasey says. That kind of deep-seated harmony is what makes for truly explosive unison dancing.

(Don't Get) Dazed and Confused

Synchronizing sequences that disorient you—such as those epic fouetté combos, or a series of flips and tricks—can be particularly challenging. The University of Tennessee Dance Team attacks these sections 8-count by 8-count. “For turn sequences, we clarify and drill arm and leg placement with counts, so all the dancers need to concentrate on is their spot," coach Kelley Tafazzoli says. They also pay special attention to the timing of the heel hitting the ground in à la seconde turns. “We'll film just the supporting feet of a turn section, so dancers can see if and when they fall out of rhythm." Jennifer Bernier, coach of the University of Cincinnati Dance Team, has her dancers mark these tricky sections in a circle, so that they can see one another's timing. “We want to make sure everyone is hearing the same down–up rhythm," she says.

And you don't have to be upside-down or pirouetting to be disoriented. “We do a lot of unison floor work, which is just as difficult to synchronize," says Denise Heard-Latimer, co-owner of DanceMakers of Atlanta. To get the piece back on track after everyone's been rolling on the floor, Heard-Latimer recommends incorporating a “quick-stop" moment—a very brief freeze—at the end of each floor section. “That allows the dancers to get oriented, link up their focus and move forward with the choreography," she says.

What if I Can't Hear The Beat?

Musical counts aren't always obvious, particularly in the lyrical tracks often chosen for contemporary routines. That's where having a broad sense of musicality comes in handy. “With difficult music, we listen for cues like lyrics, drum beats or a certain instrument," says Denise Heard-Latimer, co-owner of DanceMakers of Atlanta. “It also helps to develop a sense of group chemistry, so you can feel each other's timing as well as hear it in the music."

The Rebel Girls of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, strike a pose. (Anthony Mair, courtesy Rebel Girls)


Show Comments ()
Popular

Summer dance camp season will be here before you know it and you might be starting to wonder what you need to pack in your bag. Don't stress, we have 5 of the top must haves for camp this summer!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
n RWS Entertainment Group Audition (courtesy RWS Entertainment Group)

Figuring out how to avoid getting cut in a musical theater audition can feel like a mystery. "It's not just about your technique, it's about the whole package of the person," says Justin Bohon, a casting director at Binder Casting, whose clients include The Lion King on Broadway. But how do you present yourself in the best way possible, and avoid making a faux pas that distracts from what's most important—your dancing? Bohon and three other casting directors gave us the scoop on their biggest audition pet peeves.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Spencer Liff (courtesy LSG Public Relations)

Last December, Broadway choreographer extraordinaire (and past Dance Spirit cover boy!) Spencer Liff told DS that "My next big project is my favorite thing I've ever done: a punk-rock musical called Head Over Heels, based on the Elizabethan novel Arcadia and set to music by the Go-Go's."

That next big project is finally here: Tomorrow, Head Over Heels lands on the Great White Way for a month of preview performances, ahead of opening night July 26. DS caught up with Liff in between tech rehearsals to talk about girl power, Gwyneth Paltrow (who's a lead producer for HOH, nbd), and why you—yes, you—should probably start preparing for your HOH audition now.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

We caught up with former Rockette Trina Simon at Showstopper's Myrtle Beach dance convention to get her expert advice on how to work as a professional dancer. Trina's work on Broadway has given her insight into the key things to focus on as a professional dancer looking for jobs and making a name for yourself, whether you are new to the world of professional dance or you have been making your way from one audition to the next for a while.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Thinkstock

Knee pain is, unfortunately, just one of those things that happens when you're a dancer. But how can you be sure that an annoying pinch here or a crunch there isn't something more serious? Dance Spirit turned to Marijeanne Liederbach, PhD, PT, ATC, CSCS—who is also director of the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone, research assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine, and owner of PT Plus in NYC—for a crash course on knee problems.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
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 will be mentoring at this year's YCF, to find out what mistakes new choreographers should be aware of when they take on their first choreographic project and—how to avoid them.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun
Including, of course, Center Stage (Screenshot via Vimeo)

Dance in movies is a trend as old as time. Movies like The Red Shoes and Singin' in the Rain paved the way for Black Swan and La La Land; dancing stars like Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers led the way for Channing Tatum and Julianne Hough.

Lucky for us, some of Hollywood's most incredible dance scenes have been compiled into this amazing montage, featuring close to 300 films in only seven minutes. So grab the popcorn, cozy on up, and watch the moves that made the movies.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Unsurprisingly, Season 1 winners Les Twins have had a pretty epic year. (NBC)

"World of Dance" Season 2 is in full swing, introducing us to a new crop of jaw-dropping talents—and reuniting us with a few of the stars of Season 1, including 15-year-old dynamo Eva Igo. But what have our other Season 1 faves (Les Twins! KynTay! Swing Latino!) been up to since their big TV moment? Here's where they are now.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Want to Be on Our Cover?

covermodelsearch-image

Video

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored