Hints on Spicing Up Your Dance-Making Process

October 19, 2010

Whether you’re an aspiring choreographer or a pro with a portfolio of works under your belt, you probably know what it’s like to be caught in a choreographic rut. Luckily, generating ideas may be easier than you think. Inspiration can come from anywhere or anything—pieces of art, ideas, memories, skyscrapers, family members, friends, current events or even the class bully who stole your lunch money in kindergarten.


Darla Johnson, who, along with Andrew Long, directs the Austin-based Johnson/Long Dance Company, finds her inspiration in poems, novels, music and from costume ideas.


“Anything can be a dance, and everyone is a dancer, “ says Johnson, who also teaches at Austin Community College. JLDC works have incorporated imagery from poems or songs, props such as lawnmowers and toasters, and texts from novels and other writings. One JLDC piece, called Walking on Water, used water as a metaphor for spirit; its movement was based on the different ways a body moves in the water. Mattresses with painted slipcovers were used to represent pools.

Expand Your Creative Limits

Johnson uses the concept of choreographing “outside the box� to challenge herself and her students. “[Working outside the box] asks the choreographer to open up to the creative process beyond his or her own preconceived boundaries,� explains Johnson.


When choreographing, she relies on improvisation and exploratory methods to make dances that are more than just moving to music. For instance, an exercise she often uses involves creating imaginary spaces around her body, then exploring how these spaces affect her movement.


The aim of many of Johnson’s works is to broaden traditional definitions of what is or isn’t considered dance. Whether your choreographic mission is to defy stereotypes or simply to celebrate movement, these strategies can help you push the boundaries of your own creative process. For more on JLDC, visit jldc.org.


This list is designed to inspire you to try new ways of creating dances.

• Don’t get so attached to the product that you’re unwilling to change it.

• Listen to your intuition.

• If your initial response to an idea is “that will never work,� then that is the very idea to try, because it will force you to attempt more than just the easy and obvious.

• Be willing to make mistakes and to fail.

• Recognize your repetitive choreographic choices. (For example, you tend to follow pirouettes with layouts.) Ask a friend to help identify them. When you find yourself about to choreograph in a familiar way, change it. Move up instead of down, use a different body part or alter your speed or phrasing.

• Find inspiration from something totally unrelated to dance, such as how a newsanchor’s eyes move when reading from a Teleprompter, how the apples are arranged at the grocery store or how a canal overflows in a storm.

• Make dances about things you think are impossible to express through movement.

• Find a piece of music that you really love to move to, then use that passion to enhance what you’re trying to express, whether or not you end up using that music.

• Experiment with how you use music. For instance, choreograph against the beat. Let the music be the landscape that the dance is playing on. Ride it instead of dancing to it. Don’t rely on counts or musical cues.

• Choose the music for the dance after you’ve already started or even completed choreographing the work.