How to Choose a Tune that Will Separate You from the Rest

October 26, 2008

Using songs by Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco, Paula Cole, Barbra Streisand and Céline Dion for lyrical routines is popular. Their songs are full of emotion and passion—keyingredients in creating an inspiring lyrical piece. Similarly, country artists are often chosen for their songs that tell great stories. Unfortunately, other dancers may have the same idea. If a song is used too many times at one competition, it can lose its charm quickly. Here are some ways to ensure that the next song you choose is a novel one.

The Research

• Listen to the radio and look at the Hot/Pop chart on to determine the most popular tunes. These are often the last songs that judges and audience members want to hear. The goal is to catch viewers by surprise, excite them, and pull them in to your routine. If you showcase a song that is being overplayed, you risk having a tuned-out audience.

• Research international charts, compilation albums, adult contemporary and Top 100 charts from 15 years ago. You can find these at by clicking on the rewind link at the right of the homepage. Great music doesn’t always have to be familiar or recent.

• Choose music that elicits a specific feeling—whether it’s jealousy, anxiety, happiness or even grief—and use that emotion as the theme of your dance.

• Weed out music “that [doesn’t] build as it progresses,” suggests Karl Mundt, a national champion choreographer. The music and the lyrics should give the dancers an emotional destination to travel to.

• Try starting your song search with a concept. Shannon Fine, master class teacher and former faculty member at Millennium Dance Complex in L.A., chooses her music “depending on what’s going on in the world, what has happened in my life at that time, and what the dancers are going through,” she says. Sit down and think about what ideas are important in your life—perhaps love, family values or friendship. Then look for music that shares and expresses these ideas you feel so strongly about. The plus: Judges can tell when you believe in what you’re dancing about.

The Decision

• Once you have a selection of songs that move you emotionally, listen to them again, paying particular attention to lyrics. Liz Piccoli, a lyrical choreographer, teacher and performer in NYC, suggests downloading lyrics off the internet, and using them to better understand the meaning of each song.

• When making your final selections, keep in mind your age and life experiences. In order to portray the lyrics through your movement you need to be able to understand and relate to the song material, and the audience needs to believe your emotions on stage are real. Sue McCutcheon Coutts, owner of Dance Innovations in Chatham, NJ, says that “age is not the prominent factor—experience and life challenges are.”

• Remember that music is merely one component of the overall picture. Christina Woodard, a dance teacher at the EDGE Performing Arts Center in L.A., as well as a faculty member and judge for Dance Olympus/ DANCEAMERICA, says, “If the dancer is living it, then I will love it!”

Sara Haley is a dancer, choreographer and actor based in NYC.