8 Dance Pros on the Biggest Mistakes New Choreographers Make

June 20, 2018

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,

“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!”