The master teacher before you is someone you’ve never worked with before but the choreography is hot and the energy in the room is really cool. You’ve spent the last hour trying new things, meeting challenges, and working through the final combination. All roads led here and you think you’ve got it down. Each group explodes into the center of the room as they take their turn in the spotlight. Applause, applause, applause between each round. Another chance. Fixed a mistake from last time, stumbled on something else. It’s okay, there’s just enough time for one more run per group.
The instructor is encouraging,
…he’s throwing out a few last minute reminders,
…and then, he says exclaims,
“And this time, make it your own!”
You have maybe heard this phrase tossed about before but what exactly does it mean?
With this statement, essentially the teacher is letting you know that you have some freedom to interpret the movement. In fact, when an instructor or choreographer throws this out at the end of a class, I suspect that the purpose is less an invitation and more a reminder — Up until that point he has not seen enough personality in your dancing and, now that you have had time to familiarize yourself with the movement, and practice it a few times with relative accuracy and clarity, he wants you to transition from just replicating steps, timing, and even movement quality. Of course, he hasn’t said how he’d like to see that done so you are left to decode the statement on your own.
So, how does a dancer take given choreography and make it her own?
There are choices a dancer can make to infuse a phrase with qualities that make her interesting to watch. These choices, when applied to the movement, give the viewer a sense for who the dancer is or, intrigue the viewer enough to want to find out who she is.
If you are being encouraged to “make it your own,” some decisions are in order. Some possibilities you might consider:
- How can you use your eyes and face to draw in the viewer?
- What are some dynamics or qualities in the movement that you might emphasize?
- How can you create seamless transitions between steps or fill-out the music more?
- Where might you suspend the timing of something to the absolute limit and still make it to the next movement on time?
- How can you create dynamics (like the musical kind) in your movement. Are there moments that can “whisper” and others that can “shout?”
- What is the context of the phrase? Even if you haven’t been offered one, can you come up with a reason, or character, or story behind what you are doing?
Want some more? Check this post for more tips on adding personality to performance.
I know it might seem impossible to muster this kind of intention at the last minute and, well, perhaps it is. Dancers that seem suddenly able to completely transform the work probably have two things going for them that you, thus far, have not. ONE, they’ve had experience in this situation, having been asked before to make a dance their own. And, TWO, (as a result of this experience) they have an arsenal of possibilities already in their back pocket which they’ve used and practiced using before.
Good news! You’ve just been handed a small arsenal of possibilities, now the key is to practice them at every opportunity (especially in your every-day classes where you are more free to take some risks).
How far is too far? It’s hard to say. Auditions (versus a workshop) can certainly raise the stakes but often require more adventurous risk-taking – sometimes it will pay off, sometimes it won’t.
What do you think? Where is the line that indicates you’ve gone too far?
What are some other ways you can make choreography your own?
P.S. Thanks to Nina for inspiring this post. She asked when it is appropriate to make choreography one’s own. You can read more about what prompted the question and see my response at her blog, My Son Can Dance.