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 exclaims,
“And this time, make it your own!”
You have maybe heard this phrase tossed about before but what exactly does it mean?
Essentially, the teacher is letting you know that you now 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 s/he has not seen enough personality in your dancing and, now that you have had time to get comfortable with the movement and practice it a few times with accuracy, s/he wants you to transition from just replicating steps, timing, and even movement quality.
Of course, s/he hasn’t said how s/he’d like to see that done so you are left to decode the statement on your own.
So, how do you take given choreography and make it your own?
There are choices you can make during a combination that make you interesting to watch. These choices give the viewer a sense for who you are or, intrigue the viewer enough to want to find out.
If you are being encouraged to “make it your own,” some possibilities you might consider:
- How can you use your eyes and face to draw in the viewer?
- How can you emphasize dynamics or play with the timing or energy of the movement?
- 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?
- Are there moments that can “whisper” and others that can “shout?”
- What is the reason, character, or story behind what you are doing? Make it up!
I know it might seem impossible to come up with ideas and make choices in a split second. Dancers who do this really well have two things going for them that you, thus far, may not.
ONE, they’ve had experience in this situation, having been asked before to make a dance their own.
TWO, (as a result of this experience) they have a bunch of options already in their back pocket which they’ve used and practiced using before.
The good news is that we’ve just given you a short cheatsheet of possibilities. Now, practice them when performing combinations and exercises in your every-day classes where you are more free to take some risks.
Can I go too far in making it my own?
It’s hard to say. Auditions (versus a class or workshop) raises the stake you have in success but when you are competing for a job you may need to take those bigger risks – sometimes it will pay off, sometimes it won’t. The fine line is usually at the point where you can be as dynamic as possible without completely changing the choreography.
Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world. Read Nichelle’s posts.