Thinking Outside the Stage Lights

Ever consider keeping dance in your life, by taking what you know and love as a dancer into a career?

A choreographer’s creative process to make beautiful works appear on stage can be a spectrum of emotions as well as a physical and mental challenge. It is hard work, creative, ever-changing and many can find the end product and others’ reactions to their product a greater reward than what one would get as the performer.

When a choreographer sets a piece on a dancer or a cast of dancers, a part of their soul goes out there into the spotlights, it’s a moment of vulnerability and pride all at once. We read and experience stories of the performers going out on stage, but when do you hear from a choreographer their process from inception of an idea to the applause of the dance? Maybe you are interested in trying your dance shoe on the other foot and switch from dancer to test yourself as a choreographer…?

Choreography has infinite possibilities, and is constantly evolving. Choreographers must meet the demands of innovation and invention with every new move, trend, or creation of dance genre that is born. Dancers are only as good as their last performance, but their performance depends on the choreographer’s ability to clearly communicate, design to the performers’ strengths, and create to their own imagination. There is a delicate balance that equally highlights amazing movement done by captivating performers. When a dancer is not skillful enough to execute the steps or present with musicality effectively, the choreography flops, and the audience is left impassive. Conversely, when a dancer performs the choreography better than the creator set it out to be, it is beyond magic to watch.

As a performer-turned-choreographer, I share an equal passion and appreciation for the stage as my performers, but my perspective for dance transformed from the “ME” to “THEM.” Choreographers must communicate their vision concisely to their cast in order to present a direct message to the audience. The best choreographers must also be teachers and, from a seat, be able to get from their dancers the movement they request through explanation.

Here is a quick lesson to test your choreographic skills! Create a short phrase of choreography by following these simple steps.

  1.  Pick four verbs and write them down, in no particular order, but do not switch the order once you’ve written them down (and don’t over-think it!)
  2.  Take each verb and play with different ways to do it. For example, if you write “jump,” how many ways can you jump?
  3. Pick the way you like best to perform each verb.
  4. Now, begin to formulate the process by which you will transition from the first verb, to the second, and so on. They can be easy consecutive steps or multiple transitions, your choice!
  5. Practice doing these verbs in order until your body begins to do it more naturally. This is your muscle memory hard at work.
  6. Select a piece of music and use the emotion the song evokes to perform the verbs. Do the combination of steps in a way to compliment the mood and tempo of the song choice.

When considering how you feel when you’re on stage, in rehearsal, or the way your heart sings when you are just dancing in the grocery store, know that there is a place for you and your creative ability beyond the stage. There are various careers within the dance industry that might fulfill your needs as an artist. Choreography might be it…

Dancer Athlete Method was founded by dance educator and former professional dancer Krystina Alexis Nelson and Master Trainer Marie Merritt. For more about careers in dance, contact us at

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