Competition Choreography 101: The Technical Aspect

Whether I am choreographing for a group performance, an individual couple, or a solo, one of the first things I consider is what looks good on the dancers. It may seem obvious but certain figures look better on particular people than other figures. A choreographed routine should highlight your strengths, not draw attention to your flaws.

The same approach applies to technique. The choreography should demonstrate figures that the couple executes well. Judges are looking for a multitude of things: timing, posture, footwork/technique, and more. If the technique is missing, it is easy to rule a couple out.

Additionally, choreography should reflect the characteristics of the dance. For example, a waltz probably won’t be full of sudden gestures; they do not suit the character of the dance. Rather, the more romantic character of waltz is better paired with graceful, light, and sustained figures.

Choreography can and should demonstrate a mastery of timing and musicality. Timing is an important criteria for judges. It’s easy to spot an off-time couple and rule them out. However, being on or off the time isn’t where the concept of timing stops. As you become a more advanced dancer, you begin to examine the finer points of timing: musicality. Musicality is when you’re not only on-time, but you’re also demonstrating an in-depth knowledge of the rhythm and music. An easy example is stretching the timing in waltz. While you could metronomically nail every 1-2-3, you could also show a more advanced knowledge of waltz timing and accent the 2. An advanced knowledge of timing and musicality can be shown through figures with more complex timing such as the whisk to syncopated chassé in international waltz, viennese crosses in tango, syncopated/cuban breaks in cha cha, and more. Each of the figures contains a different timing than the basic step, which adds pop to a routine.

While you can add some variety to your choreography by working with timing, another place to add variety is in the movement quality of the figure. While each dance has a general movement quality, that quality does not apply throughout all figures. Not all rumba figures are slow and sustained, some are sharp and quick. Not all tango figures ares sudden. Try playing with different movement qualities to add interest and complexity to a routine.

The last big point I’d like to touch on is the directionality of figures. There are two main types of directionality in dance: linear and rotary. Examples of rotary figures are the natural top (rope spin) in rumba or cha, pivots, or the rock turn in tango. Linear figures can be seen in the cross over breaks in rumba or cha, three step or feather in waltz or foxtrot, or fan in tango. As with the other choreography concepts I’ve discussed, it is exciting to mix up these different directionalities in a routine and has the potential to make a routine more enjoyable to watch.

There are many methods to choreographing and many different details to consider. In the end, remember that competition choreography should grab attention, excite the viewer, and make them want to see more. Happy choreographing!

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