Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My Choreographic Experience: #1

Since I kept hinting at my dabbles in choreography in my previous post on teaching peers, I figured I'd dedicate a few posts to talk about it.

I had a few run-ins with choreography in my high school career, but let me explain how it happened first.

When I was a sophomore (high school), I was on the dance team, and our teacher wanted us all to artistically explore and express ourselves and discover what choreography could be, so she gave each of us our own piece in the annual dance production. Of course, we had to pass music, choreography combinations, and costumes by her, but other than that, it was whatever we wanted to make it.

I chose "Hide and Seek" by Imogen Heap for a contemporary piece (even though at that time, I had basically no contemporary experience or training). The dancers I originally wanted weren't approved by my teacher: instead, I ended up with a few seniors (one of whom was also a boy - but not the boy I wanted originally) and another sophomore, all of whom were older than me. I was also given only one hour after school to rehearse every week, as opposed to most of the other pieces, which were given an hour and a half. Plus, it was right after school on a Wednesday, so none of us got there right on time anyway, so it was more like 45 minutes per week. I was convinced that all of this would spell my downfall, but it miraculously didn't.

We started rehearsal in early October, and by winter break, I had finished teaching all of the choreography. It was pretty simple and followed the lyrics extremely closely (at least I thought so - no one else but my mother could tell), but it was effective. The piece was a story of an abusive family and my message was trying to raise awareness of child abuse. I was pretty insecure about how it would be received, since almost no one had seen it, but I was happy with my work. I feel that I was mainly lucky that my teacher never said "no" to anything that I did, and I may have been the only student choreographer who she never censored. She never told me to change my choreography, to hurry up and teach, to change my costumes or music - everything I originally proposed and wanted, I got. Except for the original dancers I wanted, but I really must thank her for giving me the dancers she did, because they all made it special in their own way, and it would not have been the same without the group that I had. I'm very grateful to both her and them for this entire experience.

Now, not to break the story, but I want to talk a little about the way I choreographed. It's hard to say how I came up with movement - I did just that. It just came to me. I listened to each lyric very closely and made an abstract movement that somehow expressed that lyric. And even though I had a 6' x 8' space in my room to choreograph in, somehow the choreography wasn't confined to a small space on the stage.

There's also my teaching process. Like I said in my teaching your peers post, it's hard to assume the role of teacher to people who are your friends and equals outside of the classroom. I found it particularly hard to yell at the seniors for not paying attention when "senioritis" started kicking in. But yell I did, and I might have scared them a little. Not much, but enough to pay attention to me. Sometimes you have to yell. My main issue teaching was I never wanted to take the time to warm up, which wasn't a huge issue with this dance because it wasn't high impact and high kicks, but I did throw my back into permanent spasm by not warming up (I still struggle with lower back pain from this experience). I didn't want to warm up because I didn't think I had the time, but if I had taken even three minutes to warm up, things may have gone better. Anyway, back to the story.

By the time the show rolled around, my piece was one of the favorites of the show, and I was pretty blown away. I had no idea that such a different piece for the school would be so well-liked (don't be afraid to be different!). The school had probably never seen a piece with such a dark storyline or dark intention, or even seen contemporary the way I did it, but they liked it, and I was so thankful. The senior boy in my piece also had his own choreographic work in the show, and it as well was a new style of contemporary that had never before been seen. Together, I think we helped bring storytelling dance and contemporary into the dance program at our school.

And that's the end of the piece at my school. Begin competition story.

I later found an ad on our school performing arts bulletin board about a choreography competition at a local college. It was for both high school and college students. I decided to ask my dancers whether they were willing to do a few extra rehearsals, so I took the plunge and entered. We competed in a preliminary round in front of a panel of judges and were told that if we made it to the final round, we would receive a phone call that night. Making it into the final round meant we would have made the top 3 works and that we'd be in the running for prize money. All three of the top spots received something. That night, I was on the phone almost screaming. We had made it into the top three and were guaranteed a prize! Not that it was about the prize money, but it was pretty exciting, especially to a 15 year old as I was at the time. We competed the next day in front of a small audience and took 3rd place (the other 2 were college-student-entered and were pretty amazing), but I was even grateful to have made it that far. I did win money, and I split it evenly amongst the four of us to thank them for performing with me.

Looking back, that was my first ever dance competition (I was no stranger to competition - I used to be a figure skater), and I competed with my own choreography. That's something I'm really proud of, even if I look back at the recording of the piece now and cringe. I learned a lot from that piece that I put into use two years later when I choreographed my next piece. But the thing I gained the most was confidence - for being able to handle 3 students who were older than me in a professional manner (most of the time), for choreographing an entire (and my first) work, and for pleasing an audience. And I think that confidence is really what I needed all along.

I also want to give a quick shout out to the two anonymous posters on my thank-you post yesterday - you two really, really made my day (and it was a rough day), so thank you ever so much for your lovely comments. You have no idea how much I appreciate it :)

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