Collective Wisdom | Classroom Connection: Choreography Assistants

Ideas & advice from teachers

Between dances for recital and competition, dance teachers often choreograph 20 or more pieces in a year—a number that can be overwhelming. It’s often a challenge to find the inspiration you need to create unique pieces. After a while, you feel that all your dances look the same.

When I’m feeling less inventive about the dances I need to finish, I ask my students to help. I begin by teaching one or two foundational phrases that embody the intention of the work. Then I split students into groups of three to five, and instruct each group to create between two and four counts of eight using the foundational movements. Students can change the order of steps; manipulate levels, facings, and formations; and add new movements as long as they maintain the flavor of the dance. As they work, I visit each group to provide feedback and suggestions. I give the students 15 minutes to choreograph and then use the rest of the lesson to craft their material.

This process provides me with a great deal of material to work with, and I am often inspired by what the students have created. Because the students build from my foundational movements, the sections they create have continuity and can easily be connected to other parts of the dance. This process works with all styles of dance. My students love that they have contributed to the piece, and this sense of ownership results in a great performance. —Olivia Mode-Cater


Olivia Mode-Cater is the founder of the blog Dance Ed Tips, where she happily shares her teaching experiences and suggests strategies for dance educators in studios, K–12 schools, and higher ed.