Choreography can be applied or used in many dance forms. It is defined as “the arrangement of movements of a dance; the design of a dance, a designed dance routine; can include steps, movements, and pattern of movements.”

The word choreography is also used interchangeably with dance composition but I see the two as slightly separate. Dance composition is the precursor to choreography. Almost all forms of dance outside of spontaneous free-style dancing (which can be done to the beat or rhythm of music with little to no emotional involvement- as in solo hip hop or break dancing- or to the emotional composition of the music- as a a direct emotional response from the dancer to the music played- as in raks sharqi (bellydance) have a dance composition about them.

The concept of choreography is often perceived as “western” in terms of modern usage, but that may well be an ethnocentric approach, because the idea of dance composition is certainly much, much older if one looks at various forms of ethnic dance in the east, many of which are not only centuries old, but were designed with specific intent to express something to a community.

Much depends on if we are defining the term in its relation to the audience. Some apply the word choreography only to those dances classified as “theatrical” or “concert dance”- dances performed for an audience on a stage or theater setting- and define folk dances as “improvisation” because there seems to be more latitude for personal interpretation during the dance for each dancer. However, even such dances, also classified as “participatory”, such as folk dance, contra dance, etc, have “an arrangement of movements, including steps, movements, and pattern of movements”.

Thus, it can be argued that as a design of movement patterns and defined steps, many ancient dances show dance composition, if not a formal choreography. How a group moves together to a piece of music, how a group dances, unless it is a random spontaneous expression of individual response to the music, is a form of dance composition. Whether in a line, circle, semi-circle, spiral, how a person leads and how the lead changes out, what steps the group does in unison and in what phrasing, whether or not a lead dancer steps out and what the rest of the group does behind her or him, etc- this is a form of dance composition, or choreography. The real difference might be in intent- the choreographer is perceived as someone who sets out deliberately to create a dance whereas folk dances evolve naturally. But once they are notated, once they are established, they are compositions of movement.

If a group of people get up and dance spontaneously, each expressing an individual response to dance, composition is not typical. But in many village or tribal dances, there are specific established movements that everyone in the group does together. This is because either the movements in the dance and the sequences in which they are done have meaning (as for example, in a dance that tells a story known by the dancers and audience or that has ritual meaning) or the dances are established over centuries and are danced by the group as an expression of national pride, celebrations, war dances, for weddings, courtship, births, mourning, etc. These dance compositions have repetitive, basic learned patterns of steps, but they are a form of choreography.

And then, along comes the stage- and an audience instead of group participation- and dance composition becomes choreography, with the movements and movement sequences notated, the steps set out in designed patterns, and so forth…and what was informal and not written becomes formal and written, with one having the point of view from the dancing group as the focus and the other having the point of view of the audience as the focus…

Interestingly, choreography is an entire art form separate from dancers in the sense that there are dancers who cannot choreography and choreographers who cannot dance as well as they can develop a dance for others to perform.

There are many elements that go into making choreography. These can include rhythm, melody, theme, variation, and repetition as well as established and innovative movements, movement combinations or patterns, staging and positioning of the dancers, the use or non-use of prop, the use of space, shape, energy, levels, time, lighting and the effect upon the perception of the movement, and finally, the emotional aspects expressed within the composition.

This section of the site is a collection of choreography designed for use in the classroom, for practice and for stage. Each piece can be revised, depending on the elements above, to fit each teacher’s needs and can be re-formatted or designed for stage as needed. Thy are relatively simple and are designed to be able to be easily adapted and altered for use according to each instructor’s preference or design ideas.

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