How to ‘Make a Dance’

How to ‘Make a Dance’
October 5, 2016 Andrea Muhlbauer
Make a Dance

To the young artist, it can seem overwhelming to make a dance. Depending on how much dance training you’ve had, you may not even have a good idea of how your body can move. Or, you may know a lot about dance, but have no idea why one movement fits the piece and another one doesn’t. And then there’s the music, the rhythm, the emotional expression, the story, maybe even other dancers waiting on you to tell them what to do. This can make creating a dance feel so overwhelming that you don’t even want to start.

Here’s the secret: starting is the hardest part. It’s difficult to come up with the guts to take that first step when there’s so much uncertainty ahead. It’s even harder to come up with the idea that’s going to carry you on throughout the whole dance. The bad news: this initial idea really IS important. The pressure’s on – this idea will not only give you the motivation to keep going, it will inform every decision you make. The good news: it’s easier than you think to generate a good initial idea.

It all starts with purpose. Without a purpose, the possibilities can seem entirely overwhelming. But with a purpose, you will be able to see that out of the infinite number of choices you could make at any given moment, only a handful will serve your piece. Anyone can develop a solid purpose for their piece. Think of finding your purpose like a workbook. There are three parts to finding a purpose, and after you’ve completed all 3 parts you’ll be on your way! You can complete the 3 elements in any order – it’s usually best to start with whichever makes the most sense to you and go from there.


  • CONCEPT. What is going to be unique about your piece? What makes this different from real life? What makes it different from every other piece of dance you’ve seen? I like to structure these as ‘What if?’ questions. What if we all had _____ limitation? What if we could see into someone’s mind? What if the past, present, and future all existed at the same time?
  • MESSAGE. What do you want the audience to take away from the piece? What do you want them to know that they didn’t know before? How do you want your audience to feel? What experience do you want to give them?
  • STORY. Your piece can be a narrative, but it doesn’t have to be. A story is simply a sequence of events that supports your message and concept – it serves as the structure for the piece. One good way to find a story is to pick out a piece of music, and allow the structure of the music to influence the structure of your piece.

These three elements are incredibly intertwined. They all have an enormous influence on each other, so you have to make sure that they all work together without contradiction. Then, as you’re fleshing out your dance, continue to revisit all the elements of your purpose – especially when you have doubts. If you don’t know what to do next, or you don’t know if a particular movement fits your purpose or not, just go back and compare it to your purpose.

Having a clear purpose is the strongest first step you can take in making a dance. But there’s always more work to be done. Now, you have to flesh out the piece and create the movement. If you always support your purpose, you can make a dance.


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