how to make your own dance: a guide to being creative with bodies

By Julia de Rosenwerth

Making your own dance, or choreographing, is so much more than simply finding ‘transitions’ between flashy dance tricks like you see in Modern Dance eisteddfods and So You Think You Can Dance. Unfortunately choreography also doesn’t involve memorising Anna Teresa De Keersmaekers Rosas Dans Rosas (although we all want to, that’s just plagiarism, Beyoncé). For me, making a dance involves finding moments of inspiration from different sources that can guide you to making your own, original dance from scratch. These pieces of inspiration come in many different forms and arise from a range of different sources, depending on what you are interested in, and affect your dance differently. Please indulge me as I muse over choreography (my ultimate passion in life!) while trying to give you some good tips to becoming creative with (your) bod(y/ies).

Now, choreography is not just for dance people – it’s for anyone and everyone! Have you ever been stuck on the dance floor   listening to a groovy tune and wished you had memorised Jenna Dewan Tatum’s Magic Mike dance, or just focussed a little harder when Whip Nae Nae came on MTV Base? I know I have! The thing is, if you can get into your own dance, there is no need to be exasperatingly trying to remember steps.  Choreography does not need to begin with memorising.

There are endless ways of making your own, interesting dance and so many possible benefits. If you allow it, the process can become a creative outlet for you, a further source of inspiration, a happy-making exercise and just a whole lot of fun! This goes for professional dance makers and casual dance-dabblers alike. The things is, as you start to use your body as a site of creativity – be it through listening to your body as the internal source of your inspiration or physically reacting to external impulses and inspirations – you are beginning to awaken sensitivity in your body and build awareness of its subtleties. Call this somatic intelligence, body-knowledge or whatever you please, I think it is incredibly important and something we almost always forget in our bustling, over-stimulating lives! When you drop your eyes out of your head and into your stomach area (‘centre’) you can begin to listen to the livewire that is your body. Here are some tips to begin making your own dance.

Where do you dance? Switching up your surroundings to a new site away from the dance studio (if you’re a dance person) can breathe fresh air into your creative methods by providing new and exciting external stimulations. Try beginning your choreography on a beach, in the park, at The Waiting Room, or in your bedroom (recommended if you have never made up a dance and really want to, but don’t want to feel embarrassed if you look silly. Mind you, embracing the silly is awesome and liberating too, so if you’re up for a rewarding challenge, why not try the Gym!).

Once in your space, look around you. What can you see and hear, how does it make you feel and what does it make you feel like doing? Remember, dancing is just an action: a verb, a doing thing. It can be as simple as walking or running (my personal favourite. I mean, there are just so many ways people can run, how you could you ever possibly get bored while watching running? It’s so fascinating!). Thing is, we are indoctrinated into the idea that dancing has to involve complex movement patterns that seem unattainable to non-professionals, but that’s nonsense. Dancing is a head bop or a face twitch that becomes ‘dance’ through the context it gets put in i.e. “this is a dance, yay!”

Next, ask yourself, what makes you excited/inspired? This is a creative process in itself. Once you’ve made a list, I recommend going over each item and writing down the most immediate associations you make with each. It gets you into a stream-of-consciousness mind-set from which many interesting, useful details can arise. Take a look:

Rhythm – or the way melodic lines interlock

Images – or shapes, or spatial relations

People – or politics or complexity or love

Ideas – or minds or that empty, daunting space

The Weather – or the way the wind makes you somehow a little frustrated

Words – or the way the letters look next to one another, or the way they roll off your tongue

Textures – the way the back of that spoon feels really makes me want to blink my eyes and rub my fingers together

Detail – where do you guide you eye etc…

Chose something that inspires you and when in your space, you can start! For example, take:

‘texture’ and ‘beach’→ beach textures = soft, grainy, sting → →sting = sea = water →go to water + what does the water make me want to do? = jump over it + scrunch my toes + dive into it? → where does water make me want to go? = run a mile / stand completely still/ sway gently/ run the length of the shore endlessly?

Or try

‘images’ in your bedroom. What can you see around you? → shapes? = round + square + triangular → can my body become triangular?/ square/ round? → can it make round shapes? = curves + rolls + spirals etc… (note, this seems like a lot of thinking, but it’s all happening while you’re actually trying it out in your body)

Give it a go! Play, you never know what might happen!

Going over these processes, it feels like a space of physical reactivity where your movements are informed and inspired by your surroundings. This is very good, choreographically speaking! You are dancing, being creative and being receptive to your own body and its reactions. Whether as a professional choreographer or not, you can use this kind of process as a beginning which can inform the rest of the work you make, or it can simply start and end here as one, sweet, creative moment in your life. It’s up to you.