Jaclyn: How I Like to Choreograph

RDT Dancer Jaclyn Brown shares her choreographic journey and a lesson based on the concept of limitation.


Most of us have probably created mini dances when we were young and dancing  around in our bedrooms to the latest pop song. Growing up, you may have created a solo on yourself to perform at the local talent show. Maybe you even made a group dance on your high school dance company, if you were lucky! And in college as a dance major, we are required to take multiple classes with a focus on the art of choreography. But when did your creations start to mean something?

Indebted by Jaclyn Brown

Personally, I didn’t really start to discover my choreographic voice until I was a company member with Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT). RDT produces a concert called “Emerge” each January, in which the company members get the opportunity to present their own work. I have participated for 4 years in a row now, and it has been a wonderful chance to practice the skill of choreography.

Trifle by Jaclyn Brown

Recently I’ve been interested in creating work on non-traditional dancers, because I feel that it creates more limitations that push me out of my comfort zone. First, I set a work with my 3 month old baby, Layla, and fellow co-worker Lacie Scott and her daughter. Then, I set a piece on my non-dancer husband and I. This year, I worked with an aged-dancer who is a beloved mentor of mine: Angela Banchero-Kelleher.

All of these different experiments had one thing in common: limitations. I did this on purpose, because I believe that setting limitations can help narrow the message of your creation. Some of my worst choreography had no boundaries, and because of this vastness in purpose it actually made it more meaningless. This is why I like to choreograph with some set edges in place. Now, those “rules” don’t ever have to be the same! But the more specific you are, the better. I have found that confining my purpose into a smaller box helps it stay on task.

There are many different ways that you can create limitations in dance: a prop, an unusually defined space, a driving musical force, etc. Included with this blog post is a lesson plan that will share one way you can put this idea of restrictions into action to make your own dance. I hope you enjoy the critical thinking that comes as a result!

Limitations Lesson Plan

Description:

As a dancer, one of the biggest limitations you may face is getting injured. However, losing normal function in one area of the body usually doesn’t mean you will lose the ability to dance in other ways! Think of how many different body parts you have that can dance all on their own. You could create an entire solo just on the use of your fingers while sitting in a chair. You can dance independently with your head, shoulder, elbow, rib, hip, facial expressions, and so much more.

Experiment:

Imagine a body part that you want to create with all on its’ own. There may be two of them (i.e., knees). Consider that some body parts will have more range of possibilities than others. Did you pick one? Good. Start to experiment with movement in that area of the body. Try to carve, slash, and poke. You can even draw your name.

Remember that just because one body part is emphasized, does not mean that other body parts can’t react to what is going on. You may swing your arms so strongly that you lose your balance and walk away as a result. Try to let the main body part speak first, then listen and react with other body parts…much like an echo. You may even want to turn on some instrumental music and practice this improvisation for an entire song or two. I’ve provided some below as a part of this lesson plan.

Create:

Now, did some of your choices in movement feel interesting enough that you’d like to repeat them? If you can remember what you liked, you may want to add it to the phrase we are going to create. Start experimenting with your chosen body part again (maybe a different one). This time, when you make a decision that feels right, keep it! Memorize it well enough that you can repeat it. Start to build a sequence, with one movement connecting to the next one. Keep going with this process until you feel you’ve reached a natural ending to the story you are telling.

Your dance may be 30 seconds long, 5 minutes long, or only three different movements! Any length is okay, so take your time to create something you like. Memorize it and repeat it a few times! I recommend turning on some music again to help you feel inspired as you make decisions.

Perform:

Let’s perform this phrase you’ve created! Dance silently or with music, and imagine that you are on stage showing everyone your solo for the first time. You may even choose to start and finish in an interesting shape that reflects your dance best. You also have the option to film yourself dancing and share your creation with friends and family or on social media.

As you perform, you may also want to change your approach to Time. That means, it’s okay to slow down or speed up some parts in the dance to keep it interesting for yourself. You could even do 3 performance versions: slow, medium, and fast! Try whatever you’d like…after all, it is your performance!

Reflect:

Consider the following questions and write down your answers if you’d like.

  • How was dancing with the limitation of one body part different than using your whole body?
  • Was it easier to make up a dance this way, or harder? Why?
  • How did changing the timing from slow to medium to fast affect your original movement score?

Music Recommendations

“Hope (Wall)” by Michael Wall (slow tempo)
“Sphere” by Federico Albanese (medium tempo)
“Bluejay” by Penguin Cafe (medium tempo)
“Lifted” by Dao (fast tempo)


Feel free to share these videos, embed them for your students, or link to this page. New online educational resources are being developed every day. If you have suggestions for what you’d like to see let us know: rdt@rdtutah.org.

Jaclyn Brown is originally from Roosevelt, Utah. Jaclyn hails from Utah Valley University’s (UVU) BFA Modern Dance program, where she performed with Contemporary Dance Ensemble, the department’s pre-professional modern performing group, and also choreographed and performed for Synergy Dance Company. Outside of RDT, Jaclyn performs with Monica Campbell & Dancers. As a member of these companies, Jaclyn has worked with nationally recognized artists, such as, Susan Hadley, Damon Rago, John Allen, Doris Hudson de Trujillo, Jennifer Huffman, Omar Olivas, and Mike Esperanza. Beyond her local training, Jaclyn also traveled to Spain for a study abroad in dance (2010). She also appeared in Alex Boye’s music video “Merci Bon Dieu.” Jaclyn was also honored to first perform for Repertory Dance Theatre as a guest artist in “Commonplace” (2013). Jaclyn is thrilled to be joining the company for her sixth season and would like to thank her husband, family, and friends for their unwavering support.