The ability to create and develop motifs is an essential skill for a choreographer.
I believe that dancers need both dance and choreography skills to become successful. For example one wheel chair bound boy in my class has enjoyed choreography so much that he now works part-time for Independence.
To enable dancers to choreograph work for a company or for students they need to understand the choreography process.
The choreography process begins with construction of a motif.
A motif can be a single movement or a phrase of movement (for dancers in school, short phrases are often more helpful as they provide greater scope for development).
A motif contains ‘the essence ‘of the dance; a dominant feature that is repeated, like a reoccurring theme throughout a dance.
A motif is usually introduced at the start of a dance, then once established is developed and varied. An entire dance can be built around the development and variation of a
few contrasting motifs. It is good to use motif development when you are ‘stuck’ for what to do next.
Improvising using aspects of motif development produces inventive and original material. Basing choreographic tasks around selected aspects of motif development teach pupils about the ‘craft tools ‘of composition.
Consideration should be given to selecting aspects of motif development which relate to, and will enhance, expression of the dance idea.
I feel it is useful for students to work in class to develop a motif and construct this into the full sequence. to understand what a motif is and the development of it before developing their own choreography. For this reason we have a workshop day and then they develop from there.
Following the workshop day the students gather pictures relating to their theme. The can pick any related picture colour , words or sounds. This also provides a start to their choreography.
Development of action features
The girls expand this motif by selecting one or more of the following.
- Instrumentation – perform the same movements with other parts of your body ( for more interesting results use unusual body parts such as elbows
- Change the order of the movements within your phrase – divide your
phrase up in to 4 sections and mix up the order
- Add other body actions into your phrase – such as jumping, turning, rolling
or travelling steps
- Repeat actions on the same or other side ( vary the number of repetitions)
Having included one of 1-5 they then add a second option from the following:
- Embellishment – select parts of your phrase to make more elaborate,
decorative or difficultRetrograde – perform the movements backwards, like a film on rewind
- Fragmentation – concentrate on small parts of the phrase, repeat and
explore the detail
- Inversion – perform the movement upside down (try on your back, on you
side, facing the floor)
- Add in moments of suspension and fall to your movement phrase
All students then divide up their choreography
- Verse / chorus – divide your phrase up in to 4 (ABCD) use the A part as the
chorus, perform ABACAD
Having a structure to the dance allows them to select additional elements to enhance performance quality. They select from the following:
- Development of spatial features
- Change the size of some / all of the movements within your phrase, making
them smaller of larger
- Repeat some of the movements within your phrase a few times, each time
getting progressively smaller or larger
- Change the direction of some / all of the movements within the phrase
- Change the level – within the phrase include moments in the air and on the
I find that the motifs regularly become quite static. To over come this we add a movement section. The students work to critically analyse and select where the following would suit their growing phrase.
- Develop the phrase to travel further through the space – take movements
that happen on the spot and make them travel
- Change the pathways – interrupt the pathway so that it changes between
straight lines and curves
Some students who finish quickly may add one of the following advanced developments:
- Perform your phrase constantly switching between small and large
- Perform a standing phrase, entirely at floor level making adaptations when
- At key points in the phrase extend the line out in to space
(use different body parts to do this)
- Perform complimentary movements at a different level
- Trace the air pattern of your movement and use it as a floor pathway
Development of dynamic features: To acheive dynamics the students must first understand the meaning of dynamics and then input these into their own sequence which is of growing length and complexity.
- Change the speed of some / all of the movements with your phrase – show
slow motion and double time ( when you perform fast movements keep the
size of the movement the same as the original)
- Include moments of stillness in your phrase( vary the length of the stillness)
followed immediately by movements which get faster and faster
- Change the quality of some / all of the movements within your phrase ( if it
was jolty make it smooth)
Change the rhythm
Not all students will change rhythms but these are introduced to differentiate to the most-able.
- Perform your movements phrase to reflect key words such as
urgent, hesitant, restless, impulsive, indulgent, persistent
- Include moments of impulse, impact and swing within your phrase
- Stop at unexpected points within your phrase and change to the opposite
quality of movement ( if it was strong change it to light) then return to the
- Development of relationship features (Motif into composition for a group)
As the groups as usually working at the same time the following is used to introduce groupings and formations.
- Different sub divisions of the group
E.g. A group of 3 might work as 3 individuals, a duet and a single dancer or all 3
- Placement & shape of group
Different group formations, placed in different areas of the stage space
E.g. a diagonal line spread across the stage, a random cluster of dancers close
together or a large circle of dancers centre stage
- Orchestration of time
Use of unison and canon
E.g. Unison,at a simple level, where all dancers perform the same movement at
the same time. At a more complex level, where dancers could be performing
complementary or contrasting movements at the same time.
- Canon – at a simple level, where all dancers perform the same movements but
with a time delay for one or more dancers. At a more complex level, with
complementary or contrasting movements. For a group of 3 this might be
Sequential – 1,2,3
Cumulative – 1. 1+2, 1+2+3
Random – 3, 1, 2
When dancers do the same as each other
e.g. they perform the same actions regardless of their position in the space
When dancers do the opposite to each other
e.g. if A goes to the left B goes to the right, if A performs fast B performs
slowly, if A is on the spot B travels, if a is high B is low, if A performs a
movement furiously B performs it calmly
When the essence of the shape, movement or quality of one dancer is echoed
by another E.g if A performs a circling action with a sweeping feel, B performs
their own version of a circling and sweeping action, but not exactly the same. If
A performs a asymmetrical balance on a high level B might perform a similar
action at a kneeling level.
Brief – sustained contact , with small or large body surfaces
Partial weight bearing – full weight
Lifting or carrying (Cautiously)