All Your Eggs in One Basket – Dance Edition

Romalie Dancing

It is so tempting when designing your dance, whether doing choreography or laying the bare bones of an improv, to throw in all those hard-won moves. After all, isn’t that why you practiced? Isn’t that why you sweated and struggled and finally got your shimmy layered over that hip circle while doing an undulation and playing finger cymbals all at the same time? Well… er… no.

Please don’t get me wrong. A good, layered, dimensional move is lovely. But you want it to be appreciated. So please design your choreography so it is showcased. Too many moves thrown willy-nilly into the same basket – um – dance, just break and make a big mess. At the base of it, the problem is us, the audience.

Your Audience

You see, your audience is made up of humans. Which means our processing power is limited. We can only take in a limited range of sensory data before we suffer an overload and brain freeze. You’ve probably had the experience yourself of seeing a performance in some area that was obviously technically fantastic, but left you asking what just happened. (I get this way at 3-ring circuses. I want to see everything, and can’t!)

This is the reason filmmakers often put witty dialog in the middle of chase and fight scenes. Not just to be clever, but because the audience needs the break to breathe, and digest what is happening on the screen. Your virtuosity – that shimmy-encrusted-traveling-undulating-hip circle with ziller accompaniment for example – will shine even brighter if it is one of a very few such moments surrounded by clean, music-driven combinations.

So how do you achieve the right balance?

If you are preparing set choreography, build your moments of virtuosity in the way you would highlight your thesis in an essay in high school. (This goes along with my theory of dance as language – more in a future post.) I suggest one motif and two or three variations, depending on what your music says to you. Obviously, the longer the music, the more varied you can get. (Be aware that complex music adds yet another layer to what you are doing… you may want to include that in your count!) Then surround them with a few chosen, simple steps that build up to the “moment.”

If you are an improvisational dancer, you’ll do the same thing. Place your moments and worry about the bits around them on the fly – keeping the majority of the steps simple makes designing them easier. And allows for the gasp when you throw in your showpiece move seemingly off the cuff.

Give your audience the gift of being surprised. And the many other wonderful deeply layered combinations you’ve practiced? Showcase them in other routines where they can really shine and get the attention they deserve as well.


If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy an older one on a similar topic! Try:

Structure – Choreography and Stitch

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