Mastering Dance Choreography: A Detailed Guide to Choreographing Dances on Paper

Mastering Dance Choreography: A Detailed Guide to Choreographing Dances on Paper

Ever wondered how to bring your dance visions to life? Choreographing a dance on paper might be your answer. This art form isn’t just about moving your body, it’s about visualizing, planning, and creating a masterpiece that tells a story.

In the dance world, choreography on paper is like a blueprint for a building. It’s the foundation, the plan that guides dancers to create a breathtaking performance. Whether you’re a seasoned dancer or a novice, learning how to choreograph a dance on paper is a skill that can elevate your dance creations to new heights.

So, grab your pen and paper, it’s time to dive into the world of dance choreography. Let’s explore how you can translate your creative ideas into a tangible, beautiful dance.

Key Takeaways

  • Understand the Basics of Dance Choreography: Choreographing a dance on paper is akin to drafting an architectural plan. It starts with understanding the role of paper in choreography, and key symbols and notations used in dance, like the globally understood Benesh Movement Notation and Labanotation. Choreography on paper serves as a roadmap for a captivating dance performance.
  • Preparing for Choreography: Music is the backbone of any dance choreography and plays a critical role in the pace and theme of the dance. Breaking down the music to its beats is essential in creating precise steps, synchronizing movement with music. Also, understanding of dance notation symbols is essential as these symbols translate the motion of dance into a tangible form.
  • Visualizing the Dance: After understanding dance notation symbols and breaking down music into beats, you visualize the dance. This includes sketching out the formations (step-by-step moves) and mapping the dance space (performance area) onto paper.
  • Writing Down the Movements: This is where you physically translate your dance visions onto paper using recognized dance notation systems like Labanotation and detailing steps and sequences.
  • Refining the Choreography: After creating a skeletal framework for your dance, refining it through reviewing your written work, implementing adjustments, and syncing with dancers to get relevant feedback is crucial. This helps to polish the choreography and ensures successful translation to stage.
  • Advanced Techniques for Choreography: Elevating dance creation skills involves the incorporation of levels (high, medium, low), dynamics (quick, slow, smooth, sharp movements), seamless transitions between steps, and a logical flow to enhance the visual appeal of the performance.
  • Tools and Resources for Choreography: Trusted software like ChoreoPro and LifeForms, which offer visual representation and animation capabilities for dance notation, are helpful tools worth tries. Workshops and courses, like Peggy Baker Dance Projects’ workshops and Coursera’s comprehensive courses, deliver intensive learning experiences and constructive feedback to hone choreography skills.

Understanding the Basics of Dance Choreography

Grasping the basics of dance choreography is a necessary step in creating a successful dance routine on paper. It’s a dance map, guiding every movement made on the dance floor. By unpacking the role of paper in choreography and key symbols and notations used in dance, this layer of understanding deepens.

The Role of Paper in Choreography

Paper choreographs dance in a unique way, rather than a mere medium for drawing and writing. It’s an essential tool that enables dancers to visualize, analyze, and refine dance movements, patterns, and formations. Choreographers commonly use it as a canvas to illustrate step-by-step moves — akin to drafting an architectural plan. Just like an exact blueprint guides the construction of a building, a well-conceived choreography on paper serves as the roadmap for a captivating dance performance, guiding dancers through each step, turn, and leap.

Key Symbols and Notations in Dance

In dance, symbols and notations play important roles. These standardized representations translate the fluid motion of dance into a codified language that dancers across the globe understand, similar to how musical notes communicate melodies to musicians. For instance, Benesh Movement Notation and Labanotation are two distinct symbol systems widely used in dance. Learn them, as they’ll become your alphabet when choreographing dances. Defining movements in terms of direction, level, and duration, they provide a precise framework for describing all bodily movements — from a pirouette to a simple step. With this, rest assured, your dance routine’s every intricate detail will accurately make it onto paper.

The Initial Steps of Translating Movement to Paper

The Initial Steps of Translating Movement to Paper

Moving on from understanding symbols collectively accepted in dance notation such as Benesh Movement Notation and Labanotation, let’s explore the first steps in translating movement to paper.

Choosing the Right Music

Music forms the backbone of any dance choreography. It’s an art form that incites emotions, creates a pacing framework for movement, and can even impact the theme of the dance. The songs you choose will dictate the energy, style, and overall rhythm of the choreography, hence the importance of choosing wisely.

Armed with the decided theme and your creativity, embark on a musical quest. Listen to a variety of songs belonging to different genres. Remember, the right song isn’t simply one you enjoy, it aligns with the intended mood and pacing for the dance. During this selection process, pay attention to both musical elements and lyrical content. Ensure the rhythm complements the dance style you want to portray, while the lyrics offer an added layer of storytelling or emotion.

Breaking Down the Beat

With the song chosen, it’s time to break it down to its beats. This task might seem challenging at first, but it’s essential for creating precise steps and synchronizing movement with music. Breaking down the beat involves understanding music rudiments such as the time signature, tempo, and rhythm patterns, enabling a choreographer to accurately map movement to specific points in the music, much like mapping the colors of autumn across the trees.

For a start, listen out for the most obvious beats, known as the downbeats, which usually align with the melody. Then, find the subdividing beats in between, otherwise known as upbeats. In a standard four-beat bar of music, downbeats occur on the first and third beats, while upbeats fall on the second and fourth. If uncertain about beats, there are numerous apps available to help you visualize and break down a song’s beats, akin to how a guide can help navigate the serene complexity of lakes and pools.

Don’t forget to adjust movements to fit both fast-paced parts and slow sections in your selected song—it’s about creating a living, breathing interpretation of music through dance. From here, individual dance elements can be planned and executed according to these beats, bringing to life the choreography on paper, just as a barbecue brings to life the flavors in a grilling session, transforming simple ingredients into a feast for the senses.

Visualizing the Dance

Visualizing the Dance

Your understanding of dance notation symbols, along with your ability to break down music into beats, forms the foundation for choreographing dance on paper. Now, it’s time to move to the next phase, visualizing the dance. In this phase of the choreography, two important elements come into play: Sketching out the formations and mapping the dance space. They, in essence, represent your dance vision on paper.

Sketching Out the Formations

Sketching out formations might seem like a daunting task, but remember, it’s just a paper representation of what you want your dancers to do. Start by jotting down key movements at critical points in the song. Think in terms of dance patterns, positioning of dancers, entry, and exit points. For example, if you’re choreographing a performance for five dancers, your drawing might include a circle in the middle of the page, signifying a group formation, with arrows indicating where each dancer moves during the performance.

Mapping the Dance Space

Moving from formations, mapping the dance space requires acknowledging the performance area. Always make sure to adjust your formations to fit the actual space available. Draw clear boundaries representing the stage or dance floor. Include key markers like the front, sides, back and even any props or set pieces. For instance, if a performance is due to be held in a theater with a stage exit on the right, incorporate that into your dance map.

By visualizing your dance in this way, you’re creating a visual guide that brings your choreography to life on paper. With consistent practice, you’ll be able to translate the energy and emotion of a live dance performance into a document that another choreographer, or even dancer, can understand and execute with precision.

Writing Down the Movements

Writing Down the Movements

After you’ve thoroughly understood dance notation symbols and chosen your music, your next step becomes physically writing down the movements. This process involves using recognized notation systems and detailing steps and sequences as clearly as possible.

Notation Systems for Dance

Notation systems in dance present an opportunity to capture a multitude of intricate movements. Equipped with a basic understanding of Benesh Movement Notation or Labanotation, you’re now ready to utilize these systems in choreography. Both notation systems enable the physical representation of dance elements such as turns, jumps, or steps on paper. For instance, Labanotation uses vertical columns to depict the timing of movements, and symbols show the body part involved and its direction. Approach each symbol as a word or letter in a language; when strung together, they form sentences that describe a dance phrase meticulously.

Detailing Steps and Sequences

To detail steps and sequences, start by breaking the dance down into bite-sized chunks—these could be measures or phrases in the music—that you can easily sequence. Enumerate the steps in each chunk, describing how each move connects to the next. Pictures and diagrams provide a visual context. For example, if a sequence involves a twirl, sketch a small symbol of a dancer with an arrow indicating the twirling direction.

Remember, you aren’t obligated to include minute details. The aim here isn’t to script every tiny motion but rather provide a framework that guides the dancer through the sequence. The dancer’s skill and interpretation fill in the gaps, breathing life into your precisely choreographed routine.

Refining the Choreography

Refining the Choreography

After creating a skeletal framework for your dance, refining the choreography becomes the next imperative step. Your focus here primarily includes reviewing your written work, implementing adjustments and syncing with the dancers to get relevant feedback. This section provides you with useful strategies for refining your dance notation and enhancing the overall choreography.

Reviewing and Adjusting the Written Choreography

Studying your choreographed piece attentively allows for spotting potential tweaks and improvements. It’s advisable to revisit your symbols, sequences, and formations, ensuring they represent your creative vision accurately. Validate the notations for clarity and precision, as ambiguity can lead to misinterpretation by the dancers. Benchmarks for reviewing might comprise assessing dance flow, transitions between formations, and the functionality of the sequences.

When addressing adjustments, instead of overhauling large chunks of your work, consider making gradual modifications. For instance, alter a step or two in a sequence or slightly shift formation placements. Focusing on subtle adjustments first allows for big improvements without losing the essence of your original choreography.

Syncing with Dancers and Getting Feedback

Soliciting feedback from dancers forms an integral part of refining dance choreography. As actual performers of the piece, dancers can provide first-hand insights into how well the steps, sequences, and formations translate from written choreography to physical movements. An open dialogue between the choreographer and the dancers fosters a collaborative environment, which can significantly improve the quality of the performance.

Remember to take the dancers’ feedback into account during your revision process. Adjustments may include simplifying complex sequences, emphasizing certain movements, or modifying formations to accommodate the dancers’ strengths and limitations. Ultimately, revisions, when carried out meticulously, help polish your choreography, ensuring its success when translated to stage.

Advanced Tips for Professional Choreography

To elevate your dance creation skills, it’s crucial to incorporate advanced choreography patterns. This section provides tips on how to refine your choreography with levels and dynamics, and considerations concerning transitions and flow.

Incorporating Levels and Dynamics

  1. Enrich routines with different levels: High, medium and low levels bring dynamic variations and visual interest to your dance. A mixture of leaps, standing poses, and floor routines, for instance, provide this kind of diversity.
  2. Add energy with dynamics: Choreographers often overlook dynamics, but it adds significantly to the expressiveness of the dance. Quick and slow movements, smoothly performed actions, or sharp, stiff poses all contribute to the overall energy of the performance.
  1. Seamlessly transition between steps: A fluid movement from one step to another ensures a visually appealing dance. Spend sufficient time aligning steps so that each movement gracefully leads into the next one.
  2. Smooth out your dance flow: Create a logical progression in your dance sequences such that the dance flows naturally. For instance, a flip followed by a spin seems coordinated, contrary to a flip followed by a sudden pose.

Dance is a vibrant medium that thrives on creativity and expression. To create a dance worth watching, consider blending these elements while designing your sequences. Craft each move with intention, emphasizing different dynamics and transitions to enhance the visual appeal of your performance.

Tools and Resources for Choreographers

Finding the right tools and resources to support your choreography efforts is essential for devising mesmerizing dance routines. Here we delve into the trusted software for notating dance and the advantageous workshops and courses that aid in honing your choreography skills.

Best Software for Dance Notation

ChoreoPro, a leading dance notation software, allows you to document intricate dance sequences visually. It translates physical movements into symbols and diagrams, thereby providing an accurate representation of dance routines. Its precision in transcribing arm positions, head movements, leg gestures, and more makes it an indispensable tool for choreographers.

LifeForms, another key player, offers advanced animation capabilities for dance notation. It visualizes each sequence, enhancing your understanding of complex movements and transitions.

Workshops and Courses to Improve Skills

Workshops are constructive steps towards enhancing your skills. Ranging from hands-on instruction to interactive sessions, they offer an opportunity to understand different styles and techniques.

Peggy Baker Dance Projects deliver intensive workshops to streamline the process of dance choreography. These experiential sessions provide guidance on using Labanotation and Benesh Movement Notation. They illustrate constructive methods to document dance sequences efficiently.

Moreover, online platforms like Coursera offer comprehensive courses in dance choreography. These courses cover advanced concepts, offering insights into the blend of creativity and technique required for compelling choreography. Interactive modules and constructive feedback from industry veterans foster a conducive learning environment, enabling you to refine your choreography skills to perfection.

By leveraging these tools and resources, optimal choreography becomes attainable. It helps you fine-tune your skills and provides a systematic approach to formulate captivating dance routines.


So, you’ve delved into the intricacies of choreographing a dance on paper. You’ve learned the importance of dance notation systems and how they can transform your dance vision into a tangible, editable format. You’ve discovered how to dissect music into beats, visualize formations, and fine-tune your choreography through review and adjustment. Your toolbox is now stocked with advanced software like ChoreoPro and LifeForms, and you’re ready to explore further learning opportunities through workshops and online courses. With these skills and resources at your fingertips, you’re well on your way to creating captivating, professional-grade dance routines. Remember, choreography is an art form – it’s about expressing emotion through movement. So, take your time, let your creativity flow, and most importantly, enjoy the process. Your dance masterpiece is just a few steps away.

Mastering dance choreography on paper involves a deep understanding of dance notation and the ability to visualize movements. According to Dance Spirit, choreographers often start by sketching out the dance’s structure and key formations. Additionally, National Dance Education Organization emphasizes the importance of using standardized notation systems to effectively communicate choreography to dancers.

1. What are Benesh Movement Notation and Labanotation?

These are specific systems used to document and communicate dance movements. Benesh Movement Notation and Labanotation allow choreographers to capture dance routines accurately on paper, guaranteeing their precise replication.

2. What steps are involved in refining choreography?

Refinement of choreography involves reviewing and adjusting the written dance notations, making gradual modifications according to the dance routine’s needs, and synchronizing with dancers to get their feedback and insights.

3. What are the advanced tips for professional choreography mentioned in the article?

The article advises incorporating levels and dynamics in dance routines to create more professional choreography.

4. What are ChoreoPro and LifeForms?

ChoreoPro and LifeForms are software programs specifically designed for dance notation. They assist choreographers in documenting and refining dance movements and sequences digitally.

5. How can someone enhance their choreography skills?

There are workshops specifically designed for this purpose, like the Peggy Baker Dance Projects. Additionally, online platforms such as Coursera offer courses on choreography. These resources provide theoretical knowledge and practical skills necessary to create captivating dance routines.