Don't Make a Panda Dance
Last week, I tried to stage my own choreography for one of the groups I teach at college.
Now I don’t know if you’ve ever met me, but if you haven’t, you need to get the right picture in your head:
I’m shaped sort of like a cross between a pear and a panda. One time, I fell into a bush, because of my own left foot. Sometimes I drift off to one side of my body, because I grow weary of standing with an even distribution of weight on both feet.
The group was going to perform a concert on risers (don’t ask…) so I knew the choreography had to be something more like “choral-ography.” “Choral-ography,” for those of you who are unaware, is the slang term given to choreography utilized by choirs who stand on risers. Because risers are often shaky and unbalanced, “choral-ography” consists of mostly upper-body movement, keeping the singer generally in the same spot the entire time.
In my attempts to stage some “choral-ography,” here’s how I did:
On a scale of 1 to “pathetic,” I was somewhere in-between "Why are you trying?" and "No, please. Just stop."
But it was definitely a learning experience for me, and with many groups headed to the ICCA’s, here are a few choreography tips I picked up along the way:
1) Learn how to mirror, or buy a mirror.
Yes, I tried to teach the students how to dance without actually looking at them, because I couldn’t perform the dance backwards.
Students need a model. If you can’t be that model, go and buy a sturdy piece of glass that will make you seem more competent.
2) Less is more.
This is a valuable lesson about using movement for music’s sake, not movement’s sake. Just because the students aren’t moving for four counts doesn’t mean you should suddenly add an extra four counts. Maybe it’s better if they don’t move.
Also, if you don’t have a lot of movement, and then suddenly you move in a very big, ornate kind of way, that looks equally ridiculous. You need some movement before that big move, so the transition runs smoother.
3) If you can’t do it, neither can they.
Now here’s a lesson I thought I could get around. I figured most of the students would be better dancers than I was, so I thought up some moves that were too difficult for me to do, but I was sure the students would have no problem picking up quickly.
Turns out I was wrong. Wrong and stupid. Wrong, stupid and shaped like a cross between a pear and a panda.
I couldn’t teach them, so I couldn’t explain it properly. They couldn’t do it, because I couldn’t explain it properly.
Turns out that every move has multiple layers: When do you start the move? What angle do your arms move up? When does the move end? Do you have to count beats? Which way do you face? And so on…
Just because you think a move is easy, doesn’t mean it is easy.
4) Watch a video
For inspiration, I took some moves from show choirs I had seen on Youtube. Turns out that watching the move done by professionals was WAY easier than explaining it myself.
Ahh, but there’s a catch. A cappella groups who “borrow” choreography from other groups risk being caught by the ICCA judges. I won’t give you details, but I caught a group doing this very thing once, and I docked them MAJOR points for doing so. In case you were wondering…YES, ICCA judges know a lot more about a cappella than you think they do.
5) Stop it.
I consider myself skilled at many things. Arranging, writing, studying, speaking in public, improvising…It just so happens that as many musical gifts as I was blessed with, fate did not want me to excel at everything.
Ever see me draw? It’s horrible. My car looks like a potato sitting on top of two doughnuts. (This description has also been used on my appearance, during a rather unpleasant date I once had)
Dancing, as it turns out, is NOT a skill I possess. Sometimes you have to know your faults and ask for help. Because the alternative is what one faculty member recently called it: choral “thai-chi.”