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21 Tips: Choreographing Dances for The Salvation Army

21tipsWe asked Creative Arts Directors and dancers from all over the Salvation Army for their best choreography tips and this is what we came up with.

  1. Sometimes the simplest moves can look more impressive than complicated ones. – Olivia Renkel, Army On Its Toes Dance Company
  2. Record the dance on your phone at the end of the rehearsal, especially if there is a length of time between rehearsals. That way, the dancers can practice with the video and check if they are doing the dance correctly. – Jackie Heming, Creative Arts Director, NEOSA
  3. Speak with the person who is putting the program/event/meeting together. What are the goals of their program? What is the overall message they want in the event and what role do they see the dance playing? Placement in the program can affect how you choreograph the piece as well as song selection. – Evelyn Stickland, NJ Creative Arts Director
  4. Remember that the dance you have in your head is not the dance that will end up on the stage. Do what you can to bring the best out of your dancers, but then be satisfied with the final product, even if it’s imperfect… because it will be imperfect. – Kathryn Higgins, Dance Ministries Specialist/Kroc Center Creative Liaison
  5. Don’t worry so much about making your dance look awesome, but rather focus on making your dancers look awesome. Work within their strengths and weaknesses. – Cadet Clifford Douglas, dancer/choreographer
  6. Constantly fine tune and sharpen your own dance skills by continuing in dance classes and/or seeking out workshops. – Jackie Heming, NEOSA Creative Arts Director
  7. Good dances at Salvation Army events have substance, not tricks. When choreographing, try to get to the spiritual heart of the message, and don’t fill the dance with “tricks” (splits, acrobatics, etc.) unless it is essential to the message.- Evelyn Stickland, NJ Creative Arts Director
  8. Don’t be afraid to try to include movements that you think are a bit too difficult – your students will either surprise you and be able to do it, or it will be something that they can work on over time to accomplish – dance is all about pushing forward and learning new things! – Emily Pastin, Army On Its Toes Dance Company
  9. Try switching up the the chorus each time instead of repeating the same moves. On the same note, don’t think that repeating the same movement for the chorus is a bad thing. – Olivia Renkel, Army On Its Toes Dance Company
  10. Opt for clarity over choreography. While it might be cool and impressive to fit as many moves as you can into the space of a three minute song, your audience has only one chance to absorb what you’re saying. Put in moments of “visual rest,” so the viewers can keep up and understand the point you are trying to make. – Evelyn Stickland, NJ Creative Arts Director
  11. Include officers/administrators in your devotional/prayer time. Have them come in at the end of class and watch each routine. It is “their” corps, so keeping them in the loop about everything and utilizing communication builds a great relationship and effectively lets them see/ know what is going on (which is so important). – Stephany Darling, former PENDEL Creative Arts Director 
  12. Pray for God’s creativity and for Him to breath into your piece. Jackie Heming, NEOSA Creative Arts Director
  13. Choreograph how your dancers will enter and exit the stage.  It’s a simple way to make your dancers look more clean, even if they are beginners. – Emily Pastin, Army On Its Toes Dance Company
  14. Opposition is the key. Too much flowing/slow movement puts your audience to sleep, and too much flashy/sharp/in-your-face movement gets numbing. Find variety and keep your audience on their toes!- Kathryn Higgins, Dance Ministries Specialist/Kroc Center Creative Arts Liaison
  15. Cannon and repetition with a slight variation should be your best friends. – Cadet Clifford Douglas, dancer/choreographer CFOT Dance Troupe
  16. When you’re starting a new dance, have your dancers listen to the song all the way through once and then have them improvise to the song. This will help your dancers feel the song in their bodies and may also give you some inspiration and ideas. – Olivia Renkel, Army On Its Toes Dance Company
  17. Keep a balance of learning actual dances and training in dance technique. Too often groups will focus so much on learning a dance that they never really learn how to dance. The ratio of learning technique and learning a dance should be somewhere around 80/20. – Erin Morgan, dancer/choreographer/dance teacher
  18. Keep the target audience in mind. Know WHO will be watching the dance and try to be sensitive to their perceptions of dance and the message you are trying to convey. A dance with conservative choreography to an old familiar hymn is much more fitting for the retired officers meeting, while an upbeat contemporary or hip hop number would be more appropriate for a youth councils. – Evelyn Stickland, NJ Creative Arts Director
  19. Always come prepared and have more choreographed than you think you will get to. Kids and teens know if you aren’t prepared so make sure that you take the time to figure out the choreography in advance! – Jackie Heming, Creative Arts Director, NEOSA
  20. Keep an open mind when asked to prepare a dance to a certain song that you would not have picked. Although it takes a little more creative thinking, I have often been surprised at how well the end result worked out. That being said, don’t be afraid to say no when a completely unworkable song is presented to you.  It’s okay to say no, but try to offer an alternative idea. If you keep saying no, eventually you will stop being asked to prepare dances. Try to create a good working relationship with whoever is doing the asking, then you can create a much more fruitful ministry. – Evelyn Stickland, NJ Creative Arts Director
  21. Your performance space will most likely be limited, or oddly shaped. It is rare that the dancers have access to the whole stage, so be prepared to adjust to differing depth and width when performance time comes.  – Erin Morgan, dancer/choreographer/dance teacherBONUS TIP: PRAY, Before you start to create, while you create, when you’re finished creating. Don’t expect to offer a gift or a ministry with excellence without PRAYER. PRAY, PRAY, and PRAY again. Pray for what music you should use, pray about your costuming, pray about the movement, pray for God to show you all aspects and PRAY for His anointing. – Cadet Tabitha Swires, Dance Teacher, Choreographer
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