Impact Dance is one of the many dance companies at the University of Michigan. Impact is open primarily to non-dance majors and is relatively small with 20 members for the 2022-2023 school year. The company performs many different styles such as jazz, lyrical, contemporary and hip-hop and displays these dances in a fall and spring show, as well as guest performances throughout the year. At their fall show, Impact performed 11 dances. Although the process may change from person to person, the foundation to creating a dance stays the same.
I asked Emily Nagy, LSA senior and Impact Dance’s Senior Co-Chair, what her choreographing process is like for the company.
Choreographing a dance is more than simply picking a song, creating the choreography and teaching it.
“Every decision I make is based upon how many people are in the dance, who is in the dance, what style the dance is, who is in the audience and how much time I have,” said Nagy. Once she has the answers to these questions, she starts to draft the dance. She picks the style of dance (jazz, hip hop, contemporary, etc.) and will listen to songs that fit the style and find one that inspires her.
“It is extremely difficult to choreograph a dance to a song that does not invoke emotions or have some sort of feeling behind it.” This is the beginning stage, when the final product is not clear.
The “Finished Product”
At this point, the dance begins to take shape. It may not be similar to the finished product, but this is the foundation. Nagy has to consider who is performing her dance and tailors it to their strengths.
“I want the dancers to feel confidence in themselves and enjoy performing my dance,” Nagy said. “A dancer with self doubt on stage can be spotted from a mile away.”
Choreographing and learning a dance are not taught in a linear path.
“I’ll find a part of the song that gives me the most inspiration and choreograph that section first,” Nagy said. “Then each week, I will slowly build the rest of the dance.” The first eight counts are taught without the music. Dancers have a couple minutes to absorb the movements before executing it with the music; They work in counts of eight, moving through the song.
Sections of the dance should not be taught to perfection until the dancers have learned all the choreography. A group may waste their time perfecting a section that will be taken out later. “This also gives the dancers an opportunity to learn all the choreography and practice it enough times to feel confident in their movement,” Nagy said.
The Full Out
The dancers are ready to put the whole thing together. They perform the dance at only 50% effort to make sure they know all the steps with music before trying it full-out. Dancing “full-out” means performing the dance with full energy and effort. It’s also an opportunity to work on facial expressions that characterize their performance.
The performers are then split into two groups and perform the dance full-out once more. It’s easier for the choreographer to correct mistakes when looking at 10 dancers as opposed to 20. This also gives the choreographer the chance to make any changes.
“I like to watch my dance and take note of areas that need work. I do this so I don’t end up trying to fix something that isn’t broken,” Nagy said. Taking what the choreographer and dancers learned from the small groups, the large group comes back and choreography changes are made to the dance.
“This is a lot of me demonstrating parts of the dance to everyone so they can see how I want the moves executed,” Nagy said. This is the final step of creating the dance.
Tech Week/The Final Full-Out
For their fall show, Impact had only 10 weeks to teach the dances. “Most of us only finished our dances a week before the show,” Nagy said.
This step involves tech week, which involves putting all the dances together with lighting cues. Impact practiced Monday through Thursday leading up the show to give the small group dances enough time to make any finishing touches. Once the dance is finished, lighting cues are made to help the dance come to life.
“Although this isn’t part of choreographing, it is an artistic decision that makes an impact on the audience’s emotional response to my choreography,” Nagy said.
This step usually includes a dress rehearsal where the dancers put on their costumes and head to the theater where they will be performing to get a feel for the space. They will run through their entire show from beginning to end making sure the light transitions work, dancers can quickly change costumes and they understand how it will feel during performance night.
This is where the dancers show off the final product. On December 2, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. in the Mendelssohn Theatre, the audience watched weeks of long practices, hours of tweaking dances and all of the dancers’ hard work finally culminating in this moment.
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