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Easy Guide to Understanding Choreography

  • By Rio Spelling
  • Published 01/30/2012

For those of us who love dancing, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the hard work and creativity that makes theatrical productions so special. Knowing the blood, sweat and tears that dancers have to go through to perform at their highest level is also what makes leading performers and choreographers like Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood so exacting with the contestants!

The following guide will describe the key ins and outs of what choreography entails, to give you a better appreciation of what makes dance such a stunning art form.

Introducing Choreography

Technically, choreography is the written notation of a sequence of steps and movements in a dance. This follows the literal meaning of the word in the language it originated from – in Greek, choreography is translated as “dance-writing”, from the words “???e?a” (circular dance) and “??af?” (writing).

More broadly though, the term choreography describes the art of designing sequences of movements using techniques of motion and form.

The word choreography first appeared in the American English dictionary in the 1950s. Previously to this time, movie credits used various other terms, such as “ensembles staged by” and “dances staged by”.

In addition to pure dance movements, choreography is also used in the fields of cheerleading, cinematography, fashion shows, gymnastics, ice skating, marching bands, show choir, theatre and synchronised swimming.

The Role and Technique of a Choreographer

A choreographer designs movement sequences to express perceptions and enthral audiences. To do this, various techniques are used.

In the discipline of dance, choreography is also known as dance composition. These are created by applying one or both of the following fundamental choreographic techniques:


This describes the tactic in which a choreographer provides dancers with generalised directives (i.e. a score) to serve as guidelines for improvised, spontaneous movement and form. This allows widely creative scope for personal interpretation by the dancers. For example, a score might direct one dancer to move away from another dancer, who in turn is directed to prevent this happening in whatever way they choose. Another example would be a score that simply specifies a sequence of movements that need to be improvised over the course of a musical phrase, such as in contra dance choreography.


With this type of dance composition, the choreographer will spell out their vision of motion and form in detail, leaving little or no opportunity for the dancers to exercise their own personal interpretations. A perfect example would be ballet.

Jargon Dance Techniques

Apart from the above two main types of choreographic strategies, there are a range of classic movement techniques which every professional dancer will need to master in order to follow a detailed score. Some of the most common ones are:

  • Cannon – a group of people doing the same move but one after the other.
  • Mirroring – the dancers face each other and make the same movements.
  • Shadowing – dancers stand behind each other doing the same moves.
  • Unison – two or more people execute a range of moves at the same time.
  • Levels – people arranged in higher and lower body positions during a dance.
  • Retrograde – doing a range of moves in the same order but backwards.

Lastly, the term ‘dynamics’ indicates whether the movements will be fast or slow, hard or soft, and long or short.


The above article provides an easy understanding of what choreography is all about, and you should also be able to better appreciate the skill and creativity that respected contemporary choreographers such as Craig Revel Horwood need to make a complex production of moves look so effortlessly flawless.

Author Bio: Rio Spelling is a choreography and dance enthusiast



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