In today’s age of social media and mobile apps, dance is consumed quickly (and perhaps superficially), much like fast fashion. With viewers quickly swiping from one tiny video to another, dance has only a few seconds to grasp their attention. This means that the most inventive videos have the best chance for engagement: views, likes, shares, etc. Dancers are encouraged to stand out as much as possible when creating online content, which often influences how they conduct their dance training. The more original, quirky, intense, or simply “different” the dance execution in a video, the bigger the chance for its online success.
Experimenting with interpretation of class material can be a powerful tool in developing one's expression and unique style. But what’s the level of artistic liberty in dance training for those who take class with an entertainment industry dance career in mind? How much individuality and interpretation can dancers bring from a class environment to dance jobs? How do you balance one's artistic freedom with executing the choreographer’s and client’s vision? Finally, how does this freedom look like for a choreographer preparing material for class vs. a professional job? Let’s dive into both perspectives!
Class is for the students, not the teacher. It’s a safe space where dancers can make mistakes, experiment, and work on specific skills that need honing. Dancers should be able to put their own spin on the choreography as part of the process. This has always been the case in professional dance training. However, in recent years, the growing popularity of dance on social media has encouraged dancers to stand out as much as possible, often at a cost of dramatically changing their execution of the taught material: playing with textures, dynamics, losing details, adding their own details, or even changing the steps altogether. For some dancers, this works very well, as it can help develop individuality and a signature style, which may translate to a social media success. But it could also be a trap, especially for those who are pursuing a professional dance career in the entertainment industry.
What works well on social media won’t necessarily work in a professional dance job environment. While class provides space to experiment, there could be very little room for it in a rehearsal. At the end of the day, we pay to attend dance classes and we can utilize them however we please. However, during a job, we are the ones getting paid to execute someone else’s vision, which by default limits our artistic freedom.
With each choreographer conducting their creative process differently, there’s a fine line dancers should be aware of.
In a group performance, a dancer has to stay cohesive with the rest of the team. There’s no room to “remix” the steps. All performers have to be on the same page with execution, musical pocket, and storytelling. In a solo performance, there could be a bit more room for a collaborative process between the dancer and the choreographer, but at the end of the day, it’s the choreographer’s and client’s vision that takes precedence. However, this doesn’t mean that dancers’ individuality and artistry are not important. These can be great assets in a professional setting and developing them is crucial. At times, a choreographer will be open to suggestions from a dancer, as they could be inspired by the dancer's unique approach to their movement. With each choreographer conducting their creative process differently, there’s a fine line dancers should be aware of.
Being able to tame your own artistic freedom is a skill just as important as the ability to stand out. Dancers who train in the social media era may be conditioned to stand out as much as possible, even to the point of being unable to blend in with the rest of the group. They can have trouble following detailed directions - which is a vital skill when working dance jobs.
If you want to be a successful professional dancer in the entertainment industry, developing individuality and signature style is equally as important as the ability to blend in, match the group and execute movement exactly as it’s taught. To become a dancer on the top of the field, you’ll need both skills and the awareness of how to balance them from one job to another. There’s a sweet spot of executing steps exactly how the choreographer intended while shining on stage with your artistry and individuality. Being able to do both at the same time creates excellence.
Choreographers (in class and on a job)
Now, believe it or not, professional choreographers face some of the same challenges in their artistry. Many of them are also teachers, with regular class slots, training programs, or dance companies they run. These settings give a teacher-choreographer total artistic freedom to create and experiment however they please. Oftentimes, class choreography is the only opportunity for them to create with no boundaries. They can break the rules, try things out, and be more open to dancers’ interpretations.
However, when on a professional job, similarly to a dancer, a choreographer is fulfilling the client’s vision, where parameters are already set - to some degree, at least. Choreographers are typically hired based on their signature style and past work, which gives them some level of artistic freedom. At times they could be entirely in charge, but more often than not, they have to account for some direction from the client, the director, the producer, etc. They’re often required to make changes in choreography after turning in the first draft. They have to work with the limitations of the space, the camera angles and the available lighting. They have to adjust their work to the limitations of the recording artist, if such is a part of the performance. In short - there’s a lot of compromise that choreographers need to be ready for. How comfortable they are with such compromises may be one of the factors to determine their success in the entertainment industry. Choreographers, as all artists, can be very attached to their creation and unwilling to make changes. This can make clients feel like their vision wasn’t executed the way they imagined it.
What works well on social media won’t necessarily work in a professional dance job environment.
I believe the ability to adjust to a client's vision is crucial for choreographers, just like the ability to execute the steps exactly as taught is crucial for dancers - even if it comes at the cost of sacrificing some of one’s artistic freedom. Nonetheless, individuality and a unique flare is something that can take both dancers and choreographers to the next level of success, especially when managed and strategically tailored to each specific job.