Fire Dancing Choreographing 101

Posted on January 2, 2013 by

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Fire Dancing Choreography 101

Photo Credit: Santosh Adari
Artists: Anna Peralta, Emily Urie, Karishma Haji, left to right, with outside people performing buzzsaws to Emily’s 4 petal antispin flower

In light of the recent Call For Artists for the 2013 Fire Dancing Expo, we have been getting questions on how to choreograph a piece. We have multiple multi-hour classes and workshops on the topic as well as manuals so contact us (GlitterGirl[at]TempleOfPoi[daught]com) if you need more detailed instruction than the tips we are providing here. It’s tough to break down 10+ years of experience into something meaningful in just 800 words, so please consider this the tip of the choreography iceberg.
Also, these tips are specifically geared toward those auditioning for the Expo and the stage we use there:

  • Have a story. A clear beginning and end are most relevant. Ideally, at least one peak during the story — a climax if you will. The story can be abstract or specific. What is important is that you, as a performance artist, are clear on your motivation so you can present that throughout the performance.
  • Use space. This means you should move around and not stand with “tree trunk syndrome” in a single place. Also, use this audition opportunity to demonstrate you need a 70×30 foot stage, or at least half of it. We’re entertaining thousands of people so be sure you move around!
  • Create applause points and photo opportunities. Every piece should have at least one, if not more, point in the piece where you are in a posed position so that the photographers can get good photos of you and the audience can applaud. Ideally, you’d have a facial expression you want captured at that point too. Plan for this. Your portfolio will thank you later. 😉
  • Work with your strengths. Know your power moves and work them into your choreography in a way that works with the music.
  • Pace yourself. Don’t blow your wad too soon. if you use up all your good stuff in the first 30 seconds, your performance will wane at the end.
  • Be concise, part I. We’d much rather have 2 high quality 90 second pieces than one 3 minute piece that was “meh.” And let’s face it, your chances of nailing a 90 second piece are more than 2x as high as nailing a 3 minute piece.
  • Be concise, part II. We’ll take you more seriously if you show us that you know where your limits are and we know you want to share the stage.
  • Be concise, part III. Pack your piece full of awesomeness from beginning to end and make it a succinct presentation that blows everyone away.
  • Work with musical phrases. If you can’t (or don’t want to) choreograph note for note, choreograph using phrases. For example, if your song has a verse and chorus, you might refrain variations of the same theme during each chorus that build in complexity each time you repeat the chorus.
  • Pick music that will appeal to the masses. We are not necessarily suggesting pop, although, there is a reason that pop is popular. We are suggesting that you are spinning for a diverse crowd with people of all ages and likely from different cities since you’ll be in the heart of San Francisco and at the center of one of the tourist areas. Therefore, you will have a good number of tourists at the show. Using some uber glitchy dub step track might be great at Burning Man or a fire festival, and, may not be as well received by your average attendee at the Expo.
  • Pick music you are passionate about. If it doesn’t move you, then it probably won’t move us to watch you moving to it. Your passion, conveyed moment to moment, is infectious. Let the audience be infected with your gifts.
  • If you’re starting with choreography for the first time, try a top down approach.
    • First, identify your strengths as an artist. This could mean moves, presence, tricks, attitude, props or otherwise.
    • Next, find music that works with your style. Remember that telling a story requires music that has a story within it. If the song is too repetitive, it might be hard to find high and low points in your performance.
    • Develop a concept that utilized your strengths and works with the story and flow of the music. Even if people don’t consciously recognize it in the moment, remember that you doing a big move when the music is loud and big will vibe with the audience even if the can’t necessarily identify what happened or why. Similarly, if you contrast your movements to the music, that will also impact the audience, so keep this in mind throughout the choreography process
    • Next, insert general ideas into the music and match up your movements and concepts with the sounds you hear. After you have done this on a broad level, gradually and continually refine those ideas until you have tight choreography.
    • If that seems too complicated, pick some key points in the music and choreograph those first, then work on the spaces in between.
  • Beware of copyright! When picking music, be aware that we will be posting these videos to YouTube so anything with a copyright violation may also have a view limitation in some countries. Not a small thing if you want to use the video later.

Here’s a 90 second student performance from the 2012 Fire Dancing Expo that demonstrates most of these ideas in action. These ladies put this piece together starting in mid january and performed it in April.