A Conversation with Choreographer Megan Lawson

Four years after the fact, Megan Lawson still sounds a little incredulous when she explains how Madonna discovered her: on YouTube. “My friend and I made up a little combination to [Rihanna’s] ‘Skin,’ and that combo made it to Madonna’s eyeballs, on her computer,” says the Los Angeles–based choreographer. Soon, Lawson was teaching the same combo to dancers auditioning for a weeklong workshop, at the Material Girl’s request. And today, she’s choreographing Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour, which kicked off in September. It’s a far cry from her humble studio upbringing in Canada, but Lawson says she’s not intimidated by working for such a megastar: “Like any job, I want to execute what the client has asked for or the artist wants,” she explains. “We’ll work on it together until we find it.”

On casting dancers “I always look for unique, confident individuals. I love when someone walks into an audition, not trying to impress me or give me what they think I want, but just showing me who they are. With Madonna, she doesn’t need you to be beautiful or shaped a certain way. She wants people who are strong in both body and mind. Open-mindedness and versatility are two other very important Madonna-dancer qualities.”

Lawson, posing for a creative photography session

Choreographing for Madonna “In the beginning, if she didn’t like something, I would take it very personally. But I realized, ‘No, no, no,’ that I needed to be unattached to things being a certain way. I’m not going to get it perfect the first time. And it’s the evolution and the collaboration with her that is the beautiful thing of where the piece ends up.”

Figuring out her place in L.A. “I suffered from a major identity crisis when I moved to Los Angeles. I think a lot of young dancers feel this—small fish, big pond. I thought I should be taking certain classes and auditioning for certain jobs. Auditioning—never my thing. I just didn’t enjoy the process. Trying to learn over a sea of girls in lingerie, I felt like, ‘One of these things is not like the other.’ I didn’t understand at that time the advice that I give now, to be unique and individual. In the end, I found a group of friends to work with and that became more rewarding than dancing behind an artist or on an awards show.” DT

Education: Dance Spectrum studio in Calgary, Canada; Triple Threat Dance Convention, under Carolina Lancaster and Kelly and Dorie Konno

Performance: Fanny Pak dance crew, 2008 to present; for Hozier; Missy Elliott; Ellen DeGeneres; Primetime Emmy Awards

Choreography: Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour

Both photos by Rob Daly, courtesy of Lawson


Don’t miss a single issue of Dance Teacher.

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

Keep reading... Show less
Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.