Your spring show is three months away, Regionals are around the corner, and you have dozens of numbers to choreograph. But you're stuck. If this sounds familiar, don't worry—you are not alone. Some of today's most high-profile dancemakers are no strangers to choreographer's block. Next time, try these strategies to get yourself back on track.



1. Take a break. “Take personal time, even if it's just 20 minutes," says teacher and choreographer Rhonda Miller. “Have dinner, read a book, get a cup of coffee—anything that has nothing to do with dance." A few minutes elsewhere will give your brain a chance to rest and regroup.

2. Change your music. Using the same kind of music each year can make it difficult to find fresh ideas. So don't be afraid to throw out your music, even if you like it. Michelle Latimer, director of Michelle Latimer Dance Academy in Greenwood Village, Colorado, chose a piece of music she loved. But after two weeks, she realized the choreography was too similar to some of her previous numbers. “I couldn't go any further," Latimer recalls. “When I went back the next week [with different music], everything opened up and started to flow."

3. Get in the mindset. Talk to kids in the age group for which you're choreographing. Check out what TV shows, music, music videos and movies they like. “Find out what they dig, what they're into," says Miller. Getting in the mindset of your students can kickstart your imagination.

4. Let it go—for now. If you're stuck on a certain section, put steps together as a placeholder that will get students from point A to point B. “You can come back to it later and fix it," says Miller. Keep a notepad of sections you need to revise. Chances are, inspiration will strike after you finish the piece.

5. Work during your most prolific time of day. Every artist is different. For some, the most creative hours are early in the morning. Others find that late at night is the golden time. Know your own habits, and schedule your life so that you can be in the studio when you're at your best.

6. Use an assistant choreographer. Ask an advanced dancer to assist you. “Pick a student you think is a creative mover—maybe a student who is great at improvisation," says Latimer. Give the dancer a movement phrase, with instructions to put his or her own spin on it. Working side-by-side with a younger dancer can reveal new possibilities.

7. Don't pre-choreograph. Latimer has found that choreographing before she gets into the studio makes her overthink. “If I think too much, I'm frozen," she says. “I usually pick a song, listen to it a few times and get a concept in my mind. Then I start from square one with my students. When you have the bodies there, your idea will shift dramatically because they move differently or can do more than you thought."

8. Focus on the narrative. Choose a central idea or storyline for each piece, and remind yourself of it when you're blocked. “You need something to take you through the number," says Robin Dawn Ryan, director of the Robin Dawn Academy of Performing Arts in Cape Coral, Florida. “If you just put the song on and choreograph, there's no connection to why you're choreographing."

9. Stay true to your style. A creative block can happen if you're trying to choreograph according to what you think the judges want to see or in the style of another choreographer. “One year I tried to choreograph in a way that wasn't me. It was the worst year I ever had," says Ryan. “When we try to be that other choreographer, the work won't feel good to our kids or to us."

10. Delegate. Like it or not, sometimes you can't do it all. Asking for help will do more than de-stress your life—it will make your dancers better. For instance, “if you have a unique style, everything can start looking the same. You don't want your kids to get bored," says Latimer. Mix it up by relying on faculty members and guest artists. Observing others in action can reinvigorate your own choreographic process and improve your students' versatility.

11. Trust your instincts. For Miller, the primary cause of choreographer's block is perfectionism. “I want it to be so good that I get in my own way," she says. “As teachers, we need to be reminded: Trust your ideas and your beliefs in the student or project. Don't doubt your artistic vision. Believe in yourself!"

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio

Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Robin Nasatir (center) with Peter Brown and Vicki Gunter. Photo by Christian Peacock

On a sunny Thursday morning in Berkeley, California, Robin Nasatir leads her modern class through a classic seated floor warm-up full of luscious curves and tilts to the soothing grooves of Bobby McFerrin. Though her modern style is rooted in traditional José Limón and Erick Hawkins techniques, the makeup of her class is far from conventional. Her students range in age from 30 all the way to early 80s.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I need advice on proper classroom management for dancers in K–12—I can't get them to focus.

A: Classroom management in a K–12 setting is no different than in a studio. No matter where you teach, I recommend using a positive-reinforcement approach first. As a general rule, what you pay attention to is what you get. When a student acts out, it's generally done in order to gain attention. Rather than giving attention to them for inappropriate behavior, call out other students who are exhibiting the positive behaviors you desire. Name the good actions, and all of your students will quickly learn what it takes to be noticed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

For an aspiring professional dancer, an unexpected injury can feel like a death sentence to a career that hasn't even started. The recovery process following an injury can be one of the most grueling and heartbreaking experiences a performer will ever face. In times like these, dance teachers have the power to boost or weaken a dancer's morale.

With that in mind, we've compiled a list of do's and don'ts for talking to a seriously injured dancer.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: Last season I had three dancers on my junior team who struggled all year. They've trained with me for years, yet they keep sliding farther behind their classmates. What should I do?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox