The Teacher Who Helped "WOD" Phenom Jaxon Willard Develop His Viral Solos Shares Her Tips for Mentoring Choreographers in Training

Sam Williams and Jaxon Willard after competition at RADIX. Photo courtesy of Williams

Self-choreographed solos are becoming increasingly popular on the competition circuit these days, leading dance teachers to incorporate more creative mentoring into their rehearsal and class schedules. In this new world of developing both technical training and choreographic prowess, finding the right balance of assisting without totally hijacking a student's choreographic process can be difficult.

To help, we caught up with a teacher who's already braved these waters by assisting "World of Dance" phenom Jaxon Willard with his viral audition solos. Center Stage Performing Arts Studio company director Sam Williams from Orem, Utah, shares her sage wisdom below.

Check it out!

Have you noticed this trend of self-choreographed solos within your studio?

"It's definitely become a trend in the competition world generally. In the past three years I've had roughly 10 dancers do at least one self-choreographed solo throughout the year. It's something we are trying to foster a little bit more."

What is the benefit of students creating their own solos from a young age?

"A lot of dancers have been getting famous from these new television shows that open doors to teaching and choreographing when they're like 12 years old. These are great opportunities, but a lot of these dancers don't have training in teaching and choreographing. It's important for teachers to be aware that this is an opportunity our students will be given at some point. Mentoring them in self-choreographing their solos is a really smart way to start preparing for that.

"What's more, not all dancers are meant to be choreographers or teachers, and helping them work through choreography at a young age can help them learn if it's something they are passionate about or not. We spend at least the second half of the year focusing on the creative process in class, so dancers can begin to figure that out."

What's your process for helping a student with their self-choreographed solos?

"The dancers create something on their own, and then they meet with me to share it. We will usually watch footage of the piece together, and they will communicate to me what they were hoping the piece would say. From there, I help them make sure their concept is really coming across to the audience. If I feel like it's not, I will tell them why their movement came across differently to me than they had intended. I'm usually helping them through transitions more than anything. They have good ideas and methods; they just need to work on the tethering that comes from years of experience. It's the same process for a seasoned choreographer. You make the mentor the first person you share it with, and develop it from there.

"I try not to step on dancers' toes. They can take my feedback if they'd like, or they can choose not to. It's entirely up to them."

How have you seen your dancers grow through this process?

"I think it is so important to work with choreographers who have really harnessed their craft, and that's why we bring in so many talented ones to work with our kids, but there is something to be said for students who are learning themselves how to create. I have been so inspired by my dancers after watching what they have made. It's really nice to see these artists emerge from their creative process and finally perform. It's scary to be so vulnerable, but it pushes them to be brave from the beginning. Some of these solos even end up doing better than their other solos created by big-name choreographers. I've been really impressed."

Why is it crucial dancers work with a mentor when creating their pieces?

"Soloists who choose not to work with a mentor lose those tethering moments. Sometimes this up-and-coming generation of kids can feel a little too confident and act like they already know everything. They need to remember that they are still students, and they need the feedback to reach that professional goal they have."

Jaxon Willard - Down N Out (Radix Nationals 2018)

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