Spotlight On: Doug Caldwell

Seen & Heard At the Dance Teacher Summit

According to Caldwell, a great lyrical piece begins with the music.

Commercial dance mainstay Doug Caldwell worked on films like Staying Alive and A Chorus Line, as well as the TV show “Charlie’s Angels,” before beginning to teach at conventions in the 1980s. Caldwell says he was there at the beginning of lyrical dance, 30 years ago, and it has changed quite a bit since then. A teacher with JUMP Dance Convention, as well as the Dance Teacher Summit, he shared his thoughts and advice on the style.

Dance Teacher: If a teacher wants to create a successful lyrical piece, what type of movement should they think about?

Doug Caldwell: The base of really quality lyrical is ballet. The movement has to be very flowing and pretty. Lyrical is about storytelling, emotion, love and light and spirituality.

Pure lyrical is good technique with emotions, but it’s never pure lyrical anymore. Somewhere along the way they always have to add gymnastics and tricks. I have a dance studio in my house and taped on the wall is a list of things not to do, like fouettés. Those should be in ballet pieces. You don’t need to throw them into lyrical.

Instead of just choreographing, really listen to the music and hear the storyline. Finish the storyline. A lot of competition numbers start out with a story, but by the end you realize they’ve lost it.

DT: Do lyrical dances have to be done to music with lyrics?

DC: No, but the music played by itself should get a standing ovation. Try to find music like “Vienna,” by Linda Eder. It gets to a crescendo and makes the audience so happy as it builds—as opposed to many songs that are flat and just lie there. You need passion—either instrumentation or vocals that soar.

DT: What is your best advice for teachers regarding their personal choreographic process?

DC: Once you start working, go with what comes out. I don’t reshape or re-choreograph. I can choreograph a three-minute group piece in two hours. People make it so hard on themselves by changing and changing while their dancers are waiting. Trust your gut and your love. Of course, when you finish a piece, there might be a count of eight here and there that makes you go “Eh, that doesn’t quite work,” but don’t spend three hours on the first two counts of eight. —Andrea Marks

Photos by Mia Stringer, courtesy of Break the Floor Productions

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