While Teddy Forance admits that performing with commercial artists like Lady Gaga and Madonna, and in front of 30,000 people, is exhilarating, he is personally drawn to more abstract music when he choreographs. It's a preference that sometimes confounds his contemporaries. "Some of my friends will ask, 'How do you choreograph to music that sounds like silverware fighting?'" he says. "I just tell them one sound at a time," he says.
Forance is well-known as a co-founder of Shaping Sound, the Los Angeles–based dance company. As a teenager, he gravitated toward contemporary, learning from teachers like Phillip Chbeeb and Broadway dancer Laurie Kanyok the value of experimenting with different music and sounds. "Laurie once put this obscure song on at her New York City Dance Alliance class, and it just shook my bones," he says. "I'll never forget how she taught the combo and the accents in the music."
Now, as faculty on the JUMP Dance Convention, Forance uses an accompanist for his contemporary classes. Not only does live music allow him the freedom to play with the beat and control the speed, he's noticed how the raw sounds help young dancers connect with the movement. "When the kids see a musician in a convention class playing drums or the piano, they're always shocked," he says. "It transforms the room, and the energy is like nothing I've ever experienced."
Whether teaching with live music or creating to a recorded track, his goal is for dancers to focus on becoming the music. "What is the music asking of your body?" or "How can you use that engagement to try and imagine the sound as tangible?" are regular questions he poses to students.
He urges teachers to approach music with the same curiosity, especially when choosing works for competition pieces. As tempting as it might be, Forance cautions against using popular tracks that are typically overused. "Unless it's an earth-shatteringly brilliant number to a song that everyone's danced to before," he says, "it's going to hurt your score." Constantly searching for and finding new music is part of the job. He says, "It's what keeps me inspired 90 percent of the time."
Song: "The Deal"
"I loved choreographing to this track, because it allowed me to play with so many unique textures in the movement quality. Going from the female vocalist and then to this deep and haunting male vocalist is so engaging with the powerful accents behind him."
The Deal (feat. ALYUSHA) www.youtube.com
Artist: Tom Odell
Song: "You're Gonna Break My Heart Tonight"
Album: Jubilee Road
"When I first heard this song, it immediately hit me to the core and shook me emotionally. A month later I got into the studio and the song exploded movement out of me. It's a classic Elton John song that you will never forget!"
Tom Odell - You're Gonna Break My Heart Tonight (Live) | Vevo Live Performance www.youtube.com
"This song goes hard from beginning to end. The rhythms and drums had me so captivated, while choreographing and working with a powerful trio of dancers from a Canadian dance company."
Moderat - Reminder www.youtube.com
Artist: Giant Claw
Song: "Soft Channel 007"
Album: Soft Channel
"This song is mainly a bunch of abstract sounds put together with a metronome at a few points—some of my friends and family don't call this music! But this sound gives my style of movement endless possibilities. Whenever I create to a song like this, I have to go sound by sound and take days and days to create to it."
Giant Claw - Soft Channel 007 - ACRN In-Studio Concert Series www.youtube.com
Artist: Nosaj Thing, feat. Chance the Rapper
Song: "Cold Stares"
"I choreographed a duet with krumping dancer Big Mijo. The energy we felt onstage with these lyrics and the atmosphere created was out of this world. I love vibing with dancers who come from different backgrounds. It charges you with fresh ideas and ways to listen to the music."
Nosaj Thing - Cold Stares (feat. Chance The Rapper) www.youtube.com