The Tricky Business of Choreography Copyright

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker accused Beyoncé of stealing her work for her 2011 "Countdown" video. The pop star's reps said it was an homage to the Belgian choreographer.

A high school dance team tournament in Minnesota is making headlines because of allegations of plagiarism against the winning team—and how everybody else handled it.

In October 2014, DT ran the story “Copying Choreography” on drawing the line between inspiration and plagiarism. One of the main takeaways? That plagiarizing is really tough to do definitively, because it’s largely subjective. Even the attorney we consulted told us it’s a matter of the movement in the new work being “substantially similar” to the original piece. But who’s to say what “substantially” means? Borrowing themes is allowed, as well as props and even music.

In this case, the coach of the winning Faribault Emeralds dance team freely acknowledges taking inspiration from a different team’s 2013 routine. But she says she was careful not to use more than about four seconds of similar movement at a time. There is no time minimum, however, on copied movement. As attorney Julia Haye put it for us:

“The technical moves themselves are like words for an author. When you put a series of words together, they become paragraphs and therefore copyrightable. For example, everyone might be doing à la seconde turns into leaps, but are they then rolling out of that and into the same stylistic moves? It doesn’t even have to be exactly the same, it just has to be substantially similar for there to be copyright infringement.”

So in this case, it’s possible there was some legitimate copyright infringement, though there’s still the question of how “substantially similar” moves need to be, to be considered plagiarism. The five other teams in the championship competition protested Faribault’s first-place victory by remaining on the sidelines and refusing to line up for the awards ceremony. They were all disqualified for poor sportsmanship.

In “Copying Choreography,” we discussed the different options for handling suspected choreography theft: Speak to the judges privately, take (possibly costly) legal action or…let it go and move on. Involving the students in the interaction is not typically recommended, and in this case it backfired for everyone involved.

Teaching Tips
Justin Boccitto teaches a hybrid class. Photo courtesy Boccitto

Just as teachers were getting comfortable with teaching virtual classes, many studios are adding an extra challenge into the mix: in-person students learning alongside virtual students. Such hybrid classes are meant to keep class sizes down and to give students options to take class however they're comfortable.

But dividing your attention between virtual students and masked and socially distant in-person students—and giving them each a class that meets their needs—is no easy feat.

Dance Teacher asked four teachers what they've learned so far.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
All photos by Ryan Heffington

"Annnnnnnd—we're back!"

Ryan Heffington is kneeling in front of his iPhone, looking directly into the camera, smiling behind his bushy mustache. He's in his house in the desert near Joshua Tree, California, phone propped on the floor so it stays steady, his bright shorty shorts, tank top and multiple necklaces in full view. Music is already playing—imagine you're at a club—and soon he's swaying and bouncing from side to side, the beat infusing his bones.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Evelyn Cisneros-Legate. Photo by Beau Pearson, Courtesy Ballet West

Evelyn Cisneros-Legate is bringing her hard-earned expertise to Ballet West. The former San Francisco Ballet star is taking over all four campuses of The Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy as the school's new director.

Cisneros-Legate, whose mother put her in ballet classes in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness, trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet as a full company member in 1977. She danced with the company for 23 years, breaking barriers as the first Mexican American to become a principal dancer in the U.S., and has graced the cover of Dance Magazine no fewer than three times.

As an educator, Cisneros-Legate has served as ballet coordinator at San Francisco Ballet, principal of Boston Ballet School's North Shore Studio and artistic director of after-school programming at the National Dance Institute (NDI). Dance Teacher spoke with her about her new position, her plans for the academy and leading in the time of COVID-19.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.