The Dos and Don'ts of Folklorico Choreography
What makes the difference between a good performance and an UNFORGETTABLE performance? The answer is...
What is choreography?
The simple dictionary definition of choreography is: the art or job of deciding how the dancers will move in a performance; also: the movements that are done by dancers in a performance.
I know it sounds simple, but the truth is that the job of a choreographer is not easy. A choreographer must not only have knowledge about the art, but must also have the gift of CREATIVITY. A choreographer may be asked to choreograph a dance for professional dancers who have amazing skills, perfect technique and have the ability to learn complicated movements in a matter of minutes, but if the choreographer lacks creativity, the dance is sure to be an ordinary piece.
I have been choreographing original dances since I can remember. I remember teaching my little sisters, Teri and Krystal, original dances for competition when I was about twelve years old. They took first place at every competition!
Over the years I have learned and studied choreography from teachers such as Benjamin Hernandez, Rafael Zamarripa, and Miguel Angel Diaz. I have studied modern dance, salsa, ballroom dance, and was the drum major of my high school marching band in high school. I have also danced on every surface and style of stage imaginable. I have learned from my mistakes and successes, and now I would like to share some of my Folklorico Choreography knowledge with all of you.
1.) Know what your goal is.
Before your can choreograph a new dance you need to ask yourself a few questions. The first question you must ask yourself is "Who are you choreographing for?" Very often I get asked to choreograph specific songs for producers. If that's your case, you need to know what the producer wants you to convey with the choreography and go from there. If you are choreographing to music of your choosing, things become a little more fun; at least for me they do. But then that brings us to the next DO...
2.) Get inspired!
Most of the time I get inspired and then decide to choreograph something new. There have been times when I listen to a song and love it so much that I can't help, but make up a new dance to it. I have also been inspired by events. When I was a child I went to a Charreada and from that day forward always wanted to choreograph my own folklorico suite inspired by the Charreada, and my vision finally came to life in 2014 at the Ford Aphitheater with Mariachi Los Camperos. Below is a video of Ballet Folklorico Company performing La Fiesta Charra at M3 Live Dinner Theater in December of 2014 with Mariachi Garibaldi.
There have been times when I am inspired by a painting! Paintings tell stories and with choreography you have the power to make them come to life! This beautiful painting by famous painter, Jesus Helguera, inspired me to create a very colorful Veracruz choreography in 2012.
I applied the same concept when I created my choreography for "La Adelita." I took this very powerful picture and made it come to life.
3.) Do your research.
A big part of being a folklorico choreographer is taking the time to do research before choreographing a new suite. You need to know several things about the dance or region you are trying to represent on stage. Remember, if you are going to tell your audience that the dances you are dancing on the stage are from a particular region, you need to give the people of that region respect by representing them the best you can. Here are a few things you need to research:
- Where is the region? What state is it and what region within the state are you going to be representing? The states are made up of many regions, and the people of each region have a particular way of dancing. Example: Every year in Oaxaca, Mexico, every region sends dancers to a grand event called "La Guelaguetza." At this event the dancers of each region in the state dance the most popular songs of their region, proving that there is so much variety of dance within a single state. This phenomenon exists in most Mexican states.
-What states border that state/region?
- What is the weather like?
- What celebrations take place within the region? When and why are they celebrated?
- What music is played in that region and what instruments do the musicians play?
- What do the people in that region eat?
- How do the people in that region talk? Any famous sayings?
- What do the people in that region wear and why?
- How do the people in that region dance and why?
After you gather all this information, you can move on to the next next DO.
4.) Choose your music.
Choosing the correct music is key! You want to choose your music carefully because the music is what sets the ambiance. Decide what type of ambiance you want to create on the stage. You want the audience to feel a mixture of emotions during my suite. When I develop a new suite I generally create my choreographies in two different ways:
1. From slow or soft to GRAND.
EX: For my Veracruz Suite I start with LA BRUJA (Slow), then move on to LA BAMBA (something common and interesting), then I end with El Zapateado Veracruzano (complex, energetic and impressive).
2. I start with a BANG, then tone it down for a bit and end with a GRAND FINALE.
EX: For my suite titled "La Fiesta Charra," I begin the suite with an amazing Floreador (roper), then move on to EL TORO COQUITO with all the dancers, and end with LA CHARREADA (high energy, complex and strong.)
5.) Put it on paper!
I always put all the choreography on paper so that I develop a plan and don't waste time during rehearsal. You can develop your own KEY. I usually make men O's and the women X's when I jot down my ideas on paper. Don't forget that it's perfectly okay to make changes to your choreography when you teach it to your dancers. There will be times when certain movements look better on paper than in person.
1.) Don't make it too complicated.
You definitely want to impress your audience with interesting steps, but you don't want to make your choreography so complicated that it no longer flows. There is no need to do 50 different steps in once dance. You want your dance to be a reflection on the music and just like the music, you want certain phrases of your choreography to repeat. If you come up with a really cool step, go ahead and repeat it several times throughout the music. You want your footwork and movements to change with the music. When it comes the skirting, the same applies. The skirting should be exciting, but not overdone. It should look smooth and move to the beat of the music.
2.) Don't dance in place the entire time.
Try not to dance in the same spot the entire time. You want to move throughout the stage if possible. Develop some cool movements and shapes.
3.) Don't forget about spacing.
Make sure that your choreography is proportioned to the stage. When you are rehearsing your choreography, make sure the the spacing between dancers on the stage is not ignored. Always know who is the "CENTER." And make sure that whoever is the CENTER is always centered and that the rest of the dancers are spaced out evenly through the dance floor.
4.) Don't ignore the music.
When choreographing something new, make sure that the footwork that you apply to the music has the correct rhythms. The footwork has to be in sync with the music, so make sure that you don't add extra beats or miss certain beats, unless the music calls for it.
5.) Don't leave the stage empty.
I am strong believer that the stage should never be empty during a show. There should always be something happening. If there are no dancers on the stage, there should be musicians, or a singer keeping the stage alive. Make sure that your choreography includes the musicians and singers if you're going to have them be a part of your creation.
I hope that you found this blog post very valuable. If you did, please leave a comment below.
Thank you for visiting!
P.S. If you haven't already done so, read my previous blog post, "Make a Veracruz Apron in Minutes." If you like my blog, please subscribe using the form below.