Originally posted on Jo & Kevin!
It’s that time of year again, when many of the instructors at Lindy Focus are working on choreography either for an evening performance or the grand New Years Eve show. Since I, too, am working on learning choreography, I figured I’d share my process with you.
Truth be told, I’d much prefer to learn choreography in person, however, most often that is not an option. I’ve had the priveledge of working with other talented, international travelers such as: Nikki and Shesha Marvin, Mikey Pedroza, Laura Keat, Nick Williams, Sharon Davis, Alice Mei, Thomas Blacharz, and Sarah Breck – to name a few – and more often than not, someone sends a video across the WWW and hopes the person on the receiving end can learn the choreography in full. In my last performance with Alice, I sent her my notes (I will give an example later), a few breakdown videos, and a link to me performing the routine.
Check us out! Alice was a freaking champ at learning all of the details! We probably got 4-5 hours of rehearsal time in together before our performance, but that is rather unusual. Honestly, if you can get a full hour with your partner before performance time, it’s a blessing!
So moving along. The wonderful, marvelous, and effervescent Evita Arce sent me a piece of choreography to learn and it’s a really fun number. The song is New Orleans Bump by Wynton Marsalis and the dancers in the video are trained, New-York-dancers. What this means is that I have my work cut out for me!
To be specific, I have been sent a rehearsal video that is done to music; I didn’t get any prior notes or counts or explanations or anything of the sort. The reason this might be on interest is that I’m going to learn exactly what’s on the video, including any mistakes the dancers made in the video. Since I don’t have confirmation on the movement, I sometimes have to find the common denominator between the dancers when their timing isn’t together. Fun times!
I’m going to give a rundown of my process learning choreography. This isn’t the only way to do it, but it’s how I am best able to learn/visualize the choreo on a number of different levels.
- Download the video so I can watch it forwards and backwards. This helps me break down transitions, tricky timing, or something much-too-fancy to see at realtime. I’m on a mac and I prefer using Quicktime over a different player because I can comb through the video second by second. Suuuuuuuuuper important!
- Get a hold of the song. Check Spotify, buy it on Itunes, check your personal music library, or get it from the choreographer.
- Breakdown the song. I first break it down into eight-counts so I can see how long it is. I go through it again and put in time codes. I go through it one more time and put in musical cues that can help me identify what is where. Here’s a screenshot of what that might look like.
So what are we looking at?
I have my downloaded Quicktime video (upper left), I’m playing the song off of Spotify (lower left), and I’m writing my choreo down in Evernote (righthand side).
- Now here comes the (potentially) difficult part: breaking down the movement 8-count by 8-count. What is helpful for me to know is what foot my weight is on (if you’ve taken classes from me you know how important this is), what my arms are doing, and what count something happens on. I don’t need all of that information on every 8ct, but I need at least one of those three things.
- After I annotate a few phrases, I’ll go back through the video and do the choreography with my body. I go through the sections slowly. First I need to know where my body is going, and then I need to learn to string it together with the movement on either side of it.
- Once I have a decent idea of where my body is going, I then put the video on and try to dance that section with the music at full tempo.
- Next, I break down a few more phrases, dance it, and put it to music. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but something that looks similar to the video
- Once I make it to the end of the choreography, I then try to run the routine while watching the video. I’m not worried if it’s a disaster. Again, I just want to be able to get through it.
- DAY TWO: Yup, this takes me more than one day if I’m really going to perform it. I put the video on and try dancing it again. This shows me what solidified and what didn’t.
- Go back to the sections that I can’t remember or suck at. I go through them slowly to build the muscle memory I am lacking. When I do this, I take my time.
- Once I can do it all the way through (again, it doesn’t need to be perfect), I turn off the video and do it just to music. When I find the next set of glitches I work through those (I’m always surprised how many visual cues I’m taking). This is helpful in order to attach the movement to the music. Again, I rework the sections I can’t remember or suck at.
- Almost there! Now I need to try it facing the other way! What?? Yes-sir-ree! I have found I can learn choreography faster when I keep myself positioned in one direction in a room. I know at certain points in the music I should be facing a certain direction. If you can get through your piece of choreo while doing the routine facing a different direction, you should be fiiiiiiine.
- Last step!! Dancing it in costume!! Perhaps that seems silly, but it makes a HUGE different. Every – do you hear me? – everyprofessional knows they should run their routines in the costume before taking the stage. If you learn the routine in flats but have to perform in heels, you’ll probably be surprised with where you balance is. If you’ve been practicing in one skirt but performing in another, you might not know how slippery the material is (that’s terrifying while doing aerials). That fun thing you’re planning on wearing in your hair? Yeah, that might get knocked off, stab you in the eye, or stab your partner in the eye. The thing is, you’ll never know unless you’ve had at least one run. So do it. Full costume. Underwear and hair pieces. Do it.
So there you have it! What do you think? Ridiculous? Amazing? Unnecessary? Fun?
ADVICE IF YOU’RE CREATING CHOREOGRAPHY TO SEND TO OTHER PEOPLE:
- Send the song along with the videos (yes, plural)
- Make a video with you performing the piece full out to music (don’t mark it, do it)
- If you’re feeling extra generous, do it again but facing away from the camera so someone doesn’t have to transpose
- Make a video with you walking through the movement with counts. Remember to say things like “the weight is on the right”, “left arm on 7″, “move downstage starting count 5″, etc.
- I’ve you’ve broken down the song, send that as well
Here is a short list of routines where I’ve had to do this:
Everybody’s Trucking – Choreographed by Sharon Davis
Evenin‘ – choreographed by Nathan Bugh
Blues – Choreographed by Sarah Breck
Shake that Thing – Choreographed by Hot Club Stomp
Honolulu – Originally performed by Eleanor Powell
”It turns out that the process of working toward a goal, participating in a valued and challenging activity, is as important to well-being as its attainment.” – Sonja Lyubomirsky
The Speakeasies Swing Band from Greece just came out with a fabulous new music. Not only is there lindy hop, but there are zombies! Take a look!
Oh yeah, and Kevin and I are in it as well. 😀
I wasn’t really sure what filming a music video would be like, which meant I was able to walk in with no expectations of “normal”. I think I romanticized what the process was going to be like – and perhaps like most things, the end product is fabulous – but the creating process is time and energy intensive. Regardless of the time commitment, I had a blast. Here are some picture Kevin and I took during the three day we spent on the Speakeasies “Black Swamp” music video.
The Back Story
Kevin and I were supposed to leave Rome at 9am which meant we caught our shuttle around 6:30am. We arrive exhausted to the airport, only to find out our flight had been rescheduled for 9PM. Fucking excellent. The only thing we could think to do was head to the Hilton down the street and see how much money it was going to cost us to nap. Much to our good fortune, I am apparently a Gold Member of the Hilton Honors which allowed us to stay on the executive floor, have free internet for one computer, and access to food in the lounge. So not all bad. We nap most of the day, check out at 6pm, fly to Greece, and arrive at Alex’s house around 2am (instead of 2pm). Luckily (insert sarcasm here), we’ll get to sleep for 4 hours before the video shoot. Yeah! Long of the short of it is: we are exhausted.
It’s still dark out when we leave the house around 6am to drive up into the woods. Even though we are fully clothed, we are still cold. Luckily we’re excited to see what the set is going to look like and that makes everything better. Within moments of our arrival, I have a plastic bag placed around my neck and my makeup is being done by a professional. As the sun rises, my inner zombie awakens (see photos). Kevin snaps pictures of the morning sun warming the sky aaaaaand Scary Jo.
Kevin is first up to film. He wanders around at various tempos, takes a knee by the grave, and does more walking. When I’m ready, I sit on a rock in a cape-thing and hold out my hand. You can see in one of the pictures there are lots of people sitting around me making sure my hand “emotes properly” and to check my hair and makeup. 🙂 Finally, we film the ending where I pull back my hood to reveal Scary Jo!
That’s a wrap (at least for Kevin and me)! It’s about 10:30am and we’re done for the day. Alex takes us to eat crepes and we talk about what direction we’d like to go with the dancing and the who/what/where of choreography.
Kevin and I head to the Lindy Hop Greece dance studio to put together choreography for the slow section. After about two hours, we have something we’re happy with. We then move to the group choreography section for the zombies. We thought it would be fun to do a Michael Jackson tribute and to keep it swingin’, so we threw something together, showed it to Alex and Christina, and they liked it! In total, I think we spent about 3.5 hours on choreo.
After rehearsal, I needed to go shopping and find something to wear for the fast section. I didn’t really have anything I thought would read well on video, so I headed to Zara to try my luck. I found a white polkadot shirt with a peter pan collar and a black skirt with a nice amount of flair 😀 Perfect.
Before I went to bed that night, I put my hair in pin curls in hopes that my hair would have some much needed body to it (see photo).
Filming Day! We arrive at Block 33 around 10am and immediately start on hair and makeup. Even though the place was cold, I was charmed by the exposed brick, abandoned-factory sort of look. Kevin helped with set up as a transformed from “blah” to “yeah” (see pictures) and then we were first up to film. While all the dancers and crew looked on, we did 7 takes on the slow. We never hit it perfectly in any one of the takes, but we were close. Then we filmed closeups of our faces as we walked away from each other. At this point, we were hoping that all of the Zombie Dancers were going to be in full makeup, but mostly people had watched Kevin and me slow dance. Hahah…..that’s amusing to me.
As more zombies are created, I help run through group choreography with the “humans.” People continued rotating in and out until most knew how to “dance-support” Kevin and me during the flash back sequence. I change and redo my hair, and then did what I could to keep warm. At this point, it’s probably close to 2pm.
One of the fun/difficult things about shooting was the fog machine. Sometimes there was too much and sometimes the fog would dissipate too quickly. Regardless, it was awesome to work with and I think I’d love to have one for the house :p Something else that was difficult was keeping warm and keeping the energy up. The entire experience was exciting, but filming days are long days. What also elongated the day was that Kevin and I don’t speak Greek, so almost everything needed to be translated. We finally wrap up around 10pm that evening.
Coolest part: We talked to the director and crew and explained to them the importance of syncing the dancing to the music and they were totally receptive to it! Now, you might say “Well, yes, of course. Why wouldn’t you do that?” but if you look at other videos with dancing in them, you can find examples where the dancing is in rhythm, but not on beat. Seriously, it happens. So, that being said, it was freaking fantastic that we were able to tell the crew what takes we liked best, had opportunities to look at our lines and make some adjustments, and that they were receptive to our feedback. Woohoo!!
All in all, it was a fabulous experience and I would love to do another one. The days are long, and I can only imagine what it must have been like for the band and crew who had considerably more work than I did. So to all the members of the Speakeasies Swing Band, the crew, and especially to Lindy Hop Greece, thank you from the bottom of our heart for having us.
I chose this video for two reasons:
- her hair is redder than mine
- her front swirl is larger than I’ve ever had mine
I think it’s safe to say I’m red with envy!
Yes, it’s a long video and I’d say you could safely fast forward through it about 30 seconds at a time until you found what you were looking for. You also can stop watching at the 9 minute mark, and/or jump back in around 12:40 to watch her put an enormous bow in her hair.
Quick run down: section hair off by making a square on the top of your head (for your enormous swirl), put hair in pony tail, and then curl everything. Jump to 3:15.
In general, her motto is: curl it, hairspray it, tease it, hairspray it, pin it, and hair spray it again!
It’s sooooo beeg! (yes, I purposely spelled it that way)
SAN FRANCISCO!!! Woooooo!!! Yup, that’s right! Kevin and I are coming back to San Francisco to teach at the 9:20 Special again and we’re freaking thrilled!!
In case you want to brush up on the material we taught back in September, here’s a friendly reminder!
So what’s next?
Review the material. Come to class. Tell your friends that you’re going to have a great time and that they’d be missing out if they didn’t join you. Aaaaaaand then dai-ance!!!
See you there 😀
I needed to put a performance together for when I was in Greece a few weeks ago and I was thinking about doing my old fan dance from Lindy Focus VIII. After some thought, I figured I should push myself to come up with something new, something better. Somehow I decided that a drunken striptease would be the way to go, and who better to help me out than Kevin!
After performing the number in Greece, I figured I was brave enough to perform it at Lindy Focus X. Here is me being as silly as I can be during opening night!
The great thing about “acting drunk” is that it covers up a lot of the flaws in the dancing 😀
I LOVE performing this number. It’s unlike everything else I do and have done. Getting to strip down to my skivvies has always been a dr……..what am I saying?!! It was nerve-wracking as all hell, but it was a blast. I figured of all crowds, this would be one that could appreciate my silly sense of humor. I think what I like most about it is that I get to be incredibly silly! The dancing is by no means spectacular in this, but the “acting” was really fun to do.
Some photos from the show:
Thank you Jesse Keener for taking some awesome shots of me!! xx
Now it’s time to talk Costume!!
- The black thing with the fringe on it….I found that at Red Light in Seattle and it fit perfectly. It was just a black shell, so all the accoutrements that you see were added after the fact (huge thanks go out to the sensational Miss Indigo Blue). I played with the idea of having ugly underwear on at the end (so not only do I come home drunk, and slightly useless, but I have Laundry Day undies on ….hahahha), but Kevin vetoed that idea.
- The nude slip thingy was also acquired at Red Light. I found some diamond stickers that I put onto the front so there was some sparkle to the costume.
- I bought the skirt from Betsey Johnson two years ago and it was worth every penny!!
- I borrowed the scarf from my mother.
- The gloves came from Amazon and are cheap, satin gloves. I found some fun heart-shaped jewels and glued them on the side of the gloves and added a tassel to the end.
- The jacket came from Macy’s this March on super sale. God, I love that coat!
- The black hair flower is from H&M and I bought it less than a week ago.
And there you have it! Hope you enjoyed the ridiculousness of it all 😀
I’ve seen a number of videos on how to do a hair bow, and they seem relatively simple but still required some effort. This, on the other hand, is sooooooooooo my speed!
Save yourself some time and fast forward to 0:52 seconds.
Ok, so she makes some cute/funny faces and doesn’t show the back side of her hair, but it’s sooooo easy! What I also like about how she did this, it’s that it’s super similar to how I do my hair when I make fake bangs.
Maybe I should do a quick hair tutorial?! I’ll have more time next week. Perhaps then.
Otherwise, here’s another video of how to make a bow. I like her run down and it looks pretty stable.
Which tutorial do you like better?
I felt very unprepared this year for charleston, but I figured I’d try and focus on the music and be as ridiculous as possible. Luckily, my poorly formulated plan worked a treat and I made it to finals. Here are the videos from prelims and finals!
1) Ann Mony
2) Oliv Wan
3) Nalla Kim
4) Nathan Bugh
5) Sharon Davis
6) Soochan Lee
7) Jo Hoffberg
Delilah, thanks for doing the Chase Break with me in the contest. It would have been a shame to not add to the amount of Chasing done at ILHC 2011.
Gaaahhh!! Nathan is soooooooo ridiculously good!!! Check out his first solo at 2:28…….stoooopid good! Nathan, you are a gem. That was one of the most beautiful phrases I’ve seen. You’re genius is undeniable.
Ann Mony’s musicality is so freaking solid. OMG, what a treat it was to watch her and the musicians converse!
So, what do you think?!!