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  • Writer's pictureMarianella Desanti

On becoming a choreographer

I studied extensively to become a dancer. I was a dance student for so long that I do not remember ever not being a dance student- I was a dance student throughout my childhood and continued into early adult life. Still, already dancing professionally, I continued to learn new dance forms and take ballet class. Today I still participate in class and I often feel surprised and and humbled by all that I can still learn. I am also impressed by all that my fellow dance teachers have discovered through their experience or unique intuition.  

I studied and prepared further to become a dance teacher.  I became a dance teacher apprentice under Miss Mary Day, founder and director of the Washington School of Ballet.  At the very young age of sixteen, she had me shadow experienced teachers for hours without end.  Under Miss Day´s watchful eye and guidance, I blossomed into a Washington School of Ballet teacher, in a very similar way as I had become a dancer.

I did not receive any training though to become a choreographer.  Other than the exposure I had to the choreographic processes I had participated in as a dance student and as a professional dancer, I did not receive any formal training that would place me in the role of the choreographer.  Yet somehow, as a dance teacher, I was expected to choreograph for shows and dance recitals.  As a dancer and teacher the process and the work were clear and structured.  The choreographic process was free fall.  

The rawness of choreography, the intense labour of putting together a dance that showcases my students in all their beauty, and yet challenges them to become more of an artist than they have ever been, has been the most intense artistic process that I have enjoyed.  Dancers thrive with structure, but the choreographic process requires that one step away from the comfort of structure and open oneself to the expressive needs and exploration of the collective notion of aesthetics within the group.  

Choreography is a disciplined search of the artistic voice through dance.  The most powerful of these is a choreographic voice that results from a collaborative effort.  It is stripped from the vanity and artifices of the individual, to discover the unifying force of truth and beauty discovered collectively. 

"You do not learn choreography by reading about it, 

or by watching the major companies in concert.  

You learn by choreographing, by experimenting, by creating little bits and pieces and fragments of dances and dance phrases, by playing with the materials of the craft  over and over again until they become second nature. You learn by getting your ideas out and into movement..."


                                     -The Intimate Art of Choreography, 

Blom and Chaplin 1982.

I was sixteen when I choreographed for the first time. I was asked to help as a pack of cub scouts and group of fifth grade girls from the local elementary school in my community both wanted to dance in a local talent show.  My young siblings were participating.  They had very clear and concise ideas, even step sequences, but were struggling to create the choreographies they sought.  I jumped in eagerly when I saw their ideas were good.  It is through this first process that I learned that even those that have not received formal dance training, have the ability to formulate dance ideas.  Just like all children can come up with an essay or narrate an anecdote.  We all have a creative and artistic voice.  Blom and Chaplin (1982) explain that, "many people have beautiful, creative ideas for dances, but few of these are ever realized as choreographic entities.  One of the main reasons for this is that it is hard to know how to get from the idea, the flash of insight or inspiration, to the fully completed presentation."  Their desire to dance with the simplicity of their ideas woven together into a coherent and repeatable choreography, resulted in a dance that filled our community with pride.  I felt privileged to be the leader of my first collaborative effort and was deeply impressed by the high quality art that we could produce together.

An important choreographic experience of mine has been working with a diverse dance group from Costa Rica at Body Motion Dance Studio.  I was granted permission to open a group on Saturdays, a choreographic workshop.  All students that would not be participating in a ballet piece at the end of the year performance, could participate in this piece.  I walked into my first rehearsal and could not help smiling.  My group could not be more diverse: from the very short to the very tall, from muscular to long builds, from starting young dancers to the mature ones... I only had two unifying factors, an all-female group and a sincere desire to dance. 

My first three rehearsals were directed improvisation through which we discovered common themes, a similar universal style among all the dancers, and a musical interpretation through which all vibrated powerfully.  The choreographic process required extreme discipline.  The closing steps of the choreography took us four rehearsals to resolve until in a moment of intimate collaboration we found an appropriate closing, a simple and beautiful ending that echoed the choreographic intensity explored.

I found that as a choreographer I had a unique ability to translate someone else´s intuitive movement into dance. Perhaps the ease of the collaborative effort, the certainty that if we all feel and see the harmony of the movement, then it must be beautiful. The reassurance that we can give to each other in a collaborative artistic exchange, liberates dancers from doubt and emboldens the artistic process.

The dance of others, their search for meaning, has awakened the choreographer in me. My choreographic work could be compared to photography, like the photographer I seek to translate what I capture through my lens of my perception and give it is own language through the embodiment of dance.

As a dance student I discovered the athletic artist I could become. As a dance teacher I became a community leader. As a choreographer I discovered the highest level of artist within myself.

Choreography allows me to paint with the steps of my dancers, to discover the unexplored. In a rigorous, intense, creative and collaborative effort, create new worlds and shatter stereotypes. In a world of separateness, loneliness and depression, I have found that a creative, collaborative choreographic experiment creates connections between us that bring strength, fulfillment, humility and the simplest and purest feeling of joy.

Ana Laura Montenegro, Costa Rican ballerina


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