Find your inner creativity

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Dancers are being asked to make dance as well as be dancers. Susan Bendall offers some ideas to stimulate your choreography gene.


Dancers are increasingly being expected to be collaborators. Whether you are a student or a professional, you will need to have the initiative and imagination to bring your ideas to projects rather than being a passive vessel.

Dance training is intense, and chances are that you have spent a great deal of your time in the studio since you were very young. As a result, you might have missed out on some of the life experiences that are as much a part of making you an artist as your dancing is.

I have often been surprised by the dancers that most excite me. I am drawn to technical perfection, but the dancer I can’t stop watching is the one who brings dimension and artistry that surpasses their peers. Sometimes it is not even the “best” dancer in terms of technique that captivates.

We all know that great dancers are more than supreme technicians. They are risk-takers, they are lateral thinkers, they are interested in the world beyond the studio and the stage. They have life experience. So, how do we find those spaces in our lives that allow our creativity to expand – to twist, turn and end up somewhere new – to keep our dancing fresh and invigorated?

Be multi-dimensional

Draw from other, non-dance artforms. Visit galleries, public sculptures or sculpture parks. Think about how colour, media and shape affect you emotionally and intellectually.

As well as observing the art, look at those like yourself who are doing the observing. How are people interacting with the art? Do they seem comfortable? Are they looking at the art or instead reading the artist statements? Do they seem immersed or are they moving quickly from piece to piece? Notice their various postures, the speed and dynamic of their movement. What do you notice about how you move in these spaces? If you are in a public place such as a park, try duetting with a sculpture. (This doesn’t work well in a gallery because of those pesky attendants, who don’t understand that you are making art too!)

Attend music concerts, theatre, comedy events and other performances. Take advantage of student tickets and free showings. Where does your artform intersect with these other modes? Imagine adding an extra element to your dancing – what would happen if you inserted some comedy, or accompanied yourself with a musical instrument.

 Allow diverse voices into your life

As a young performer or student, you have only had time to live the life you have lived. As a way of broadening your life experience and your art, try connecting to different ways of seeing the world.

Try exploring different topics of conversation. Not into sport? Ask someone about what they enjoy about it.

Venture beyond your go-to social media sites and check out an interest group that intrigues you (mushroom growing is fascinating!).

Melbourne 'ballet busker', Bianca Carnovale.
Melbourne 'ballet busker', Bianca Carnovale.

Be curious about difference. Seek out opportunities to speak to and learn about people outside of your dance circle. Learn about a different culture, perhaps take up a language. (Imagine pronouncing those French ballet terms correctly – ooh la la!)

Mix with different age groups – dancers tend to be young. Connect with the experiences of other generations and cultures. In many cultures dance is not seen as a specialist pursuit but is practised as a natural expression of celebration. What would it feel like to be surrounded by a population of dancers who do not necessarily see dance as a performing art but as a natural part of daily expression? If you are non-Indigenous, try connecting to some First Nations dancemakers and experience what motivates them.


Don’t be scared! This is a truly wonderful way to expand your repertoire of movement. You might focus on a particular stimulus, such as a visual, a sound, some music or even an abstract idea to get you started.

Try to break from your habitual ways of moving. Most of us have a “favourite” physical language that keeps returning to our bodies. Recognise your “signature” moves and try avoiding them. (For example, try a dance with no arabesques or, if your body likes contractions, try high releases.)

Try initiating the movement with different body parts and see how it feels.

Work in different planes. Use the whole space and lose any preconceived ideas of audience and orientation. Use the floor and the width and length of the space to move. Explore height. Consider dancing at unusual angles. Imagine onlookers encircling you, or even moving around you. Persist when it feels most uncomfortable.

Riff off your built environment. Use the wall and the floor – create movement that grows out of your surroundings. Try to develop a movement sequence where a part of your body maintains contact with the wall or the floor. Focus on the feeling – your body being rigid or yielding in response to the hard surfaces. Try this with different parts of your body and reflect on how it feels to duet with the inanimate.

Banish the mirror and concentrate on how your dancing body feels.

Music or not? Many of us take our choreographic inspiration from music. “It makes me feel …” Try a variety of musical styles from different cultures and played on different kinds of instruments. See how it feels to make dance to musical phrases that you are not comfortable with. Can you stay with it, or is it too jarring? How about dancing to no music? Does this make the venture any harder, or does it free you up? What are you hearing when there is no music? Your breath, birds singing, traffic noises? Domestic sounds and distractions? Use these as inspiration! Use them as a score for your dance.

Flirt outside your comfort-zone

You are probably used to being very good at dance. Try something that makes you uncomfortable. It could be anything from a hobby class to setting yourself some personal challenges. Take up a craft or experiment with simple ways to make effective costumes and design make-up for various potential performance scenarios. Use anything in your environment to create a look – paper, fabric, fake turf, plastic bags and other crunchables. Then take your dancing to the streets and try busking in full regalia!

Have you seen the “ballet busker”, Bianca Carnovale, dancing on the streets of Melbourne? If not, she’s a real treat! Check her out on Facebook and Instagram.

Visit the zoo

Our physiology dictates certain movement pathways. Animals may “dance” but they do not naturally adopt choreographic sequences. Notice how various creatures use their bodies and how they vary from one another and from us. Make some notes or take some video.

While you are at it, notice how non-dancer bodies move in space. How each is unique!

Borrow from other movement disciplines

Many dancers engage in a range of movement practices – yoga, pilates, Gyrotonic. How about letting yourself loose in a dance form that is unfamiliar? Try partner dancing – tango, ballroom or street Latin. Try tap or hip hop, even Butoh might unleash some new movement ideas. Ever tried pole? Or Lyra (arial hoops)? Have you heard of No Lights, No Lycra? It’s free-styling in the dark to a variety of playlists, and strictly no leos and pink tights! Free yourself from your own expectations! Dance where no one knows you and no one is looking! Get some ugly moves on, and park your technique at the door.

Explore site specificity

Create movement sequences in a park, find an alcove or alcove in a building and see how your body responds, fits in or fights with it. Try a similar movement sequence or style in various landscapes and note how different it feels. Transpose a dance from a grassy area to an industrial estate. How does the environment change the dance?

So, I guess you really have your work cut out for you if you are game to try any of my suggestions! Start small, embrace that inner spark and you will never lack inspiration, choreographic resourcefulness or courage.

Susan Bendall holds a Master of Fine Art (Dance) from the Victorian College of the Arts.

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