How to choreograph / Counting music (by Kelli M. McChesney)

When you first begin to choreograph, be sure to choose music that inspires you (otherwise, choreographing will be very laborious). After choosing a song, my next step is to write down the counts and parts of the music. For example, if you take the song Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident) by John Michael Montgomery, I would count it out like this (each slash "/" represents 8 beats of music):

// intro (Wait 16 beats)
//// verse (Part A)
/// + 4 repeated section (Chorus)
and so on...

After that, I just listen and become familiar with the music...I might play it ten times before starting to choreograph. The more you listen to it, the better your chances are of hearing that extra rhythm that you may have missed before.

Then I listen for any parts that "tell" me what steps to use (like The Shake, or in the Boot Scootin' Boogie chorus, "Heel, Toe, Do-Si-Do...", etc.). This may give your routine a theme, and for each time the singer says "The Shake" or "Heel, Toe...", maybe you would do hip shakes or heel-toes. Of course, it's not a rule that you do what the singer says, but sometimes it's a helpful guideline.

Next, it's mostly trial and error. First try common steps (Charlestons, Samanthas, Rocking Chairs, etc.) to see if any of those sound right with the music. Also try different steps you see at workshops or you may want to make up your own. The whole point is to make your sounds go with and emphasize the music. If you find yourself getting frustrated because you can't get any steps for that one eight-beat section, take a break from it. Put it away for a day or two and then try again. You might also get some inspiration by asking others what they think would fit in the routine.

Anyone can use random steps to make a routine ("just do two basics and a triple until the music is done, and a Samantha is an eight-beat step so that will fill up that eight-beat section in the middle"), but putting steps into a dance without considering how they "fit" with the music and the rest of the routine is like pounding the wrong jigsaw puzzle piece into place. While it may seem to fill the space, in the end that one wrong piece (your randomly chosen clogging step) disturbs the whole picture (your routine). You want a GOOD routine, so make sure you put some effort into your choreography.

Also, make sure your song is danceable and learnable...try teaching it to your team before teaching it elsewhere, and note any trouble they may have with it. If they learn it within one class meeting, great! If they are struggling with a step, you may want to change that step to make the overall dance flow smoother.

Choreographing isn't always an easy task and it can be time consuming. For me, it may take anywhere from an hour to a month to finish a routine. Of course, it depends upon the music you choose and the level you want to choreograph. The fastest I've ever choreographed a routine was in about five minutes (it was to Sold; immediately after the first time I heard the song I had most of the steps in my mind, then it took me just a couple of minutes to tweak and make everything fit)...I wish they were all that easy.

Keep in mind that this is only one way of choreographing, which may or may not work for you. At the very least, I hope this will give you a guideline to get you started, and through practice you'll find out the best way for you to choreograph. I recommend talking with other instructors and asking them how they choreograph as well.

I think if you choose music you like and take your time listening to how the steps fit with the music, with some practice you will be successful with your choreography. Have fun!

Determining the level of your routine

Thank you to Steve Smith for this guide in determining the level of your clogging routines.

Suggestions for choreographing mixers/circle dances

  • Look at other mixers/circle dances for inspiration.
  • I've found that with mixers, simple works the best! If at all possible, keep the sequence short (maybe 64 beats total) and incorporate fun moves (handshakes, do-si-dos) along with a few partner and mixer moves like the California twirl, swings, Carolina Star, and progressive basics (one example: with four basics, the man progresses forward in the line of dance while the lady makes a 360° turn to her right to meet the next partner).
  • Try to incorporate something "super silly" also (hug your partner, bump hips, a funky hand slap that confuses everyone everytime, etc.).

Helpful choreography links

  • Drill Team Choreography - This link is for drill teams but the information can easily be adapted for clogging needs. Includes info about selecting music, choreography, formations, props and more.


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Last Updated: March 2, 2013
Site Debut: January 1, 1997
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