Middles -

by Sallamah Chimera

1. Writers say that the middle section is where the plot thickens (with new characters, sub-storylines, conflicts, villains, etc.) How would you describe the function/s of the middle in choreography?

The middle contains the heart and soul of the dance. This is where the essential dance movement occurs and the serious messages are conveyed. It is also the most difficult part of the dance to create because it is easy to get thrown off course and lose track of your purpose.

2. What have you found challenging about constructing the middle section of a work?

Developing enough material or having enough variety or contrast in movement, tempo, dynamics, etc., getting combinations to switch from right to left, and not having the exact music you need to fully accomplish your ideas. The middle can also get bogged down if you have a lot of ideas and movements you want to use.

3. What strategies have you used to prevent the middle from meandering and/or going off on tangents? If you have experienced tangential and meandering middles, what was your process for getting the work back on track?

I use the "less is better" approach I learned while studying floral design. Keep your design clean and simple. Keep it balanced. I use only the movement that is essential to the dance. For example, I work on contrast, take out really repetitive movement and develop variations on a movement theme. Having too much movement or too many ideas or themes can be distracting–streamlining is essential.

4. As choreographers, much of our middle content is about variation and development. In this process, new directional possibilities arise for the work. When faced with these new possibilities, what considerations have helped you decide whether to continue the dance on its original path, or venture down a newly presented path?

This happens to me all the time. If the new path or ideas fit the purpose of the dance better, I take that route. If not, I proceed on the original path. I can then take the new path and create a choreography based on it. I have to consider the abilities of the dancers performing the work, the purpose of the work (to entertain, teach, educate), who will see it, where it will be performed, and if it will make the dance better. Does it fulfill my purpose?

5. Are there differences between constructing middles for shorter works (under 15 minutes) and larger works (i.e. evening length)? If so, what are those differences for you?

I cannot say. I have never developed a dance longer than 6-7 minutes. We usually have a 5 minute time restriction and when we perform at festivals, people have short attention spans. We do more dances to fill in the time. When we are doing a theater performance, we bring out our longer dances because the audience is focused solely on the show at hand and not the other sights. I would say when the piece is longer, there is more time to develop your themes and even give more variety. In some ways it is easier to create for the longer dances because there is more time and ideas can be expanded. In short dances, you can only give your audience a brief encounter with the ideas and elements.

6. What words of wisdom and warning would you give for creating a strong middle section?

Make sure the middle of the dance ties in with the introduction and conclusion. The dance should not be disjointed, with three or more unrelated sections. The middle dance should be interesting, have changes in tempo, mood, rhythm, dynamics, etc. It should come to conclusion in a natural or even unexpected way. Since dance is nonverbal communication, choreographers have to create a logical story line with the dance movements and music. You could even use a storyboard like a film director. For teaching, you have to make sure you have covered all the points you want your students to learn in a logical way.

What are your thoughts about Sallamah’s reflection on making solos? Leave a comment below. Want to share your own reflection on making solos? You can share it here.

Read more reflections from Sallamah here.