Shopping Basket 0
Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc.



A step-by-step approach to dancing, dance making, and responding to dance

By Helene Scheff, Marty Sprague, and Susan McGreevy-Nichols

Lesson 8.1: Dance-Making Elements

Move It!

With your classmates, brainstorm lists of locomotor (traveling) and nonlocomotor (nontraveling) movements. On your own, choose movements from both of these lists and add shapes (angular, straight, curving, twisted, symmetrical, asymmetrical), elevation steps (jump, hop, leap, assemblé, sissonne), and falls to make a dance phrase. Videotape your dance phrase.


shape • elevation • fall • facing • formation • symmetrical • asymmetrical • weight sharing • unison • focal point • tempo

Curtain Up

Dance-making, or choreographic, elements can be divided into three categories. Certain elements can be used to organize the dancers. Others can be used to manipulate movement, and certain elements can be used to guide the audience’s attention. These tools give a dance a design and add interest and variety to the movement.

Dancers can be organized in various ways. The number of people dancing at one time can change the looks of a dance phrase. A dance (or section of a dance) can be a solo, duet, trio, quartet, quintet, and so on, or an ensemble. Just by changing the facings, or the stage directions (downstage, upstage, stage right, stage left, diagonal) to which the dancers perform their movement, a choreographer can make even the simplest phrase more interesting. Formations, or groupings (where the dancers stand in relationship to other dancers), can be either symmetrical (even on both sides) or asymmetrical (uneven). Four dancers could be placed in a square formation with two dancers on each side of center stage (symmetrical) or with three dancers separate from the fourth (asymmetrical). These two formations already bring to mind very different scenarios. Partnering and weight sharing (guiding and giving and taking weight from another dancer) can be used to organize dancers into various relationships in a dance.

Movement can be developed and changed through various methods. All dancers could dance in unison, doing the same movement at the same time. A gesture, movement, or dance phrase could either take on significance or lose meaning by use of repetition. Using different types (varieties) of movements or steps keeps the dance from becoming monotonous. Both literal (real-life) movements and abstract (movement that differs from but is still loosely based on the literal movement) can be used within a dance. Abstract movement is actually symbolic of the real-life movement. You can alter certain movements just by changing the level (high, middle, low) at which they are performed. Simply by changing the size (small or large) of a movement, you can maintain the audience’s interest and even change the movement’s meaning. Changes in tempo, or speed, can vary the look and intent of a movement. Floor patterns, and air patterns, or imaginary patterns left behind a dancer’s movements, can guide other dancers’ movements in the space.

The choreographer is responsible for guiding the audience’s attention during the performance. Two tools for this job are focal point (where the audience looks) and silence (stillness). If an ensemble of dancers is slowly moving around a solo dancer who is performing a percussive, fast-paced movement, at whom will the audience look? The solo dancer is the focal point. Likewise, silence can draw an audience’s attention if contrasted with movement (McGreevy-Nichols et al. 2001).

Take the Stage

When you add movement to a dance phrase, you get a dance composition. Adding to a dance composition, you get a dance study. Adding to a dance study, you have a dance.

  1. Review and practice the dance phrase from this lesson’s Move It! Use the videotape to review it.
  2. Combine your dance phrase with one or two other students’ dance phrases. Have this combined dance phrase video-taped.
  3. Review the rubric on page 101 for evaluating your choreography so that you will know what the expectations are.
  4. Choose movement skills and choreographic elements to develop your dance phrase into a dance composition. Make sure that you choose items from each category.



This is an excerpt from Experiencing Dance: From Student to Dance Artist.

Facebook Reddit LinkedIn Twitter

Get the latest news, special offers, and updates on authors and products. SIGN UP NOW!

Human Kinetics Rewards

About Our Products

Book Excerpts


News and Articles

About Us

Career Opportunities


Business to Business

Author Center

HK Today Newsletter


Exam/Desk Copies

Language rights translation

Association Management

Associate Program

Rights and Permissions




Certifying Organizations

Continuing Education Policies

Connect with Us

YouTube Tumblr Pinterest

Terms & Conditions


Privacy Policy


Safe Harbor