by Lucy Vurusic-Riner
Over the past 15 years, I have choreographed over 30 high school dances. Everything ranging from the 3 minute, pas de bourree heavy jazz dance to the Basement Jaxx (most of us high school teachers have been there) to the epic (meaning long) 10-minute modern piece about feminism. How do we keep it fresh?
So I have compiled some thoughts on what has helped me keep things fresh as I embark on making dance 37 this month.
Find a classic. This is my own advice that I have never taken. I have never re-staged the same dance twice.
I’m not saying that this is smart. After all, if you really feel you have made a “classic” than allow it to grow into that! But as each new school year starts, and I begin to think about what I could possibly try to come up with next, I still can’t bring myself to recycle dances. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a great idea. It’s more that I just don’t have the memory to recall old work. I hate trying to remember movement from video and although I’m sure I have students that can video learn circles around me I hate to ask them to do that. I really enjoy the process of teaching them a dance and seeing what they bring to it. Sometimes we lose that bit of magic when they have to learn someone else’s part. Nevertheless, we all have that one dance that we look back on and say, “Dang, that was a high school masterpiece.” So one of this year’s choreography resolutions is that I will go back and dig through the good stuff!
Allow my students to shape the work more! It’s no secret to my students (and husband) that I am a control freak. I’m always amazed when I’m in a process where the choreographer gives the dancers a large amount of artistic freedom. I teeter back and forth on this point. If I give them too much material to make on their own they’ll think I’m lazy or don’t know what I’m doing; but if I don’t give them any artistic license they don’t feel any ownership over the final product….plus, I get crazy trying to do everything myself.
The latter is what generally happens to me. I just can’t let go of what I want to see and how I want to see it. The problem with this is that I sometimes end up not satisfied because the end product doesn’t look like I thought it would. So this year my students will get to put themselves into my work in some way (let’s hope it’s not in the form of a toe touch to the splits)!
Collaborate with other artists more! If you read Resolution #2 you already know that I am a control freak, so working with collaborators has not always been by strong suit. But in the year 2014 I will work with others to help shape the visions I have for my work.
I have already started talking with a musician and composer about making music and a sound design for my next work. I’m also toying with what sorts of interesting elements can be added to a new work if we use some props or set pieces to play off of.
Other ideas that come to mind, but that I often cop out on: live music with musicians from the school, accompanying a dance with some live spoken word from an articulate speech or drama student, working with the fashion classes to make some cool costumes to help influence the way the work develops. The collaborations can go on and on…..if I let them.
Don’t restrict myself to one specific idea or theme. I have to let my ideas shift and change. When my students choreograph I often ask them to pick a theme, idea, mood. One of two things usually happens: They either stick so closely to the idea that a very literal interpretation develops OR I watch the piece in progress and can’t even remember what the central idea was because it’s nowhere to be seen.
What I would love to see from them is the idea that the topic they chose to dance about is a jumping off point and that it can develop into something that can branch off into many different possibilities to explore. So I guess I have to remember that as I’m making my own work as well. I think a well-developed dance needs to have room to breathe. It needs to be pliable and I need to allow myself the freedom to let it turn into something I may not have expected.
Don’t settle. Sometimes, even as dance teachers, we get burned out. We get into a pattern and we just go with the flow. I’ve been guilty of getting to a place where I just think to myself, “Let’s do the back rond de jambe into the floor with the table swipe move….it’s a classic after all!” And we know when we’re doing it because our students will tell us…..at least mine always do.
Why not stretch ourselves? In those moments when we’re just SO TIRED and we think WHAT COULD I POSSIBLY THINK OF NEXT? Push yourself. I’m going to push myself. I’m going to make High School Dance #37 fantastic.
Yes I am.
Contributor Lucy Vurusic-Riner is a native Chicagoan who has been supporting and contributing to the dance community for over twenty years. She received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Dance Performance and Dance Education from Illinois State University. Lucy has been a member of Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak, RTG Dance Company and Matthew Hollis’ “The Power of Cheer.” She has also had the opportunity to be part of the community casts of White Oak Dance Project and David Dorfman Dance.
Lucy has taught modern, hip hop, and jazz at numerous studios and high schools in the Chicagoland area. She was the Director of Dance at Oak Park and River Forest High School from 1999 to 2012. In 2005, Lucy completed her Masters Degree in Education from National Louis University and also received the Midwest Dance Teacher of the Year award and was the youngest of four finalists in the running for the National Dance Teacher of the Year award. Lucy and artistic partner, Michael Estanich, formed RE|Dance Group in 2010. RE|Dance Group investigates humanity in movement through long distance collaboration.
In 2012, Lucy joined the dance faculty at New Trier High School in Winnetka, IL. When she is not immersed in dance, she is at home with her two great kids, Margie and Luka, and her very supportive husband, Jim.