As we go into Dancing with the Stars season and I go into analysis mode on here, I thought I’d take a look at some variables of choreographic craft. I often use my ballet background (20 years) and knowledge of Laban Effort Shape to get an overall sense of what’s working and what’s not when I look at choreography. When I analyze individual dancers’ performances, it’s different. I’m still learning about ballroom dancing and know there are special considerations for it and the many types. 

So, here’s where I’ll begin. There are elements of Art that cross over into dance though the way they show up can be quite different, depending on how one perceives and defines the terms.

The elements of Art are line, shape, space, value, color and texture and are employed according to principles of organization such as harmony (involving rhythm and repetition) and variety and result in balance, movement, proportion, dominance and economy and ultimately Unity (or Dissonance). These elements and organizing principles underly dance craft and can be used in choreography.

Line … The Graphic Unifier, Curved, Straight. Directional Thrust: Horizontal, Vertical, and Diagonal.
Shape … Naturalistic, Geometric. Body shape. Design.
Space / Size … Large, Medium, Small. Proportion or Scale. How space is used, in dance the space of the stage as a whole and the space above the floor. The amount of space involved.
Value … Light, Dark.
Color … Hue, Chroma, and Value.
Texture … Rough, Smooth, Soft, Hard.

ATTRIBUTES – qualities that the art or design conveys to the observer.
Emotional … Active, Passive. Involving, warm, passionate, neutral, unemotional or cold.
Esthetic … Realistic, Impressionistic, Abstract, Decorative
Spatial … Conveying depth, seeming flat
             From Laban:

Action Words





          Glide Direct pathway Slow Light Free
          Slash Indirect pathway  Fast Strong Free
          Press Direct Slow Strong Bound
          Flick Indirect Fast Light Free
          Punch Direct Fast Strong Bound
          Float Indirect Slow Light Free
          Dab Direct Fast Light Bound
         Wring Indirect Slow Strong Bound
  • space—
    • indirect—all around, winding, meandering, unfocused
    • direct—focused and specific
  • time—
    • sustained—continuous
    • sudden—unexpected, quick, surprising
  • weight—
    • light—delicate, little effort
    • strong—forceful–attacked
  • flow—
    • free—loose, unbound
    • bound—contained, constrained, tight

While I’ll give some of my reasons for the three pieces I selected today, take a look at one or more of the links below and using my offerings above to see if you can understand why I chose each dance as an example of exceptional craft (no peeking at my reasons – discover for yourself if you can as it will be a better learning experience and probably more fun). Then use this post to guide you when looking at craft on DWTS and anywhere you like.

#1. click on —–> Steam Heat



         #3. click on —–> Ballroom


STEAM HEAT – Bob Fosse’s choreography

Body shape. Design – of what we see. Timing/Dynamics – pauses, slow, sudden, quick and continuous repetition. Use of simple designed gestures. The way the costumes and colors black and white enhance the choreography. Use of levels through bent knees, raising the hat(s). Direction and space pattern – mixing it up to surprise us by moving sideways while facing front and moving sideways while facing in the direction of movement. Big expansive moves and small accents. Air pattern. Contrast. Rhythm – toward the end of the piece, the use of clapping with zany changes of direction and level – including the nifty twists and slides onto the floor. Keeps me involved and interested.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND – Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography

The heart pounding music and then the cards flipping across the stage set up this dance. The film, music and dance collaboration create excitement, and this scene reveals the story so far.

Rhythm, Timing. Shape. Use of high, medium, low levels. Design and Line – the moment when the dancers in the background freeze facing frontward and dancers in groups march across the stage in profile with Alice running after them. Then this shifts. The background dancers are now in profile and male dancers in white stream in emulating the deck of cards in a new way – a variation on a theme. There’s a strong design element throughout conveyed not just through dance but in the colors and costumes. This is like a painting that comes alive and moves. The creativity involved! I see the choreographer’s knowledge of the works of George Balanchine too and Wheeldon’s Royal Ballet expertise which shows up in the amazing characterizations – gestures, embodiment and facial expressions. This isn’t old fashioned story ballet. The choreographer knows ballet vocabulary so well that he can play with it for our enjoyment. Timing throughout – and the sense of urgency – an unfolding of movement that creates tension, emotion and propels the story forward.

BALLROOM: Max Kozhevnikov and Yulia Zagoruychenko

Rhythm. Shape. Timing. Line. A unique perspective and presentation – of theme and the types of ballroom  dance being used – samba and cha cha. The articulation of the body and the way the dancers perform separately for awhile and then come together and dance face to face and side by side. The changes and forms of contact. The quirky gestures inserted. The dramatic pauses and sense of design that use body shape and levels as well as facial expression. These two performers know ballroom vocabulary and what makes a partnered dance work, and, they use their knowledge skillfully. The dance builds and feels fulfilling and fun.