FAQ: How Do I Choreograph A Pole Routine? Where Do I Start?
I have been asked by several people what method I use to choreograph my pole routines, so I thought it would be worthwhile to do an Ask Peach post. Of course, this is just MY process and what works for me in particular, so you may find certain techniques that help and some that you would rather swap for a different method, it is entirely up to you.
Here is how I choreograph a pole routine:
Step 1: Choose A Song and Theme
I always choose my song and theme first before beginning to choreograph. For me this stage is the most important because I base my costume, dancing and tricks on these two choices. Sometimes a theme develops organically from a song choice, or I sometimes come up with a great theme and then look for a song that fits my vision. Sometimes I have a song straight away, and sometimes I have to spend hours trawling through Spotify to find the right music to fit my costume idea – it all depends.
Step 2: Create A Mind Map Of Your Dance ‘Vocabulary’
Your dance ‘vocabulary’ as I like to call it includes: pole tricks, floor work moves, spins, transitions (round the pole, and mounting and dismounting the pole), and poses. I recommend drawing a mind map with ‘Choreography’ at the center, and each of these categories coming off, from which you can list what you wish to include in the routine.
My advice would be to not just write down all the moves you know (although that can be helpful to begin with), but to select moves based on your song choice. If you have picked a ‘slinky’ song, include moves that are flowing and sensual, rather than too dynamic or staccato. If you have selected an aggressive song don’t pick moves that are ‘pretty’ or delicate. It seems like obvious advice but it is so easy to just stick in the tricks that you love and not the tricks that really suit the character and music.
Step 3: Listen To Your Song & Begin To Build ‘Sentences’
What you want to do next is listen to your song over and over and over, whilst looking at your dance ‘vocabulary’ mind map. I then begin to build up ‘sentences’, looking at what moves I can link to what, how they fit with the music and so on.
At this point I know some people like to break down the song into 8-counts (if you are interested I have included a very simple video from YouTube that demonstrates what counting an 8-count looks like). Whilst I do loosely refer to this, I don’t stick to this method stringently. As my moves tend to be closely tied to specific lyrical or rhythmical moments I just choreograph by writing the choreography as a list, sometimes with specific lyrics or annotations in parentheses just so I know which section of the song they are meant for.
Step 4: Take It Onto The Pole
I do the majority of my choreography using visualisation before I even step near a pole, so I will usually have entire sections of my routine worked out in my head before I try them out. Luckily more often than not they translate well, but sometimes they require a little tweaking, which simply means I go back and revise what I have done and see if I can make it better.
The initial process I follow is paper based, going to the pole and back again, but after that it gets worked into my memory simply by listening to the song and drilling it through mental rehearsal / visualisation. I will listen to the song 5-10 times in a row whilst walking or driving for example, and run the routine in my head. You may find this method works for you, or you may want to choreograph exclusively in your head and do not need to take notes at all, just find what you are comfortable with.
My only exception in my method is when it comes to any low flow / base work I incorporate. For this I feel that being at the pole and experimenting works best, because there isn’t a set ‘language’ of moves so much as just listening to what your body has to say. Allowing your body to freely skate and slide around the pole, and sitting in certain poses and seeing where you can go next, for me, is the best way of working out low flow. That, and watching obscene amounts of videos on Instagram! lol
Step 5: Innovate
So, you can do a Butterfly into an Inside Leg Hang into an Allegra, but everyone who takes a pole class will learn this combo, and various others. If you are choreographing for a competition it is important to be innovative as much as you can in your combos, moves and transitions. Give the judges and audience something fresh and new to watch.
Look at your mind map of dance ‘vocabulary’ – What moves can you tweak? What interesting combinations can you make that you haven’t learnt in your regular classes? How can you make that transition or floor work move different? Really think creatively and challenge yourself not only to come up with choreography, but choreography that is uniquely YOU!
If you are just starting out and are a beginner level this is not essential, but it is still a good habit to get into. If you are looking at going for semi-pro or above I would suggest doing this sooner rather than later, and make it a regular part of your choreographing so that you get into the habit of trying to think creatively.
TOP TIP: Seek Out External Inspiration
To further help you ‘innovate’ you should be looking to expand your movement and dance ‘vocabulary’ as much as you can from resources outside of pole. Yes, I watch lots of pole videos to get ideas for moves and combos that I can change and make my own, but I do not limit myself to that. I look at other styles of dance, burlesque, fashion magazines, gymnastics, movies, and so much more. Look at as many sources as you can to find interesting and innovative styles of movement that you can use to make your routine unique. If you are a classique style dancer take a ballet or Latino class. If you mostly do lyrical style pole try a street dancing or Capoeira class. Challenge yourself and you will find awesome new ways to enhance your performances.
Step 6: Film & Refine
Once you have choreographed something for the full length of the song, run through the routine until you have it memorised enough to film it. Try to video your routine at least once every time you practice. Watch the video back and see where the routine flows well and where it does not, altering the choreography if you need to. Watch your facial expressions, your arms and hands, and the execution of your moves, and address any bits that do not look as polished or as effective as they could be. Rinse and repeat this step until you have your routine in perfect condition.
And that is that! Please note, the more times you have done this the easier and easier it gets. Your first couple of choreographed routines will be difficult – they will be tricky to get flowing, your moves may not link perfectly and you might find it hard to think up moves and combos.
The first routine I ever wrote down was basically just every single spin I had learned in quick succession, with a few transitions thrown in – it never went to stage (thankfully). So, even if you have no competition or show coming up, choreograph anyway! It is great practice and will give you a head start for when you really do have a showcase or competition looming.
Rest assured that with practice it gets much easier. Your ‘vocabulary’ begins to grow and diversify, and you will find yourself being able to link moves and transitions more easily. With each routine you will grow to know your body better, understanding the types of movements it does naturally, and the best way to use it in your dancing.
Now, just get stuck in there and starting choreographing. Good luck! ♥