I am a big note taker. I find notes helpful to remember things and frequently make lists of things I need to do, places I need to go, or people I want to be…
As such, I find it very helpful to take notes for choreography, and I definitely recommend it to others. I know people who video their numbers, which is an awesome way to record and memorialize your choreography! It certainly has all of the moves, the music, and even costuming, if you video with all of the components in place. However, video is not always accessible and may even be premature if you are at the preliminary stages of thought processes or choreographic ideas.
I like to keep a notebook available to jot down ideas as I have them – I do leave home on occasion without my notebook, but I take one on out-of-town trips, to dance classes and workshops, to shows I attend (all kinds, as you never know what will pop an idea into your head), etc. In a pinch, I can always jot an idea on a piece of paper to put into a formal notebook later, but I am more likely to lose the paper than the whole notebook, and transcribing is a pain in the patootie for me – I don’t do it unless I absolutely have to!
The notebook is like a solid copy of my brain waves that does not forget. I can put in weird little brain farts, like – “That dance would be really funny in a pig ears, nose, and tail,” or “do a number with a tear-apart bear – gruesome fun!” and sometimes these ideas die on the vine or I can pick them up later and actually use them. Two good things about writing down ideas – 1) they are there when you need them, and 2) you are less likely to have to refer to them because the act of writing them down helps hard-wire them just a little bit into the brain.
I can also put in a dance step I particularly like that I want to use in a number, preliminary choreography, floor plans, music ideas, costume thoughts – and it is all right at my fingertips. I can clip out pictures of costumes or hair-dos and attach them (tape or paper-glue) in the book and then I don’t have to start hunting for those scraps of paper or the like. It allows me the freedom to choreography wherever I am – on the train, on the plane, in a hotel room, or even in the car… (No, I don’t write down the choreography in the car, but I can certainly jot it down once I have STOPPED the car.) Many times when I am quickly scribbling in my book I have come up with some really good choreography.
Often I brainstorm with friends on joint projects and when we hit a good idea, I get the -“You write that down, you’re good at that.” So, it is the added responsibility, but it is also reassuring that I have things right at my fingertips or just a little bit of research away. It is also very handy when it comes to reviving older pieces that you have done. I was recently asked to teach a dance that I have not done in over a year. Do I remember everything? No, but I know that I have all of the choreography in one of my handy-dandy little notebooks. Very helpful-
But, Red Velvet, you may say, I don’t know all of the names of the dance steps that I do in my choreography. It doesn’t matter. Use words and symbols that you understand. These notes are meant for you and only you need to be able to read them. If others can read them, that may be a bonus, particularly if you are doing a group number. However, you understanding your notes is the first aspect to focus on. I pepper my notes with whatever it takes me to remember what I need to know. I use dance steps, counts, sometimes the specific time count of the music where I start a certain action, or even a sound in the music – like ” big horn.” Sometimes I draw little dancing stick figures so I know the shape I want my body to be. This can be very helpful when verbally describing a move is beyond my capacity… which it can be, particularly in the moment of choreographic inspiration! I also right down mood or quality explanations for the movements, as applicable, such as “luscious” or “demanding” or even phrases such as ‘arms open and have a “welcome to my home” feeling.’
Of course, you can always video the numbers or dances when you are complete, but the notebook is so helpful to the creative process at the outset! People often see me carrying around my notebook while I move to the music when I am testing out my choreography or trying to remember the choreography that I have created. Sometimes I may even create alternate moves – such as , “if my zipper is a pain, I can use this 8 counts to unzip, otherwise, I will do a kick turn here.” Notes allow you to be more flexible and change things, which can provide for some nice options. The other nice thing about notes, too, is that I know when I have to refer to them and when I don’t. The problem sometimes when learning from a video is that it is so easy to watch you may not realize what you really know in your head and what you are just following along to.
Obviously, your notebook and writing utensil can be one of your choosing, but use something that makes you feel good – this should not be a duty or an obligation, but another enjoyable part of the creative process. I know people who use spiral notebooks or legal pads, but I prefer pretty little journals – they look nice and fit in my purse, making them accessible and handy. Some people might want to go the electronic version, but I like the ability to add my drawings and side thoughts easily and I don’t always want the time and stress of powering something up before I can take notes. However, this is all personal and you should, of course, use whatever works for you!
When I am finished with a notebook, I include a date range, to help me figure out when I used it and what it might include. However, I have quite a little collection amassing and I am finding that it is harder for me to remember when I actually created or learned something. That said, I am thinking I may need to start including a table of contents at the beginning or end of my notebook, so I can easily identify what numbers are included in each notebook without having to search through each page individually. There is always room for improvement!
I hope these suggestions have provided some help or inspiration for taking your own notes. It is a good part of the creative process and I highly encourage it!