Choreographic devices in dance – using contrast

choreographic devicesForming dance using a variety of choreographic devices is central to making dances.  In Primary school, the children learn about ways to structure and sequence movement to represent stories, ideas and concepts.

Using contrast as a way of organizing the Elements of Dance gives children opportunities to explore the language of movement and to investigate structuring their ideas as a way of communicating their intent.

Identifying patterns in choreography as a means of reading and understanding works of dance is a transferable literacy skill.  Through making their own dances to communicate their ideas, children can then view dances and interpret the ideas of others.

Dance uses contrast to unfold a character, scene, mood, theme or concept.

Using dance as a starting point to learn about using contrast is an engaging way to introduce the compare and contrast form in literary texts.  It helps children understand the differences between the terms compare and contrast, giving examples of the subtle ways to use contrast.

In its simplest terms, contrast is the opposite of something.  In dance terms this could include the use of the elements of dance.  Space – close together as opposed to far apart.  Time – getting slower as opposed to getting faster.  Dynamics – using sharp movements as opposed to using smooth movements. Relationships – using a solo dancer as opposed to using a group of dancers.

The many uses of contrast as a choreographic device

choreographic devicesIn dance, contrast provides both unity and variety, adding texture and layers to the choreography.    As with writing, using contrast can draw attention or emphasis certain elements and can appear as a whole section of the dance, as a part of a sequence or even a single movement.

Dance activity idea #1

  • Explore still shapes through  contrasting curved or angular, symmetrical or asymmetrical, high level or low level.
  • Extend this by having the shapes represent ideas that may also be contrasting; powerful/collapsing, joyful/despondent.
  • Students then write a sentence using the two contrasting emotions, joined by a linking word that is appropriate when talking about contrast ideas: but, yet, nevertheless, however, still, rather.

Contrast can act as an organizer of choreography allowing the clear expression of ideas by focusing on the distinct sections.  Activities that may be appropriate to develop this could be dance that represents a ‘for and against’ argument.

Dance activity idea #2

  • Create a dance about an environment before and after a tsunami; the calm of the ocean and the relaxed movement of the people contrasting with the emotions of fear and turmoil of the ocean. You could use any natural disaster you are investigating in HASS.

choreographic devicesThe work of contrast is also to provide a clear and decisive break to show a completely different perspective.  This can be by using the elements of dance, as mentioned above but could also be used as a way of showing the drama of the choreography.

Dance activity idea #3

The students watch a piece of choreography that uses contrast and identify what the contrasting movements represented. An example that would be appropriate is the Nutcracker’s fight between Good (the Nutcracker) and Evil (King Rat).

Contrast gives the audience clear ideas about what the choreographer wants to represent and can make the choreography more memorable by giving it emphasis and heightening the drama. Using a range of contrasting elements can show students how effective being descriptive in their dance and their writing can be.

Dance activity idea #4

  • Try exploring a theme in small groups, such as Bushrangers, that uses the still shapes of the bush as opposed to fast, travelling movement of the fleeing bushranger.
  • Students then describe another group’s performance using words to describe the two contrasting sections of the dance.

Using contrast to signify the climax of a dance work can be enhanced by using music that builds to a climax, suggesting a change in tempo or dynamics.  Selecting music to assist with the narrative of the children’s choreography can support a deeper exploration of movement.

Dance activity idea #5

  • The students select a chapter of the book they are currently reading that demonstrates the climax. In small groups they devise a movement sequence (1) that represents what happens prior to the climax and then another sequence (2) that shows the climax.  These should demonstrate contrast as a choreographic device.
  • They then decide how they think the story should end through another movement sequence (3). A final discussion decides whether sequence 3 is a contrast to either sequence 1 or 2.  They should give clear examples of changes in the dance elements used.

Contrast as a choreographic device adds interest to the work, keeping the audience engaged and inquisitive about what may happen next.

The eye of the audience is often drawn to the contrasts existing in relationships between the dancers in the space.

One dancer standing in a contrasting position on the stage away from a group of dancers will change the focus in the choreography.  Dancers moving in unison except for one dancer is also an example of the use of contrast to draw focus.

Dance activity idea #6

  • Teach the students a movement sequence and then in small groups they change elements within the dance, using contrast to change the focus of the audience.
  • When responding to peers’ dance works the children may discuss how the use of contrast has influenced their focus throughout the dance.

The contrast could also be in the costuming of the dancers, the use of props and other theatrical elements.  For example, in a written text you could open a scene by having a room full of people dressed in grey with one person dressed in orange.  Immediately we want to know why that person looks different in that circumstance.  Similarly, with dance, contrasting costumes can emphasis a dancer in the space.  The sets and lighting, through contrast with the movements of the dancers, may emphasis the meaning of the dance.

 Dance activity idea #7

  • Each student finds a single object that suggests a certain dynamic. For example, a scarf or a piece of bamboo stick.  They then explore movements that contrast to the dynamic of the prop to express an idea or emotion.  Be experimental with the object’s versatility.  The object must be used in a way that is more than decorative.

Contrast is an essential part of dance choreography bringing focus, meaning and interest to dance works.

Your students will enjoy exploring the wide range of ways to use contrast as a choreographic device as they communicate their ideas through movement.


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