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In recent years, guest choreographers have become an increasingly popular route to take when it comes to competition routines. But is it really worth it? What are the benefits associated with bringing in guests? On this week’s episode of Making the Impact, Courtney and Lesley chatted with IDA judge Brandon Cournay and studio owner Ryann Taylor about their thoughts on guest choreography for competitive dancers.
There are numerous benefits for students who work with guest choreographers. Perhaps most obvious are the ways in which these short, intensive learning periods translate into professional work. Professional dancers--and professionals in any field--have to adapt, learn quickly, communicate, and act professionally. In the case of dance, guest choreographers present great opportunities for dancers to hone their abilities to pick up material quickly, pay attention to details, and adapt to new styles. These experiences perpetuate versatility, even within styles, which also helps dancers to grow. Even if the studio faculty members present a diverse range of styles within one genre, a guest choreographer can add yet another to the mix!
Working with guest choreographers also teaches dancers the importance of first impressions. If they want to be seen/used in the pieces, they have to make a good impression. It also presents great challenges which, if the dancer conquers them, can promote more self-confidence. Additionally, guests allow dancers to present with a clean slate. Ryann warns studio owners not to tell guests who the star of the team is, or who they usually feature. Let the choreographer decide based on the impression they get when they walk in the room. Of course, the guest piece might entail choosing a small ensemble of dancers ahead of time, but let the dancers show what they can do without planting any ideas in the choreographer’s mind. This is an awesome opportunity for growth, especially for the dancer who doesn’t always get featured. Perhaps something clicks with a new voice in the room or maybe the style is a perfect fit. Ryann reminds listeners that she brings in the choreographers for a reason, so it’s important to let them do their jobs.
But what about the flip side? Is hiring an outside choreographer necessary to win? According to all four educators, the answer is no. Ryann notes that sometimes her in-house routines score higher than the guest routines because it all comes down to the dancers and their execution. While guest choreography often adds variety to a studio’s repertoire, it doesn’t guarantee a win. The judges at competitions don’t know who choreographed any of the routines, so it truly is up to the dancers.
When hiring a guest choreographer, it’s important to consider your studio’s needs and goals. Brandon suggests focusing on the educational aspect of having a guest come in and making it about the learning process. He explains,
“A guest choreographer may come in for a weekend but those dancers are infused with that artistic style for a whole season. It’s an investment in training, truly.”
So if your motivation for hiring outside choreographers is to win, you might want to reconsider.
There might also be financial limitations, as guest choreography tends to be more expensive than in-house. But rest assured that guest choreography, while full of benefits, isn’t a winning ticket. It’s also worth looking into local or lesser-known choreographers. There are plenty of amazing educators and choreographers who haven’t been on television or maybe aren’t on the convention circuit who can offer a wonderful experience to students at all levels.
Ryann leaves us with the advice to know your brand and, with the old adage that the ‘grass is always greener on the other side,’ to “tend to your own grass.” She encourages studio owners and educators to know their brand and do their research to ensure the best experiences for their students. After all, education should always be the primary goal!