How To Choreograph A Dance

By Amara Al Amir 2001


Over the last 25 years, I have choreographed several hundred dances that have been produced, staged and performed, not counting countless more for class routines.  Therefore, I needed to come up with a formula.   The idea of using a formula really came from my job. 


Outside of dance I work as a sales strategist and am required to write and produce sales presentations and scripts for companies I may not know much about. As well as I teach workshops on marketing and sales techniques.  All this taught me the value of formulas as a method of designing or writing or remembering.  Therefore, now I like to think of myself as a designer of dance rather than a choreographer.


I will share some of my secrets and maybe they will work for you. They sure have made my life easier. To start, what motivates me to design a dance is usually either a costume a piece of music or a just a concept.


Once the music is selected, some time is needed to sit and listen to it.  If you are a musician this step is easier but those of us that are not, it is more difficult to do the following.


I often sit and close my eyes and see a dancer dancing to the music to get an “out of box” idea for an approach.  I also look at videos to get ideas for steps.  I also just dance to it to see what comes up in style and interpretation of the music. 


I would try and research other dancers work if the piece is ethnic in origin. I will get assistance to translate any works so I am comfortable with how to reflect the feeling of the words in my choreography.


Then I sit and notate the music.  There are professional ways to notate music for choreography but I don't know them, so I developed my own language of using different lines and marks to note the phrases, instrument rides a (when an instrument is featured about the other instruments), accents in the music, beats, rhythms, This is the outline.  I can demonstrate this and have taught this to many others. 


Then I think in terms of concept, for the style of movements I want to portray. I always take basic choreography and try and give a new twist.


For a simple approach to get started, I think and visualize several categories of stylized turns, several traveling steps, several undulating movements, several hip accents with and without traveling.  Choose only a few of each since these will be used through the dance to create a cohesive piece that is becomes subliminally familiar and comfortable for the audience. 


I usually try and break down the music into phrases or sections.  Sometimes you can easily hear these sections. I shoot for three parts to the dance; one is an introduction to what I am about to say, and then I say it, and then say what I said.


So what I mean, is that for the first third of the dance I use one of each of the basic categories listed above and keep the combinations simple, 8 of this and that, there are no rules here.


I am going to use very simple steps to demonstrate these formulas so you can get the idea easily. 


First third of the dance:

For ex: 

Step Slide Step 8xs.

Turn 4xs.

Hip Drops 4x

Hip Circle 2x

Turn 4xs



The middle is my highlight this is where I go for something to be remembered, step out of the box and reach for an outstanding statement.


For ex:

Hand Clap for 16 beats

Shimmy shifting weight for 16 beats

Hip Circle w/Shimmies for 16 beats

Walk with Shimmies or Running Step Shimmies for 32 beats.

Start Turning with Whirling Head Dervishes for 32 beats.



Then for the third part, I return to the formula as used in part one but this time, use 4 of each choice of movements, ex: traveling step, undulating movement, turns and sharp hips, in measures of 16 to 32 beats. You can also now add varying levels to this.


For ex:

Step Slide Step 2x

Turn 1x

Step Slide Step 2x

Turn 1x

Hip Circle 1x

Hip Drops 4x

Turn 1x

Hip Drops other side 4x

Shimmy down while bending knees into plies

Turn 4x

Hip Drop front, side, back, side

Turn 4x




Using these formulas, you have excitement building that keeps the audiences attention and is very entertaining.  To often choreography is nice but goes nowhere, level - flat and doesn't leave you wanting to clap and feel excited and good about what you just saw.


It takes me usually 8 to 16 hours to choreograph a five-minute dance. Then you should practice and perform it so you can see what works and what doesn’t. After choreographing the framework, I start adding more difficulty, depth and interest to the basic choreography.


Once done, video and critique your dance for more improvements. 

Sometimes I design movement without props first.  Then add the props for will require a lot a practice for segways and execution.  I always challenge myself. 


Another approach I have used is to dance improvisationally to music while being videoed. Then I break it down into a set choreography.


For groups, there is another challenge, staging, interplay between dancers and different choreographies.  If you make it too difficult - where each dancer is required to do something so different, you may find that if one drops out you are in trouble.


Here are a few more helpful hints.


  1. Remember that when designing your dance, it should hold up even if one or two dancers are not there. 
  2. Also bear in mind that your surrounding may change each place you perform.  This can severely affect the success of the piece. Once we were all set to do some dances with 8 dancers and found ourselves in a room with a large pillar in the middle. What fast shuffling we had to do to accommodate that. 
  3. Also, when staging the dance, insist that dancers not change spacing even if the space is larger, that could really throw them off. 
  4. Don't look in mirrors; you might lose front and it looks terrible to the audience. 
  5. Use staging in circles not flat Rockette lines to soften differences in styles and techniques. 
  6. I have also asked different dancers to do choreographies to the same song and stage that together. 
  7. Ask several dancers to dance to a phrase and pick the best interpretation.
  8. Practice the routines facing all four directions, so you can handle different room designs.

Amara is well known for her choreography designs and offers videos of recent workshops of some of her more popular choreographies. Full of combinations and interpretations of music and styles of the Middle East. Her Collections Video Series also includes Live Performance Videos that are a library to own, research, integrate ideas into your own performances.


Like to ask some more dance related questions:

e-mail Amara at 

I will personally answer your questions by email or phone at your request.