If you’ve ever seen a dance performance, whether in an elegant theatre or on a small stage, you have witnessed the work of a dedicated choreographer. As the so-called “directors of dance,” choreographers are responsible for creating movement that captures the imagination and inspires both dancers and audiences alike. Through artistic expression, choreographers illustrate stories, evoke emotion, and challenge the definition of dance.
Whether creating steps for an individual performance or the entire ensemble, anyone with a creative vision and love for movement can be a choreographer. From contemporary ballet to modern dance, we celebrate choreography and some of the most influential artists of all time on International Choreographers Day, January 9.
As co-founder of the New York City Ballet, Balanchine is considered the pioneer of contemporary ballet and one of the most important choreographers of all time. The Balanchine Method, used by many dance companies today, is characterized by sharp, dramatic movements and recognizable arm positions. He trained strong and flexible dancers with a blend of techniques that he had studied during his time at the Imperial Ballet School, on Broadway and in Hollywood. Balanchine was well known for his musicality and his famous works — The Nutcracker, Serenade, and Symphony in C.
Ailey revolutionized modern dance, clearing the path to success for other African American dancers in the 20th century. In 1958, he opened the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in New York City. This multi-racial company continues to perform Ailey’s original creations all over the world today. Ailey’s most recognizable piece, Revelations, is a modern American classic that illustrates the African American experience from slavery to freedom and evokes deep, thought-provoking emotions in all who attend a performance.
The Martha Graham Dance Company is considered one of the greatest dance companies in the world, much like the late dancer and choreographer. Leveraging over 70 years of experience as a performer and educator, Graham pushed the boundaries of modern dance. She created the Graham technique that shaped 20th century modern dance and later influenced many other choreographers of the time. Graham demonstrated her love for movement, as she danced up until her final days.
After a short acting career, Fosse turned to dance where he unleashed his full potential and began his successful reign as one of the most influential men in jazz. His unique, sexy style and unmatched choreography was featured in Broadway musicals such as Cabaret, Chicago, and All That Jazz. He received countless Tony Awards, Academy Awards, and Oscar nominations for his contributions to jazz dance.
Not only was Katherine Dunham a dancer, choreographer, and influencer, she was also a dance historian. She traveled throughout the Caribbean where she conducted research to help develop novel styles of choreography that mirrored the various cultures and backgrounds she encountered. She directed the Katherine Dunham Dance Company for almost 30 years and developed her own technique in that time. She was widely popular in American and European theatres during the 20th century, debuting in Broadway musicals and showing the world the raw beauty of African American styles of dance.
And, of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the impact of our own Fred Astaire on the art of dance. His toe-tapping turns delighted theater and movie goers throughout his more than 76-year dance and choreography career. Not only was he instrumental in transforming how dance was incorporated into the plot line of films, but he also choreographed in such a way that his moves could be filmed close-up, as opposed to the more traditional aerial shots that had been used at the time.
To all the choreographers of the past and present, we wish you well on International Choreographers Day and appreciate your continued efforts to keep dance alive in our hearts. If you’re interested in working with a professional choreographer on ballroom dance classics, contact your local Fred Astaire Dance Studio to schedule a lesson.