Choreographing for a Choir

At Starling Arts choirs, we bring music to life using many performance techniques, including dance and movement. That’s why you’ll sometimes hear us referred to as a ‘show choir’!

 Our choir Corvida performing a close harmony number, with accompanying movements! Photo by Rebecca Pitt

Our choir Corvida performing a close harmony number, with accompanying movements! Photo by Rebecca Pitt

We’ve learnt over the years that there are many things to consider when adding movement or dance to a choir song, and it’s vital that any movement doesn’t compromise the vocal quality - in fact we strive to enhance the presentation of a song with physical movement. The challenges grow when working with groups without dance experience who can find even a side-step daunting!

Yet it is possible to create effective routines to enhance modern choral music. While every choir - and every song - is different, we wanted to share some of the things we’ve discovered while choreographing for choirs and singing groups over the past decade.

Make a Match

Think about the song you’re preparing for - what is the style and how can you bring movement to complement it? We always start by listening to the original song, looking at the chosen vocal arrangement and working out what we want to achieve by adding dance. Any movement has to compliment the vocals, or it’ll only be distracting. Sometimes there are already iconic movements that you can play with, such as this fun and tongue-in-cheek routine to Saturday Night by Whigfield that saw us manipulate the infamous routine!

Tell the Story

Ask yourself what the story of the song is. Find a few simple gestures that help the audience to understand that, then build on those. Don’t overcomplicate this part, or you’ll bewilder rather than enlighten your audience!

Support the Arrangement

Are there things that always go a little awry in the vocals? Perhaps there’s a section of lyrics that might be remembered more easily with added gestures, or a rest that everyone always forgets where you could punctuate with a movement? Watch out for harder vocal sections where you might need to keep movements to a minimum. Repeated sections are always a good choir for adding movement, with dance keeping the audiences’ interest and adding depth to a performance.

Motifs and repetition

Don’t feel like you have to have a brand new movement for every line of the song. Instead, repeat key gestures or use sections in new and interesting ways. Canon - where the same movements are repeated by other performers, one after another - can be really effective and create more interesting stage pictures.

Space

Get creative with how you use the stage space - your singers don’t have to stay rooted to the spot in a long line. Mix up the shapes you make with performers, with groups, letting the stage picture say as much as the small individual movements. Where possible, make a floor plan of where you’d like everyone to stand in advance, taking into account heights and any soloists or voice parts that need to be at the front or near to microphones.

 Image by Richard Davenport from our show ‘High Five’

Image by Richard Davenport from our show ‘High Five’

Play time

With all of the above in mind, play around with some movement ideas in front of a mirror, watching what looks effective, and what feels easy to do. While you may choose instinctive movements, you may also want to challenge your group with some less expected timings or shapes to keep them and the audience on their toes!

Learn it Backwards and Inside Out

Unless you have access to a mirrored studio, make sure you also learn the movements backwards as well as forwards so you can present then repeat movement sections back along with the choir. Break them down into smaller chunks, then build these up with the group.

Conducting movements

If you conduct your group, why not try a fusion on conducting and movement pointers as you lead? Not only will it help your group nail their parts, but a performing conductor is way more interesting to watch - both for the audience and your singers!

Do you get your choir moving, or do you sing in a choir that moves? Let us know your secrets to success!