Create What You Know
Nicole Decsey on creating work that you are emotionally connected to.
Write what you know. I have heard schoolteachers say this to me for years, but it has never felt more authentic than when I am choreographing.
When you are teaching at competitive studios and recreational dance schools, you are creating multiple routines a season. None of which are longer than two to three minutes. In that type of situation, it is easy to create fast simple routines based on the songs you pick. But when you are creating professional full-length pieces the story changes.
In the past I have been trapped by what I think I want to create and what I think would be interesting to see on stage. But I have found that what you create will be what you wanted in the end as long as you don’t force the issue. When I choreograph pieces based on my emotions and my personal experiences, instead of forcing an emotional reaction, the emotion and the movement come naturally through the stories I’m telling.
My personal opinion is that choreography should come from an authentic place. It should be raw and real to you as the choreographer, because it is a hard never-ending process to bring a story to life through a full-length show. You need to be invested in the work you are creating or at some point it will get lost.
The first piece I ever tried to create on my own outside of school was called Blind Sided, and it was about losing your sense of sight. However, Blind Sided never happened because I wasn’t completely invested. I still think this is an interesting concept to create a piece about, but I don’t have any personal experience dealing with this life altering situation and as such I had no drive to complete the work. Maybe someday it will happen, but at the moment I have no desire to continue the process. And that drive, that reason, and the need to create a piece now is a major part of a grant application. Why does this work need to be done is not only an important question for a grant it is an important question for you as a creator. It is important to know what you want and to know why you are fighting to make it happen.
So, write what you know. Create what you know. Bring a story to life that has relevance to you and without a doubt it will resonate with someone else. When I created We Lost You A long Time Ago, a piece about being cut off from my best friend's life due to her struggles with mental health and financial issues, it was a big deal for me because I was extremely vulnerable. But the emotional response I got from my cast and the audience was inspiring and motivating. Many people could connect to the concept, relate to it, and were moved by it, which made an impact on me and helped me deal with my emotions for my friend. Both the anger and the sadness. It was the most rewarding part of the process. Because that kind of response is ultimately why we create work. We create work to move people, to make them feel something. And it can be different for everybody but if they leave the theatre thinking about the work, contemplating it, and maybe even relating it back to their own lives then as creators we have done our job. People connect to real life stories because in some way they have experienced it themselves.
As a performer, I have also experienced the power of dancing choreography based on another person’s experiences. In 2020, I had the pleasure of being in the piece Normal People choreographed by my friend and colleague Rachel Levitt. This piece was probably my first real experience with truly personal and raw movement material. Rachel created Normal People based on her experience with group homes for people with severe mental health challenges and the way others looked at her brother. We dealt with extremely personal material that evoked feelings in myself and made my emotional connection to the piece more real than anything I had hitherto experienced.
Don’t shy away from the possibility of being vulnerable. Because that is when great things happen. I hope you have the courage and the opportunity to share your experiences with the world through dance and feel the same acceptance I did.
Good luck and happy creating!