Unit 2: Structures, devices, tools and differentiating between them


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There are an endless amount of choreographic structures tools and devices, as the craft of choreography is ever evolving. Several structures share the same terminology as music composition structures and are similar but created independently. This mini course provides information about several of the most frequently used ones: ABA, Rondo, Accumulation, Call & Response, Canon, Collage, Ground Bass, Narrative, Retrograde, Reversal, and Suite. To gain an understanding of each structure, you may listen to the video breakdown, and/ or read the definition; view the examples, and when applicable, then in Unit 3, test your knowledge by creating choreography.

Educators, you are welcome to use the activities below with your students, including this doc to aid in structuring future lessons on this content.. Be sure to use guiding questions such as the ones at the end of this unit to have students discuss their progress and understanding of each structure as well as clear up any misconceptions.

To get the most out of this experience, please journal about each choreographic structure you study here. A copy will be sent to you for your records, and one will be share with the creator of this course for constructive criticism. You are welcome to answer the question/s in each section in the comments section of the google form journal entry.

The book Dance About Anything, provides lists of structures and devices and their definitions, some of which are included below. A video example of each structure is included below.


View a short video breakdown of choreographic structure definitions here.

AB, ABA- format can be described as A (a dance phrase) and B (a new dance phrase).

The following structure (rondo) could be considered an extension of AB structure.

Extend your learning- Observe your thoughts in this Note Catcher on ABA Choreographic Structure

Dancing in found space

RONDO- can be described as ABACADA... The choreographic pattern begins with  a main theme (A) followed by another theme or movement material, then the A theme returns after each new movement phrase.

EXAMPLES: Masterpiece: The Beloved by Lester Horton , M. Phillips- example of rondo

Extend your learning- Describe the "A" phrase from each dance.

ACCUMULATION- is a choreographic form that can be described by the following  model: (1), (1, 2), (1, 2, 3), (1, 2, 3, 4), (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) OR (A, AB, ABC, ABCD, ABCDE...). Each number/ letter represents a movement or dance phrase, the work is structured by adding on different movement or dance phrases. Every time a new phrase is added, the dance begins again from the start, combining each new section in the same order.

EXAMPLE: M. Phillips- example of accumulation, Masterpiece: Trisha Brown- Accumulation

Extend your learning- Describe the "1" or "A" phrase from each dance.

CALL AND RESPONSE- conversational: the movements of one person provoke a movement response from another.

EXAMPLE: M. Phillips- example of call and response, Tap Challenge Scene (especially from 5:40- end of clip)

Extend your learning- Describe one or more examples of call and response that you have experienced.

CANON AKA RIPPLE- also known as a round, is two or more movement parts involved in a  composition in which the main movement is imitated exactly and completely by  the successive movements, but the different parts are staggered. It is the equivalent  of singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in staggered parts but using movement in place of the words.

EXAMPLE: M. Phillips- example of canon/ ripple, Masterpiece: Doris Humphrey- Water Study, Dance Toolkit video example

Extend your learning- Do you prefer when a ripple finishes staggered like the start, or altogether at a single point? What do you feel is communicated by the various endings?

COLLAGE- is a choreographic form that consists of a series of movement phrases that  are often unrelated but have been brought together to create a single dance with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

EXAMPLE: M. Phillips- example of Collage- this piece was created by 3 separate choreographers then combined into one piece.

Extend your learning- How well do the pieces fit together- can you easily tell when there is a transition to a new section? If so, how? Would you have changed the order of the three sections? If so, how and why?

GROUND BASS- is similar to the backup singers in a singing group. A group of dancers  repeats a series of simple movements while, in front, fewer dancers (or a soloist)  perform a contrasting, often more complex, dance phrase.

EXAMPLE: M. Phillips- example of Ground Bass

Extend your learning- Try to find a clip of ground bass choreography online and share the link in google classroom. Note the timestamp if it occurs at a specific point in the clip.

NARRATIVE- choreographic form tells a story or conveys an idea. The sequence  of the story determines the structure of the dance.

EXAMPLES: Masterpiece: classical ballets such as Swan Lake. Or, M. Phillips- example of narrative- Temate

IMG 20140821 154122.jpg

Extend your learning- Temate is a dance from the Ivory Coast (Republic of Côte d'Ivoire) which tells the story of farming the land. I learned this dance from Adrianna Santucci who learned the dance from her partner who was born and raised in the country, and grew up doing the steps. The steps tell the story- 1. Break up the earth (hoeing the land); 2. Open/ Slice (using a machete to cut down the tall grasses and clear more land); 3. Back/ Chop (cutting down any remaining trees to clear the field); 4. Sift & Toss (using a large pan with holes- similar to those used for gold mining to drop the valuable dirt back to the ground while collecting trash- branches, leaves etc.); 5. Plant the seeds; 6. Harvest ; and 7. Around & Pound (ground grain into flour). Put together they are a story, and a lesson on how to cultivate the land for a prosperous harvest.

RETROGRADE- device in which the movement phrase is performed backwards, as if rewinding a video.

EXAMPLE: M. Phillips- example of Retrograde- Phrases A, B, C, D forward; retrograde phrases A, B, C, D; then forward altogether ABCD; then applying retrograde, finally a video with ABCD both forward (plain) and with retrograde.

Extend your learning- complete the retrograde choreography study in Unit 3!

REVERSAL- the performance of movements of a motif or sequence in reverse order, but not in a backwards direction). For example, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

EXAMPLE: M. Phillips- example of Reversal, using phrases ABCD ---> DCBA

Extend your learning- complete the reversal choreography study in Unit 3!

SUITE- uses different tempos and qualities in each of its three or more sections. Usually the first section is a moderate tempo, the second is an adagio (slow tempo),  and the last section is an allegro (fast tempo).

EXAMPLE: M. Phillips- example of suite- **footage begins ~1:13 into the video.

Extend your learning- describe the similarities and differences between each section of choreography for the example above, entitled "Relate" .


Feel free to use these slides (Choreography Tools, Structures, Devices) with your students. You can update the google classroom with feedback on how things went!


After reviewing the choreographic structures above, take a moment to further assess your learning. Test your ability to recall each choreographic structure with flashcards and a quiz!

Quizlet flashcards link - password= MPCRSCHST22

Choreographic Structures Mix & Match Quiz



What similarities and differences can you identify between these structures?

Which structures do you think might be effectively combined within a singular work- what effect (on the viewer) would be created by such combinations?


For any works of choreography that you have created, consider the following questions after completing the readings and viewings above.

Your creations: Why did you choose the structure you used in your choreography?

Is there a more effective structure that you can employ to convey your concept?

Do you employ more than one structure? If not, might some sections of your choreography be best suited for different structures (you can absolutely use multiple forms)?

Works you are viewing:

Would you have used another structure if this were your choreography? Why or why not? If yes, which?


Standards - Arts Integration site. New York State Learning Standards- Dance

Dance About Anything by Marty Sprague, Helene Scheff, Susan McGreevy-Nichols


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