21M.675 | Fall 2003 | Undergraduate

Dance Theory and Composition


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 2 hours / session


This course will introduce students to the art and formal ideologies of contemporary dance. We will explore the aesthetic and technical underpinnings of contemporary dance composition. Basic compositional techniques will be discussed and practiced, with an emphasis on principles such as weight, space, time, effort, and shape. Principles of musicality will be considered and developed by each student. Working with each other as the raw material of the dance, students will develop short compositions that reveal their understanding of basic techniques. Hopefully, students will come to understand a range of compositional possibilities available to artists who work with the medium of the human body.

The class will be conducted as a workshop, with strength and coordination exercises leading to exploratory exercises in each class meeting. Selected viewing and reading exercises will augment classroom work. In addition, the class will attend at least two professional dance events in the Boston area.

This course will be an intermediate-level offering. Students with no dance background should take Introduction to Acting before enrolling. Students with dance background may petition the instructor to enroll.

There is no required text for this class.


Contribution to the Warmup

At two or three intervals during the semester, each student will contribute movement to the warmup sequence of the class. The contribution could involve any of the following:

  • Focusing Sequence
    Movements designed to aid in relaxation, breath control, and careful focus of energy into specific body parts.

  • Stretching Sequence
    Movements designed to stretch particular body parts such as spine, neck, and legs.

  • Strengthening Sequence
    Movements designed to strengthen particular muscle groups, such as those in the arms, abdomen, and legs.

  • Balancing Sequence
    Movements designed to challenge sustained mastery of balance.


Each student will present four composition fragments over the course of the semester. The first will be performed in silence; the second with minimal rhythmic accompaniment; the third with music of the choreographer’s choice; the fourth with music composed in collaboration with Akili Jamal Haynes, course musician. The first fragment will deal with the concept of time; the second with the concept of weight; the third with the concept of space; and the fourth will offer a synthesis of work from the entire semester.

Written Documentation - Journal

Each student will keep a journal of her explorations in the class. The journal may include choreographic notes, drawings, literary ideas, or technical exercises. But it must include the following:

  • A periodic “check in” with your body, as in what feels how, when, and possibly why. This discussion should take the form of a series of questions and statements, as in “my back felt very tight this morning, no doubt because of my 8.01 exam. How can I articulate the space between my vertebrae as I sit in that overcrowded classroom?” Or, “Walking down the Infinite Corridor today, I noticed that my hands were stretching and contracting in rhythm with my steps. What if I made a phrase out of only my hand movements?”

  • The longhand literary descriptions of your choreographic plans. The texts (poems, statements, drawings, newspaper articles) that inspire and inform your compositions.

  • Your own assessment of your dances. What sections were you satisfied with? Why? Which sections would you like to continue working on? Why?

  • The journal will be collected three times during the semester, after your showing of each short composition.


Grading will be determined by an assessment of class participation, the extent to which exercises are fully explored, and the achievement of self-imposed challenges set out for each student. There will be at least one performance event: an informal end-of-term showing of material.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2003
Learning Resource Types
Projects with Examples
Activity Assignments with Examples