Inspired by the Art of Making a Dance?

The Keys to Building Dance Composition for Beginner and Emerging Choreographers

Interview by Jeffrey Hoffman, Francisco Gella Dance Works Chief Executive Officer, with Francisco Gella, Choreographer and Chief Creative Officer

Renowned choreographer Wayne McGregor once noted that ‘‘the job of a choreographer is to find what’s personal to them.” Powerful stories – told literally and non-literally –  and the dances created to communicate them are rooted in the personal experiences, beliefs, interpretations and feelings of the choreographer. Without the deeply vulnerable, personal, and introspective  work that it takes for the choreographer to create something memorable and powerful, the work presented moves along without life.

I sat down recently with Francisco Gella, Choreographer and Chief Creative Officer for Francisco Gella Dance Works, to delve into his own beliefs about his creative work. A self-described life-long learner, Francisco has been honing his craft for nearly twenty-five years beginning when he first experimented with choreography in his undergraduate composition classes. As a choreographer, Gella also understands his role as an educator, coach, mentor and provocateur – he believes that it’s important that artists not get wrapped up in their own ego or stuck inside their head. When a choreographer enters the studio s/he must respect the humanity and the essence of the dancers performing the work. That energy comes from the heart.

Do You Want to Know What It Takes to be a Professional Choreographer?

This interview comes on the heels of a new initiative Francisco is undertaking to nurture out-of-the-box creative voices through New Century Dance Project (NCDP). For Francisco, the work itself that he creates is not the only thing that’s personal to him. Nurturing aspiring choreographers and opening up opportunities for established dance makers whose talent hasn’t yet been discovered inspires him deeply – in part because of his own journey. From his perspective, many companies have historically made ‘safe’ choices in well-known commodities, at the expense of true innovation and the embracing of diversity. So in the last part of the interview, you’ll learn more about the exciting things he is up to – and they might just involve you!


Francisco Gella Interviews about Dance Composition for Beginning Choreographers

As a dancer and an artist, why do you love choreography and invest so much of yourself into your work?

I love the process. I love the challenge. I love to inspire and move an audience. I love to express what I am feeling and thinking using movement. I love to create moving pictures. Since the moment I made my first dance, the art-making process has fueled my soul. I haven’t been the same ever since and so I have a deep and intense connection to – a relationship with – dance making. It’s hard to put into words, but when I go into that creation process I’m entering into a transcendent place. I feel totally connected to that energy which is bigger than all of us, and that binds us all together.


I have always wondered, Where then do choreographers get the freedom to potentially fail? The dancers that I am personally most intrigued by are the ones that fall (literally), risking everything to see just how far they can push themselves as artists.


David Hallberg, Professional Ballet Dancer and Choreographer

Why is choreography so central to dance – for the dancer, the audience and the dancemaker?

It is a snapshot and an expression of one’s own deep personal and philosophical beliefs, thoughts and feelings.  It is a reflection of the zeitgeist (the spirit of the time we are living in) and if done in a very honest way, the work resonates broadly with the human experience. It will have a different meaning for each person and yet it is relatable to just about everyone. When this happens, a piece of choreography can exist beyond a generation and become timeless. Without choreography that taps into this common sense of humanity, the dance is just a series of meaningless steps.

From your perspective, what constitutes great choreography?

It is so many things done exceedingly well, that when put together, create a magical experience. Musicality, architecture, phrasing, movement vocabulary, intent, clarity of message, use of space, all of these elements and more are critical. But most of all, the work must be honest and reflective of one’s true perspective and feelings for the work itself to resonate in a powerful way. As someone who has both created and watched a lot of dance in the last twenty-five years, the work that stands out and that you remember the most, gives you an emotional and visceral reaction. And you remember it vividly.

You started a program three years ago with the support of Repertory Dance Theatre called New Century Dance Project (NCDP). This year you are introducing a program there to nurture new choreographic voices. Why is NCDP a great opportunity for professional choreographers?

NCDP is an important avenue for emerging and established choreographers to feature their work, get critique and evaluate their own use of choreographic elements in the construction of their work, gain more knowledge in the craft and process of choreography, be inspired to refine and own their individual voice through experimentation in a classroom and laboratory environment, and be mentored by established dance makers. It is about discovering one’s own unique voice in the context of contemporary dance and the historical canon of work, and understanding how that voice can contribute something greater to the larger body. Perhaps most importantly, if you ask almost every successful artist how they ‘arrived’, they will tell you that they could not have done it alone. Teachers, family, friends, colleagues, other choreographers – all played an important role in their own development. NCDP will play an important part of this journey by creating a community of curious, risk-taking, and supportive artists. Every choreographer selected to showcase their work at the Gala Concert this summer on August 17, will have the chance to receive a $2500 prize to be used for a new commission to be set on Repertory Dance Theatre – a seasoned fifty year-old professional company that has featured the work of legendary choreographers.


“The practice of choreography is educational in its nature therefore an important part of a choreographer’s job is to be a teacher.” ~ Francisco Gella, Creative Director and Choreographer

Why is NCDP an important opportunity for young student artists aspiring to be choreographers?

Students get an insider’s look at what choreographers go through. NCDP will help young artists understand the challenges when designing moving pictures and moments on stage.  The festival provides insight into different methods in constructing a dance. Through experimentation and mentoring, student choreographers begin to learn what works, what doesn’t work, what resonates, what inspires, what contributes, and what detracts from a clear message of a well-designed and constructed dance.  They learn how to more effectively communicate a message, emotion, idea, or thought through movement with clarity and focus. Students are given an opportunity to create work with their peers. Like professional choreographers, students have an opportunity to submit their work, which if selected, will be performed at a special 250-Seat Black Box showcase of student work on the Friday of New Century Dance Project, August 16. All student choreographers will receive critique from a panel of established artists, and one choreographer will be granted $1000 to create a new work to be performed at the closing Gala Concert during the 2020 NCDP festival.

How will NCDP help prepare contemporary choreographers for the future?

Contemporary dance expresses what is relevant in the now. For current choreographers to understand how to reflect the current mood and spirit of the time in their work, they must be educated on who came before them, who paved the way, who rebelled, integrated and defined dance in the past, which has allowed us to arrive at this current moment. Knowing the history of the dance art form, and the pieces of choreography that have lived on, gives current dance makers the needed context to help define who they are. The luminary figures that current choreographers are inspired and influenced by and what it is that current dance makers love about those past trailblazers, helps young aspiring artists to start paving their own way as they sharpen their own unique and powerful voice. The NCDP choreographic experience will connect YOU – who represents the present – with the past. And in doing so, set you up to contribute to the continuation of a legacy of groundbreaking dance. I invite you to answer the New Century Dance Project’s Call for Choreography 2019.


Do you want to know how to become a choreographer?  Check out ‘The Essential Guide for Becoming a Dance Choreographer’

Every dancer has their own artistic voice. But how do artists learn to express it with meaningful choreography?

Based on years of experience, our team at Francisco Gella Dance Works have developed a document about composition and choreography as a starting point for emerging dance makers. This checklist touches base on essential components of choreography – the tools that artists choreographers who are starting out need to begin considering when composing choreography.


Official Launch of Dance Scholarship Equity Program

Official Launch of Dance Scholarship Equity Program

Tackling the Lingering Issues of Inclusion and Diversity in Dance Programs  

By Jeffrey Hoffman, CEO, Francisco Gella Dance Works

Francisco Gella Dance Works proudly announces the ‘official launch’ of our Dance Scholarship Equity Program! The need is great. The inequality of opportunity is real. You can find  hungry students wanting to pursue their dreams just about anywhere you go. Unfortunately the chances for a good many of these students to succeed are diminished due to circumstances they were born into – not ones they chose.  But with a dancer’s strong desire and a persistent willingness to sacrifice just about anything to get there – and with the the combined creative efforts of individuals and organizations who care about removing barriers for any student struggling to make it happen – a whole lot of good can happen to change the landscape, to build a more inclusive dance community. Dance Scholarship applications are now being accepted.

As a a professional working in education for more than half of my life and since graduating with my undergraduate degree, my entire working life, I am deeply committed to challenging the systems, decisions, beliefs and attitudes that we still often use as excuses for accepting the status quo. It is our own thinking that often gets in the way of real and lasting change.

Jeffrey Hoffman, CEO

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The Art of Properly Using your Turnout

The issue of improperly using your turnout and over-rotating in the feet is a worldwide issue

Written By Julie Friedrich, Associate Director for College and Career Programs, Francisco Gella Dance Works

As a teacher, I see this on a daily basis. As someone who has sustained a major knee injury and had major reconstructive surgery as a result, I am adamant that students use turnout from the proper placement and do not over rotate.  

I am grateful that I had a teacher who demanded using turnout from the proper place. This emphasis on proper alignment in the body is crucial to being an injury-free dancer. I remained injury-free until I was 17 years old – while dancing full time, all day long. In today’s environment, I am seeing too many young dancers with injuries that could easily be prevented by maintaining proper alignment and not over-stressing the body by forcing it into positions that are not suited to their anatomy.

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Why Your Technical Training Is SO Important

Mastering technique… and the art of movement.

What separates dancers who have mastered technique, from those who have mastered the art of movement is clear. Movement mastery requires that dancers couple their technical training with control, strength, and artistry.

With technical expertise comes a refinement that allows dancers to speak clearly and eloquently through their movement, but it’s not enough. A dancer must learn to express themselves through these movements versus mastering the steps themselves. Think of technique as the vocabulary and grammar that you in need in order to properly formulate a sentence. Similar to the tone or resonance of your voice, a dancer must understand how to layer their artistry with their movement and technique in order to be seen, as an orator who uses intonation to evoke emotion within their audience.

A technically well-trained dancer who has learned how to express their movement with attention to detail adds beauty and power to any style of dancing. More often than not dancers are more focused on learning steps versus strengthening their vocabulary which will allow them to convey a much richer and attention-grabbing story or feeling when they dance. For example, when you are practicing a petite allegro, small quick movements will strengthen smaller muscle groups giving you access to more power, versatility, control, and endurance. With intentional practice and training that focuses on mastering the fundamentals (through your regular training regimen and also intensives), you have an opportunity to really dig into your technical vocabulary and core movements that are not only physically challenging, but that will elevate everything else that you are doing when you move.

So whether you are a competitive dancer, concert dancer, aspiring choreographer, or looking to land that audition, the success of your dance career depends on mastering these fundamentals if you want to stand out. Intense training that supports you in mastering the essential technical building blocks of every dance genre will help build a much more compelling dancer. The dance becomes more memorable because the audience sees the dance expressed with such nuance and intention. It’s been said that technical expertise and mastery brings true freedom because dancers have more tools at their disposal to express themselves, and are not limited by lack of strength, power, or technical ability to master precise movements with ease. When a dancer masters fundamental technique and knows the ‘rules’ they can choose when and where to break them. Knowing when they are going outside the ‘rules’ brings an intentionality to the movement being created and brings these dancers who have taken the time to master  the basics to the forefront when dancing among a group of dancers who lack the same So if you are looking to stand out, join us for our upcoming intensives. Check out our upcoming events here.

The Importance of College Planning for Young Dancers

Don’t leave your future to chance… College is THAT important.

One of the most important components of preparing for a career in dance is to demonstrate the ability to set yourself apart from the crowd. This ability is expressed in who you are as a dancer but it is also developed within your learning environment. It may seem like there is always time to get ready for college but dancers who are serious about preparing for their future, start planning for this process as early as 7th grade. While it’s a common thought for some dancers to think they don’t need college, a fantastic way to get your foot into more doors – and to prepare for a long and sustainable career – is to obtain a college degree. 

Our team of expert mentors at Francisco Gella Dance Works crafted a free tool to help you get started today: College Prep Readiness Checklist

Obtaining a college degree displays that you can personally and artistically commit to a desired course of action and succeed in reaching a intentional outcome. The ability to address issues and the maturity to resolve them is a benefit of attending college and one that is essential to many of the most successful dancers in the world. It’s crucial to understand that there is a whole world to explore outside of just dance studios and stages, therefore understanding the college application process can be a life changing tool for many young aspiring dancers.

Continue reading “The Importance of College Planning for Young Dancers”

On Being An Outsider…

Embrace Your ‘Outsider’ Status

I’m an outsider. I have been my whole life. For a long time I struggled – trying to make it to the inside. I sometimes felt resentment for not being granted entry. I’ve been told no by the insider members of the club more times than I care to remember. After years and years, I’ve come to fully embrace my outsider status. I now see it as my ‘strategic advantage’. I now know that the impact you have on others by sharing your gift has nothing to do with your acceptance by the establishment. As you look toward your future, if you are willing to work harder than most, you’ll find that being an outsider ain’t so bad.