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Formation Ideas for Awkward Numbers

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Choreographing formations is a breeze when you have 8, 12, or 16 dancers, but what about 17? What about 13, or what I think is the worst number possible, 11? How do you come up with creative formation ideas when you’re one short of a nice even number? As someone who seems to end up in these situations regularly, I’m here to give my advice!

Why some numbers are better than others

This is kind of a “well, duh,” point, but it’s worth mentioning because knowing the why will give us insight into the problems we’re trying to solve when dealing with hard numbers.

12 is the ideal number of dancers for a “large group” in my opinion. Most people agree that even numbers are better than odd, but there are many other reasons as well.

  • 12 is the nice happy medium between 8 and 16. 16 is great for certain types of pieces, but you need a huge stage. 8 is nice for putting dancers in various groupings, but it can be challenging to fill the space and get that “large group” feel.
  • 12 is divisible by 2, 3, 4, and 6. The more numbers a group is divisible by, the more options you have for groupings and formations. 12’s uneven groupings, such as 5+7, are also aesthetically pleasing. I love all the possibilities that 12 offers.

The worst number to choreograph for, in my opinion, is 11. It’s a prime number (meaning it’s not divisible by anything except itself and 1), and it’s just not an aesthetically pleasing number to look at. It lacks all the good qualities that 12 has.

This is not to say that all odd numbers, or even all prime numbers, are bad for choreography. I think 5 and 7 are both great, because the eye likes to see groups of odd numbers. Just ask a photographer, graphic designer, or florist. They use odd-number groupings in their work all the time.

All that to say, here are the factors that make a number good or bad for choreography:

  • Can a group of this size use the stage effectively, without being overcrowded or swallowed by the space?
  • Is the number divisible into a variety of groupings?
  • Can standard formations be modified easily to fit this number (see below)?
  • Can the number be divided into aesthetically pleasing groups? Is the number itself aesthetically pleasing?

Modifying standard formations

One of the easiest ways to make do with an unfortunate number of dancers is to modify standard formations. This is especially good for little ones who aren’t advanced enough to do more than lines and circles anyway.

My favorite formation “cheat” is the pyramid. 6 and 10 are the ideal numbers for a pyramid (see below), but you can make it work with almost anything. Check it out:

***In all of these drawings, the audience is at the bottom of the page, not the top.***

6 and 10 are the perfect numbers for pyramid formations

Pyramid formations for 5, 7, 8, and 9 dancers

Pyramid formations for 11 and 12 dancers

You get the idea. The key is that once you get to the fourth row, the audience can’t really tell that there are empty spots or that too many people are in a line. As long as you have clean diagonal lines on each side and an organized clump in the middle, it’ll look like a pyramid. You don’t even need to have one person at the point. Two people at the point works pretty well, depending on your vision for the piece.

You can make little shifts like this to many standard formations. Experiment for yourself and see what you come up with!

The Chess Piece Method

Drawing X’s on paper only works to some extent. Sometimes you just need to see it, but you don’t want to waste precious class time changing your formations around. Enter the Chess Piece Method, a formation-generating method of my own design.

Step 1: Gather your “people.” Use one chess piece to represent each dancer. It totally doesn’t need to be chess pieces; you can use anything. I like chess pieces because you can account for taller and shorter dancers (kings/queens and pawns), as well as different costumes (use white and black pieces to be girls and boys or two variations of costumes).

Step 2: Tag them. Find a way to indicate which piece is which dancer. Colored rubber bands, mini Post-Its, stickers, whatever you want. I did this with Lego characters once and made a chart, i.e. Stormtrooper = Taylor, Race Car Driver = Carly. That was fun, but I had to keep referencing the chart. Do what works for you!

Step 3: Play with formations! Keep in mind who you want in the front, as well as what it looks like from different perspectives in the audience.

Sound like fun? Give it a try! Not feeling creative? Check out some of my ideas below and feel free to steal. 🙂

Steal my ideas!

***In all of these drawings, the audience is at the bottom of the page, not the top.***

Formations for 12 dancers

Formations for 11 dancers

Formations for 9 and 10 dancers

Formations for 7 and 8 dancers

Post Author: Nicole

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Thanks for stopping by Dance Insight! We're a blog dedicated to helping emerging and aspiring dance professionals thrive in their artistic careers. My name is Nicole, and I'm so glad you're here! Click the picture above to learn more about us. Happy dancing!