Should you include movement in your choir’s performance?

If your choir sings any kind of upbeat repertoire, you may have considered whether some movement might enhance their performance. In what circumstances is it a good idea to add a bit of boogying?

When I first started my choir I was open to many things and some of my early repertoire seemed to lend itself to a ‘step-clap’ here and there. As I practised the moves at home with the song, it all seemed to work very well. When I introduced the idea to my singers however, I learned a few things very quickly. The first is undoubtedly that there are some hard and fast rules to movement when singing:

  1. Everyone must go the same way;
  2. Everyone must clap at the same time;
  3. The repertoire should be known inside out before the movement is introduced.

For me, it was basically a bad idea. What had been a very nice song with lovely harmonies quickly became a disorganised mess, with people crashing into each other all over the place! Everyone was so focused on getting both the movement and singing right that everything looked and sounded very mediocre. From that moment on I decided not to use structured movement with my choir. Instead, I focus on making sure that everyone is thoroughly rehearsed and looks engaged and cheerful on stage.

That’s not to say that I don’t allow my singers to move a muscle. I am a great believer that singing is not just about the voice itself and is an acivity which should engage the whole body. Standing rigid when singing upbeat contemporary tunes just doesn’t work anyway. I’ve ditched any attempt at structured routines and instead have opted for relaxed natural movement from my singers when the song invites it.

I’ve found that this works very nicely for my choir and its demographic, but this is by no means set in stone. You know your choir and the kind of performances you do with them, so I think it’s really important that you decide if and what movement you want from them. For example, if you work with a children’s choir, often a bit of movement or some set moves can help them enjoy the music more and remember the lyrics if those moves correspond with them. And, obviously, there are whole genres of choral singing that incorporate more choreographed movement, such as show choirs.

If you do decide to go down the road of structured movement, I would definitely advise making sure the repertoire is word and note perfect before embarking on any choreography. I’d also suggest some clapping rhythm exercises during your warm-ups to get everyone moving in harmony.

Comments on Should you include movement in your choir’s performance?

  1. Avatar Kay Bowen says:

    I think simple moves of (choralography) are always appropriate if the piece calls for it. As far as teaching what first: This is a good subject to study. The question is: Is it better to teach the movement after learning the music or simultaneously? I personally teach the music first then as they are perfecting their music I ease the movement. It comes naturally and works for me.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Kay,

      Me too, if I’m going to put movement into a piece, I get the music sorted first!

  2. Avatar Jeanette says:

    Last year we did a bracket of African songs, accomp by piano and African drums and I worked out some simple moves for the choir (mostly Seniors). They loved it and worked well. They knew the notes and lyrics well before the movement was introduced.
    Also introduced movement in a couple of other songs, e.g. ‘Puttin’ On the Ritz’ as well. It really enhances the performance when done well.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Jeanette,

      Wow that sounds amazing having the piano and drums behind the choir. I couldn’t agree more that when done well movement can really add something special to a performance.

  3. Avatar Wynette says:

    Thank you ALL for those comments! I’ve taken them all on board. I’m about to take a newish adult choir on its first camp experience. We have been learning “Mary Don’t You Weep” arr Mary McDonald which has a good, solid rhythm and it’s just ‘asking’ for movement! I think, having read all your comments, I will keep it very simple and start with feeling the beat to see how they go! I can just imagine how awful it would be to see everyone crashing into one another – horrors of horror, so unless they “get it’ quickly, I think we’ll just stick with a simple side sway. I can see it is not going to be as easy as I imagined! Thank you!

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Wynette,

      Thanks for your message. Your choir camp sounds like lots of fun. Yes, I’d definitely start simple and build things up as far as movement goes. You could start by adding some movement into your warm-ups with something like clapping to a beat and see how that goes. Good luck with your performance of Mary Don’t You Weep, a fantastic song.

    2. Avatar Isobel says:

      Oh, if only there was such a thing as a ‘simple side sway’! You may find that even that is open for interpretation by some people. Some people seem to lead the sway with their hips and others with their shoulders and – believe it or not – are therefore capable of going in different directions! Good luck with whatever you decided to add in as a move!

  4. Avatar Dyrck says:

    I don’t know if this is cheesy or not, but this choir don’t seem to have a problem recruiting and the singing’s non too shoddy either.

  5. Avatar Jamie Serafi says:

    Hi Chris…”choralography”…I like that…I’ll remember that in future when I am ranting about choirs who use cheesy dance moves :-)

  6. I am a great believer in singing being rooted in the body, so the people I work with always have an awareness of their body and often are connected rhythmically to the song they’re singing. That’s not to say that I like so-called “choralography”! As both you and Jamie have pointed out, it can be very cheesy and if not done properly can look awful.

    However, I’ve often added some movement to songs, partly to introduce variety into a concert, partly to help the singers root the song (and its rhythm) better and partly because some traditional songs that we do come from countries where there is no separation between singing and dancing.

    I disagree with your point 3 Christine. If I’m going to do movement I introduce it AT THE SAME TIME as learning the repertoire. If you try to add it later it uses a completely different part of the brain and is very hard! I did an experiment once where I taught a simple song and associated a movement with each phrase. It turned out that it was easier for the singers to learn, they sung it better and remembered both the song AND the moves years later, i.e. there was no separation in their minds.

    I also add movements to slow songs, it doesn’t just have to be the upbeat numbers.

    Now clapping – that’s a whole other thing! However, if your singers can’t get the claps right, it’s often an indication that they don’t really understand the underlying rhythm of the song and won’t sing it properly either.

    And I really don’t like “choralography” which I think is really what you’re talking about.


  7. Avatar Jamie Serafi says:

    fantastic article as always Christine. As you know from my past, working with a huge corporate, national choir, movement is something I am personally very much against. I believe that a choir is there to sing, not dance. I also know from experience that incorporating structured dance moves can put many people off joining your choir. They perceive it as “cheesy” or “cringeworthy” (descriptions I have heard used!) and those who are not confident singing certainly are not going to be confident adding dance moves in too. As you stated, you can find other ways to compensate. In my case, I like to think that we compensate through beautiful, rich and harmonic arrangements. Many people who came to try Alive and Singing often commented on the richness of harmonies as compared with the more commercial corporate and national choirs. I was always very proud of this.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Thanks for your comments Jamie, I certainly think this is a topic choir leaders are very passionate about. I think you make a really good point in that some more nervous performers may be put off entirely by the thought of having to perform a routine as well as a song. I think whichever option choir leaders choose its really important that the sound of the choir is the most important element.

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