Nature-inspired Choreography

By Brenda Pugh McCutchen
June 25, 2017



Inspiration for dance making comes from many sources.  The natural world provides numerous cues that nudge us into intuitive improvisations and creative dance compositions.  Such inspirations can lead to dance “tone poems” of the sort as Debussy’s and Ravel’s musical inspirations captured in sounds the essence of the subjects they were inspired to portray.  Why not also portray the essence of a natural subject in motion and in dance?


One of the most intimate looks at nature comes from time-lapsed photography.  Until that was available, the human eye could not see the hidden dances of nature at such an elaborate and fathomless level.  This photographic medium allows us to absorb the actual motion that is occurring even though in real time it is unseen and unexpected.  Nature seen through the time-lapse medium is mesmerizing in itself, but when used as the source for choreographic inspiration, it can produce a very personal and mesmerizing work.


We’re talking about going into a mysterious, hidden world. What is more intriguing? For example, natural choreographies of two bean plants as a duet reaching, circling, and attaching to a space where they can spiral upward are beautiful inspirations for dance-making.  How surprising it is to see the amount of motion taking place which eludes us in real time.  The video presents unseen choreographies going on all around us about which we are oblivious.  To notice them through this photographic essay may help us look deeper for mysterious, unnoticed dances in places we did not previously think to look.


Why not let this viewing experience inspire you to move?  On your own, explore the motions you recall seeing and let them intuitively take you where they want to go, just as the bean intuitively reached and circled without an exact plan or trajectory.  Yet it evolved to a place of attachment which it needed to continue.  After watching this short time-lapsed video several times, why not take its visual and motional cues into the dance studio as real inspiration for dance-making to see where it intuitively leads. Use the video as the beginning section and let your own authentic movement evolve as it will and to see where it naturally flows.  Let that exploration take you into a new middle section until it organically reaches a fitting conclusion to end.   Organic dances can be satisfying and very personal because they allow you the freedom to take an idea and go with it in your own unique way.  Each one of your explorations will be different because they are “in the moment.” Joined together they can produce a fuller work on the topic with different “takes” on the subject.  “Tone Poems” are organic structures without a set pattern and without rules to follow other than attention to a beginning, middle, and ending.  Tone poems evolve either in silence or with the use of ephemeral sounds that fill in the background of the work so they neither interfere with nor guide the dance.  The inspiration comes from the movement.  It is that movement which guides the dance.


Interesting questions may also evolve from this dance-making experience:


  • What details do I see in the video that are important to the unfolding of a dance composition or an improvisation? 
  • What space is used? 
  • What amazes me about the way my work naturally evolves?
  • Did I like that it unfolds in silence?
  • What is amazing about the finished improvisation? 
  • How organic and natural is this work? 
  • What do I take away from this dance-making experience? 
  • What do I learn about the subject from the experience of taking it into the studio?
  • What did I learn about choreographing a dance?
  • What is the difference between imitating the bean plants and using them for inspiration for dance-making?


Evolutionary patterns can be seen in the swelling of the seed until it is ready to sprout and grow.  We miss so much in real time, do we not?   Take this opportunity to see what you can learn about composition and motion from watching these seemingly motionless seeds as they begin to come to life and develop from embryonic seed, through sprout, and into a full grown plant and its fruit.  It is a poetic journey of expanding during the daylight and retreating into rest and recovery at night.  You may never look at a pumpkin– or the art of choreographic timing–the same way again. .


Enjoy creating tone poems in dance from these inspirations.





Brenda Pugh McCutchen is the author of Teaching Dance as Art in Education (Human Kinetics, 2006).  Today she creates conceptually-based teaching materials to increase the understanding of dance as an art form in schools and colleges.  Her teacher effectiveness toolkits of materials emphasize each of the four distinct artistic processes of dance:  1) creating, 2) performing, 3) responding/critiquing, and 4) relating/connecting.   Her company, Dance Curriculum Designs< will introduce Toolkit 3: Composing Dance—Structures for Choreography in time for the 2017-18 school year.  One of its resources is “Tone Poems” as an organic structure for exploration, improvisation, and composition. This blog adds another dimension to “Tone Poems” which are inspired by nature.

Pre-publication orders of Toolkit 3 during the summer of 2017 before August 1, 2017 will receive an 8% price discount.