Whether she’s choreographing for major artists like Gwen Stefani and Jennifer Hudson or performing on major stages with Beyoncé or Janet Jackson, music is a driving force for Candace Brown.
A teacher of street jazz at studios including Broadway Dance Center and Millennium Dance Complex, Brown says that she’s “a fan of all types of dance.” “I know that there are some styles or artists who can choreograph movement with no music at all,” she adds. “That’s not really possible for me. Music drives me to even want to start to move.”
Here, Brown shares how she finds and uses music to challenge her students to move in different ways.
On Using Music to Help Tell a Story
Brown typically creates to whatever music she feels connected to on Spotify. But for her recent work, Truth and Beauty, set on her dance company, Soul Project Dance Company, Brown had to find music that met specific requirements. Firstly, all the music in the hour-length work had to make sense together and lend itself to the story. And secondly, she could only use music that she could get the rights to.
Brown admits that while sticking to artists who could give her rights felt limiting, she had to be mindful of her overarching story which is about the seasonal changes in the journey of life. To aid in her search, Brown listened through the catalogs of smaller and underground artists more likely to give her the rights. When she finally found a song that matched the feeling, she wrote to the artist on Instagram to ask for permission to use their song.
Additionally, although Brown typically doesn’t choreograph from a sentimental place, she had to pull from her emotional side for the storyline to come through. “When you have a concept, it’s not so much about the normal process of hearing a song that sounds good and wanting to dance to it,” she says. “It’s like, ‘What are the words saying? What is the vibe?’ So I had to try to mesh the music and the story together this time around.”
On Finding New Music for Class
Brown has always had a soft spot for R&B and classic pop; Janet Jackson has been one of her top inspirations. But now that Brown’s creating more pieces for the stage, she’s getting more and more familiar with stepping out of her musical comfort zone.
“I have a different appreciation for how I can create things that might not be in my normal realm of music and what I would gravitate towards,” she says. “There’s a lot of great music out there, so it’s been fun to explore and challenge myself.”
When it comes to finding new music for class, Brown is lucky to have friends who not only send her new music but understand her tastes. She jokes, “I’ve seen lots of memes that say when people send them a song, it’s like their love language, and that really is true for me.” Besides recommendations from friends, Brown also utilizes Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” playlists and suggested songs.
But one thing’s for sure: You likely won’t catch Brown teaching choreography to the latest viral song—she gets sick of overplayed songs. Instead, she prefers dynamic songs with lots of contrast, which she says she adopted from one of her teachers, Kevin Maher. “There are a lot of changes within the music that Kevin uses that creates excitement in the class,” Brown says. “Maybe the song will start soft and quiet and then there’s a break in the music where it gets to a breakdown.”
Likewise, beyond musical dynamics and tempo changes, Brown challenges her dancers to move to different layers in the music, all within the same combo. “I like the up-and-down kind of roller coaster within one combo for class, because not only is it interesting and fun to create to, but it also challenges people’s musicality. Are you dancing to the lyrics? Are we dancing to the bass? Are we dancing to this constant drum in the music? I like that switch-up. It opens up people’s ears to something new and forces them to pay attention to the music.”
Below, she shares her specially curated playlist.
“You’re Not Here,” by Cynthia Erivo
“This song is special to me because [I created a piece to it] dedicated to my dad. The lyrics spoke to me and articulated how much I miss him. It was the first time I had ever choreographed from such a sensitive and emotional place, and the tone and gentleness of Cynthia’s voice is truly piercing. Ironically, the song is about her absent father who chose to be absent from her life while it took on an entirely different meaning for me, which is having a close relationship with my father, who is now absent [from my life] after his passing.”
“Anchor,” by Madison Ryann Ward
“My faith and relationship with God is one of the most important things in my life. This song speaks to who God is in my world, as my anchor and foundation. This isn’t necessarily a song I would dance to, interestingly enough, but it is music that speaks to my soul and keeps me grounded in purpose.”
“That’s the Way Love Goes,” by Janet Jackson
“Janet is my number-one inspiration in dance and performance. I learned her entire Velvet Rope Tour on VHS as a kid, and this is one of my favorite songs. It brings back memories of how much joy performing for no one in my living room felt. Years later, having had the opportunity to meet and dance for Janet feels like I’ve come full circle in my dance journey, and this song holds a special place in my heart.”