The Power of Improvisation: How Daniel Costa Discovered His Love of Dance

Interview with choreographer Daniel Costa, presented by CHOP SHOP Dance Festival

Written by Carolyn Davis during TeenTix’s Arts Journalism Intensive with CHOP SHOP


The dancer gracefully approaches center stage, wearing a tight yellow bodysuit contrasting the deep red lighting. He pushes the ground away from him with each step and the smooth movement gives the illusion of the dancer gliding on water, his feet slicing through the surface and stopping cleanly at the center of the stage.

Upper and lower body movements coincide with the beat, creating funky and rhythmic movement while sustaining the grace of traditional dance. Energy moves through his body and distributes force, allowing powerful and delicate movement. His torso and head simultaneously swayed slowly, while his limbs moved silently and smoothly.

What the audience were oblivious of was some of the dance was never choreographed step-by-step. It was instead improv that impressively looked natural on-stage. The dancer closes the performance with a cartwheel into a kneeling position and a downward gaze. It officially concludes when the ruby lights turn off, and all the audience members begin to clap and cheer for the adept dancer. Audience members erupt in applause in response to this transformational experience.

Daniel Costa is the choreographer who incorporates the “beautiful mystery” of improvisation into performances.

“I love freestyle,” he said. “I love dancing—the way I’m feeling to the music, to my body—at that day, at that time, at that hour. It’s going to shift and change all the time so it’s the most authentic, I believe, through improvisation.”

Costa is a multi-faceted artist whose style exists at the intersection of hip-hop, ballet, and contemporary dance. He believes dance can be used to express one’s true self, especially when it’s through improvisation. He understands the power of dance and how it can connect to many aspects of one’s identity.

At 16, Costa’s passion for improvisation was ignited. He enjoyed watching others improvise on YouTube, and these videos inspired his own direction as an artist. At 17 or 18 years old, improvisation furthered his devotedness to dance to the point where he woke up early every day to improvise in the theater before classes began. His beginnings in hip-hop also let him carry his love for improvisation throughout his career, connecting him to his authentic self any time he improvised.

The first person to formally teach Costa improvisation was Laura Peterson, a professor at Rutgers University at the time (where he got his BFA). Her teachings inspired him as he continued to study dance. Costa has always been drawn to improvisation throughout his life and career as a dancer and choreographer.

Sometimes it is important for people to distance themselves from their corporate reality, and Costa understands that movement is a gateway to one’s spirituality, physicality, and sexuality among other things—all aspects of authenticity. Authenticity is an essential part of dance, which is exactly why Costa begins choreographing dances by improvising. He believes it is the best way to communicate with others and “access a part of ourselves that we cannot articulate with other forms of language.” He continues to make improvisation a large part of his choreography, though the audience never knows how much is incorporated. Check out Costa’s upcoming performance as a part of Chop Shop’s annual contemporary dance festival.

You can see Daniel Costa's work at CHOP SHOP Dance Festival’s online offering. The dance films are available on their website through March 31, 2021.

*The dance described in the first paragraph of this article is not a depiction of an actual performance, but instead a creative depiction by the writer inspired by Costa's style of movement.

Lead photo credit: Daniel Costa, photo by Michael Esperanza.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

This review was written as part of an Arts Journalism Intensive with CHOP SHOP Dance Festival which was held January 10-31, 2021. The workshop was taught by Press Corps teaching artist Gabrielle Kazuko Nomura Gainor.

This workshop was generously sponsored by Case van Rij and the Glenn Kawasaki Foundation.

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