Building an Outfit like Choreography with Ruby Josephine

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If I’m in one place for too long, I get restless.

This restlessness isn’t romantic. It cannot be cured by by wearing a “wanderlust” t-shirt or journaling my angst or cooking something from a faraway place.

Rather, my restlessness manifests as a cross between claustrophobia and an allergic reaction. It feels similar to the scene in Star Wars where Luke, Han, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia were trapped in the trash compactor. The longer my outbreak lasts, the closer the walls become.

Luckily, I married someone who values travel as much as I do, but we can’t travel all the time. So, to beat back my restlessness, I’ve developed other strategies.

For years, I’ve escaped with the help of Ruby Josephine.

Ruby is a woman of many talents. She is an American dancer and choreographer living in Morocco. On her blog, she has shared beautiful travel photography, baked goods recipes that have sent me to the grocery store for ingredients, and wonderfully written essays on art and creativity. I’ve turned to her work often when I need to feel elsewhere, and it has always, always helped.

Ruby has a new project, too! This month she premiered a podcast, Process Piece, where she interviews other artists about their creative process. When I saw that we have a shared fascination with how art is made, I asked if she’d like to be featured in a How They Build It post, and she said yes!

So, today, I’m building an outfit following the creative process of Ruby Josephine.

Let’s jump in!


From the studio of ruby josephine


Each time I begin to work on a new, big performance piece, I feel as if I have never choreographed a dance before. There is this terrifying and exhilarating newness to the process, maybe because it is so physical and a new performance often marks the time between a lot of internal and external growth and change. To the best of my memory, this is usually what the long and intensive process of choreographing a dance looks like for me- either creating solo work for myself or for other dancers:

1. Acknowledge the deep impulse to create something new.

I don’t always plan very far in advance to start a choreography project. Often in the midst of a creative lull is when I start to feel this inner push to make something new. I have a weird sort of intuition that tells me “this is the time- start something now.” And I go with it.

 2. Ask a big question, then break it down into smaller questions.

My impulse to create seems to often come before the idea itself, but of course I need an idea- a question, problem to solve, or theme to explore- in order to dive in to movement material. This is usually in the form of asking myself a big question (the overarching theme) and then breaking it down into smaller, more manageable parts to work with. For example, I did a piece a couple years ago called “Women Watching Women,” and the big question was “how are we (as women) defined by the other women around us?” I broke this down into several pieces: how was watch each other, how we act when we are being watched, and how we protect each other.

 3. Improvise, then begin to turn that improvisation into something more concrete.

I always do a ton of solo improvisation around the question or theme- giving myself very specific tasks and exercises. I always film these and then play them back, looking for little gems of movements and phrases. Those I then set into concrete choreography that can be practiced and rehearsed.

 4. Choose music- the ambiance and atmosphere that will fit the emerging theme.

When I choreograph for a dance class, it’s usually the music that comes before the movement. However, for a big performance, the movement and ideas come first, then the music comes in after to add richness to the setting and ambiance of the piece. I always have so much fun finding music to dance to.

5. Start to put the pieces together in a specific order to tell some kind of story- whether abstract or literal.

I take all of the material I’ve created- dance phrases, scenes, and music- and start to put it in order and add transitions. This way, a story arch is created.

6. Redefine and clarify the theme.

The most interesting part of the process is always near the end, where I always suddenly realize that not only have I answered some of the original questions without realizing it, but new questions and themes have popped up that I couldn’t have even imagined. The idea presents itself to me in a new and surprising way, magically unfolding and shape-shifting. The process takes on a life of its own and that is the moment that I usually realize it is time to get it on stage in front of an audience. When the work is fresh and alive. 



1. Acknowledge the deep impulse to create something new.

I love writing this blog. For each post, I’m fired up with an idea or a question or a vague vision in my mind. And each time, it feels as Ruby describes it, “a weird sort of intuition that tells me ‘this is the time- start something now.’”

This time was different.

In this month’s powerless post, I shared that for much of April our dog, Izzy, was sick. For weeks, no vet could identify what was wrong or why she wasn’t responding to medication.

Luckily, we have answers now. She’s home and stable and often bored by healing (which I take as a good sign!).

But, because of that experience, I entered this post from a place of depletion. The stress had taken my sleep and my appetite, and, in exchange, left me with the worst breakout I’ve had in years. I started this process not with fire, but out of necessity. That “deep impulse to create something new” was a way to move forward and back to our normal, healthy life.

 2. Ask a big question, then break it down into smaller questions.

Earlier this week, I read an Atlantic article about Lizzo, (the rapper, singer, and flautist) that really peeved me.


First, let it be known that I love Lizzo. I think she’s fantastic. I could listen to her song "Truth Hurts” forever and likely not tire of it.

I’m not alone in my adoration of Lizzo. Her music has been used in several soundtracks and commercials, including Netflix’s recent release, Someone Great. The author of the Atlantic piece, Hannah Giorgis, insinuated that those accessible, soundtrack-worthy songs were less artistically valuable. Of Lizzo’s recent album release, she said, “Even with its many soundtrack-ready bops, the album has no shortage of vulnerable, masterly songs with immense replay value.”

To me, this line seemed to say that those “soundtrack-ready bops” couldn’t be masterful, and that, in turn, felt dangerous. It harkens back to the high art vs. low art, only art made by starving artists is worthwhile mentality, and NONE OF US NEED THAT. Artists deserve to be paid for their work, and to insinuate that well-paid, popular art isn’t art is snobby and short-sighted.

While I hadn’t started this process with fire, that Atlantic piece certainly fired me up. I took that fire and formed my big question:

Can I create an outfit (wearable art) that’s both accessible and masterful?

Then, I broke that daunting task into the smaller questions that Ruby suggested.

First, how could I determine what is accessible?

To answer this, I turned to Instagram. Using the data the platform provides, I pulled up my posts with the highest levels of engagement in the last 6 months. I figured that if someone had felt compelled to engage with my post, it must have connected with them in someway. Thus, the higher the engagement, the higher the accessibility.


I was surprised by what I saw. Of my top seven posts, five of them had a simple, vibrant color palette of 1-3 colors. Those photos were not full outfit shots either, but from roughly the waist up.

At this point, I decided that I’d be building an outfit for Instagram. I’d follow my previously accessible parameters: an outfit with a limited in color palette and shot torso up. That way, I could measure the success of my final product.

Then came Question 2: What qualifies good art? That seemed an impossible question, so I modified it.

What determines good art for me?

I love art that flips convention on its head. I love work that has a spin or surprise take on something well-known or mundane or pedestrian. So, for the art part of this challenge, I would attempt to play with the conventions of a typical “fashion blogger” Instagram post and see what I could create.

 3. Improvise, then begin to turn that improvisation into something more concrete.

I began my improvisation by trying on loads of monochromatic outfits.


I hated them all.

So, I decided to make the challenge a little harder. I upped the accessibility ante by making the base of my outfit trendy. I read several articles about the “hot trends” for Spring 2019, and time and time again, saw that head-to-toe light neutrals are in fashion. In a flash of light, I knew what the base of my look would be: off-white wide-legged pants, cream hightop Converse, and a white racerback tank. With that concrete decision, I moved onto Step 4.

 4. Choose music- the ambiance and atmosphere that will fit the emerging theme.

Instead of music, my ambiance and atmosphere would be determined by accessories and makeup. With trends on my mind, I thought it’d be fun to add the au courant giant pearled barrettes. The combination of the near-garish hair clips and my rather utilitarian outfit made me feel like a Marie Antoinette of the people: ready for business on the bottom, but still fancy on top.

This idea amused me, so I followed it further. I added a pearl collar (a YARD SALE FIND by my grandma!) and my Great Grandma Helen’s pearly clip on earrings. The combination of my wide, square pants and my layers of jewelry made me feel like a six year old who had broken into her mother’s jewelry box, and I was really enjoying it.

I finished the frosted-on-top look with frosty makeup: shimmery white eyeshadow and my favorite Glossier highlighter.

5. Start to put the pieces together in a specific order to tell some kind of story- whether abstract or literal.


With my outfit complete, it was time to build the Instagram post.

I started with the photos - simply, at first. I took a series of waist up photos with a white background. (Those are the photos you’ve seen so far.) Then, I began to play. I messed around with different angles. I took photos on the floor, I took photos jumping and crouching. I even attempted a human flat lay. (It was weird.)

During this whole process, I couldn’t get that Marie Antoinette of the people idea out of my mind. When I began editing, I leaned into it. I attempted to turn the photos into collage art and bring my Marie Antoinette idea into each one with stained glass, opulent wall paper, or paper doll women.

6. Redefine and clarify the theme.

Just as Ruby said, my end products surprised me. They weren’t what I’d intended or anticipated making, but I loved them all the more for that! But, did they attempt to answer my initial question: Can I create an outfit that’s both accessible and masterful?

All of these photos meet my accessibility standards. I am photographed from the waist up with a simple color palette. My outfit is mostly based on trendy pieces.

Is it good art? Well, that’s harder to measure. It is definitely arty. My collage art photos do feel surprising for an Instagram post. After so much talk of accessibility, I found it interesting that I ended up attempting an accessible Marie Antoinette, who was notoriously separate from her people.

In the end, I like them, and I think that’s what matters most. Just as Ruby said, this process took on a life of its own, and I’m excited to share the final products today.

I owe a very special thank you to Ruby for sharing her creative process! Ruby’s bio is included at the end of this post. It details how you can find her blog and her new podcast. (I also suggest signing up for her weekly newsletter. I look forward to it every Sunday!)

This has been the third installment of How They Build It - the series where I follow a different artist’s creative process to build an outfit. Are you an artist or creator? Want to share your process and collaborate with me? Send me an email at!

I’ll be back with another post on Wednesday to announce the theme for the month of May!

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Her hair is full of secrets.

Her hair is full of secrets.


Ruby grew up surrounded by the arts, encouraged to write, draw and perform from an early age. Being constantly drawn towards the body as a creative medium, she began training in contemporary dance from a young age and eventually declared a dance and composition major at Oberlin College and Conservatory. However, her curiosity and passion for the world quickly launched her into a life of travel, continuing her training at studios in London, Berlin, and taking part in residencies and intensives across Europe. She finally landed in Tangier, Morocco, where she is now based, introducing contemporary dance as an emerging art form in the city, choreographing works and teaching classes- often in three languages at once.

Ruby's work as a choreographer and dancer holds space for intimate dialogue and discovered self-awareness. Her fluid and gestural movement is created in resonance with that vibrant energy that exists within us all. She treads across borders, teases out the inner, hidden matter, and believes in the power of story-telling through the sensual form of the human body. Her choreography has been commissioned and sponsored by the US Embassy of Morocco, the French Institute of Tangier, the American Language Center Network in Morocco, and the American Legation of Tangier. Her love of travel continues to take her abroad frequently, performing her work in international festivals and offering residencies and dance consultancy to the American International School network. She also writes about art and creativity through her online portfolio and blog, and is the host of the podcast Process Piece.