Dr. Harriton: Interview With Choreographers Niosha Parvizi and Sophia Fox


Harriton’s annual charity event, Dr. Harriton, attracts over 1,000 attendees per year, as well as tens of thousands of dollars, which will go towards Philabundance and the Lower Merion Township Scholarship Fund this year. The event is a hefty task to take on, and it could not be successful without the performers, Harriton’s Student Council, and the show’s talented choreographers. Today, The Harriton Banner sits down with this year’s choreographers, Niosha Parvizi and Sophia Fox, to learn exactly how they are planning to pull off this year’s show. Here’s what they had to say:

The Harriton Banner: What made you decide to undertake the massive commitment of being Dr. Harriton’s choreographers?

Niosha Parvizi: In a normal school year, we typically have four months to teach the choreography to everyone who’s a part of the show, and this year we have two months, so we’re on a bit of a time crunch, which I definitely think made it a little bit harder.

But, overall, I decided to be a part of Dr. Harriton because of the fact that I love everything about it. We’re giving back to the community with the charity aspect of it, and on top of that I think it’s amazing to get to know people that you usually wouldn’t say “hi” to on a day-to-day basis, and just going out of your comfort zone, not being with your friends the whole time, and just meeting some amazing people altogether.

Sophia Fox: My sister was a senior in 2014, and she choreographed Dr. Harriton, so I watched a lot of the process and I could see how much she enjoyed sharing her passion and bonding with each of the contestants. She especially enjoyed using her creativity and dance experience to choreograph and create pieces that brought the show to life.

As only a fifth-grader at the time, I knew that I wanted to have that experience by the time that I was a senior. Coming into high school, I became an avid participant in Student Council, and I wanted to make sure that by the time that I graduated, I contributed something large to the show, so this year I was really motivated to become a choreographer.

THB: Can you talk me through the process of choreographing? How long does it take you?

NP: It definitely takes time. Choreographing itself isn’t that hard, because I’ve danced for 10-12 years of life, so I have movements in my head, ready to go. I think that the hardest part is choosing the music and editing the songs together to create the final product.

Once you’ve edited the songs, you have to get approval from the administration, and then from there, you start choreographing. I think it’s very important to ask the boys about certain tricks or dance moves that they can do because choreographing, and then teaching, should include a move that they pick up easily.

If you want them to do a backflip or a somersault, but they just don’t have that ability, that could be a problem. I think that definitely communicating with the boys and their partners are vital steps in the choreographing process. 

SF: The process of choreographing is really fun, but also can be really stressful and time-consuming. Niosha and I usually will listen to the music, and meet in person, on FaceTime or on Zoom to talk about some of our ideas. It can take us literally twenty seconds to choreograph a section, or it can take us thirty minutes to an hour, depending on the dance and the complexity of our ideas.

THB: What is the hardest part about choreographing?

NP: Teaching the boys. Going through the moves and explaining step-by-step takes time. You also definitely have to re-word yourself, because there are times that you will teach the boys and they won’t really understand what you’re saying, or they won’t know how to do the move even after you’ve explained.

So, I think that teaching them and learning how they best learn is crucial for them to actually understand what they’re doing. 

SF: I would say that the hardest part is trying to find a balance in everything that we’ve been putting into the dances. There are many moves that are really simple that the boys can learn quickly and execute well, but there are also a lot of moves and complex choreography that we’ve been throwing their way and trying to be flexible to see what they can and can’t do.

Teaching them in a way that’s comprehensible, slow, and works to their strong suits has definitely been a challenge, but I’m really happy with what we’ve put together. Also, I think that having a vision in your head and not setting your expectations too high or too low is something that we’ve really had to think about.

Going in and taking the time to build a relationship with the boys so they trust us and each other has really led us to create some really cool things in the show that I never thought we could do, so I’m really proud of them and happy that we’re able to do it.

THB: What are you most looking forward to with this year’s show?

NP: The night of the show is always this adrenaline rush. Everyone is excited, nervous, anxious, and it’s just so amazing. I love seeing the dances. I would say the partner dance is probably my favorite part of the actual show because the audience loves when the partners and the boys come together, and it’s just so cute to see it all together.

SF: I am really excited about everything that this show is going to bring, and the fact that we can even do it after the year that we’ve had is just really exciting. But, what I’m most looking forward to is just seeing the contestants shine.

They’ve worked so hard in all of our practices, and they’ve gone from boys who’ve never danced in their life to boys who can really do tricks and moves. I’m so excited to let them have their moment to shine and show everyone what they’re capable of doing.

THB: Niosha, I know that you were involved with choreographing for Dr. Harriton in both the 2019 and the 2020 shows. How do those experiences compare to this year’s show?

NP: In 2019 I was an assistant choreographer, in 2020 I was the head choreographer, and this year I’m the head choreographer once again. Being in this role for so long has really strengthened my understanding of it and how to teach the boys the fastest, and what to do in order to finish all the things we have to get done.

I think that the time crunch has definitely played a pivotal role this year, in the sense that it’s just harder. You have to teach the boys what you would normally teach in four months in half that time, so I think that being productive and focusing when it’s needed has definitely helped us to get through everything so far.

THB: Since you two are both seniors, what advice do you have for the students who will be Dr. Harriton choreographers next year?

NP: It’s an awesome experience and you have the most amazing months of your life getting to know people; it truly is an experience like no other, and I’m so thankful that Harriton has this event.

But, the choreographer has to know when to put their foot down. This can be difficult because the boys will goof off, and there will be side conversations, chitchat, and whatnot, but it’s important to the role of the choreographer if you want to get stuff done and reach your goal for the day.

You need to be able to have fun but also get your work done, and just have a work hard, play hard mentality where you’re being productive, but also enjoying that you’re surrounded by these amazing people. 

SF: Some advice that I’d give to future Dr. Harriton choreographers is just to have fun and trust yourself. Don’t be hard on yourself when you’re having a hard time coming up with choreography, trust that your ideas are great, and don’t think that anything is too complex or simple to the contestants before you give it to them.

Be flexible, try to work it out, and don’t be sad or frustrated if the contestants are struggling because that’s part of the process; struggling through something, working through it together, and coming together to create a beautiful product at the end.

By showtime, the performance is going to be magical, the dances are going to be great, and the contestants will have grown from people who have never danced in their lives to very skilled and wonderful dancers. So, just have fun, trust yourself, and enjoy the process.

THB: We can’t wait to see what this year’s Dr. Harriton is going to look like! And we’re sure that it’s going to be amazing! Make sure to watch the 14th annual Dr. Harriton on May 21st at 7 p.m.