A whole new month! A whole new week! Time for another challenge!
I’ve blogged about this before, but I thought this would make another good topic for the weekly challenge. What is stage presence? It’s the command you have of your audience as a performer. It’s not about just getting up on stage and dancing. Stage presence is your character, how you present yourself, how you interact with the audience, and then…way down the list…what techniques you are doing and how you are doing them.
I hear it a lot — and I agree with it — that many professional dancers would much rather watch other dancers having fun (even if the technique is so-so) than a mechanically perfect dancer whose head could be screwed off and replaced with another and there would be no difference. To put it a little harshly, if you are dead from the neck up, then you might as well not even be there. If you aren’t having fun, the audience isn’t having fun. If you aren’t feeling the emotion or character you are trying to convey, then the audience won’t get it.
Dance isn’t just about what awesome techniques you can do. It’s about the performance. That’s what we do, we perform. I’ve blogged a lot about creating characters and challenges for adding drama to your performances. If you are new to the weekly challenge, try out one of those maybe this week. Or, take a peek at this one:
Beginner: Again you may be telling yourself (or shouting it at the screen) that you have no interest in performing, and that is totally, totally fine. However, this is the perfect time to start learning how to perform, not just do movements. Don’t wait until your technique is solid and you are chomping at the bit to perform to try to learn these skills (if you do decide you want to perform). These skills are like any other: they take time and practice to master. Starting now will only help you in the long run, and they are fun anyway. This week, while you are drilling or practicing your combos, try imagining yourself on a stage. Don’t get nervous, because you really aren’t on stage! But think about what it would be like: the lights shining in your eyes, you in that beautiful costume, performing to your favorite song. What sort of character are you? It doesn’t have to be anything complex, just think about who you want to be on stage. Do you want to be Dina or Randa? Pretend you are Zoe or Rachel! (a caution here: don’t compare yourself to these dancers, for that way lies frustration and disappointment. Instead, just imagine you are them, and project what you think of as essentially Dina or essentially Rachel onto your own skin*). Do this every day you practice, and maybe mix it up a little!
Intermediate: Whether you perform with a student troupe or not, this really is the time to make sure you are starting to get performance skills practice in your regular practice. It’s more than just smiling on stage. Smile while you practice, or project whatever other emotion your teacher has told you to try for that performance (fusion troupes often have other emotions, but it’s perfectly okay to just be happy). And we’ll take it a step further. If you are supposed to be happy while you are performing, start thinking about things that make you happy. Yes, you are trying to remember choreography, but hopefully you have practiced it enough your body could do it while you were sleeping. And being too nervous before a performance can sabotage your memory. Relax and think of something happy while you practice. It will make your smile genuine instead of the plastered on, “I’m-really-nervous-and-would-rather-be-somewhere-else-but-I’m-here-so-SMILE!” smile. If happy isn’t your emotion, then use whatever it is while you practice. If sad, think of something sad (but don’t make yourself cry! You don’t want to smear makeup on stage!). If angry, get angry.
Advanced: I watch a lot of belly dance because I enjoy it. But too often the piece I enjoy the most is the one that is off-the-wall, silly, or just plain fun, not the technically perfect one. Or maybe it’s the truly imaginative one, or the different, unusual (maybe even avant-garde) one, regardless of technique. Yes, technique is important. But so is stage presence. You should be practicing stage presence just as much as your technique. Imagine how wonderful it would be to see an engaging, fun, AND technically perfect dance! Use the previous exercises to improve your stage presence this week. But the most important challenge for you this week is this: make a commitment to working on stage presence not just for this week, but for the rest of your career. Every day this week, look in the mirror when you practice–drills or choreo–and try to find that character, that spark, that bit of silliness or fun or scary, and work it into the stage persona. Will it to come out and make a home in your dance practice. Nurture it this week, and make a promise to it that you will continue to do so, forever and ever.
*There has been some discussion about copy-catting and finding your own style recently. I wanted to add here that I do not think it is okay to copy other dancers’ styles. However, this is a perfectly valid exercise for new dancers. It’s not about copying their style, but about learning how to perform a character, and most dancers, even new dancers, will know these famous dancers only as “characters” not as someone to “copy” or “steal” from. There is a caution here, too, though for newer dancers: while it is okay, in the beginning, to try on new styles and characters, it is important to remember that you are not Rachel Brice or Dina. Use them as inspiration for your own style, when you get to that point.
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Whew! These past few weeks have been really tough, and my blogging has suffered. But here is your weekly challenge! I made it!
And no, we’re not talking about your moral fiber, here, but your belly dance character. Do you have one? Do you think you need one? Have no idea what I’m talking about?
Like all dance forms, belly dance is an art. It happens to be a traditional folk art, but it is also a growing, evolving dance. Many dancers know the value of having a “dance character,” a person they become when they dance. They are no longer themselves, but the beautiful, elegant dancer. Some take stage names and use acting techniques to get into character.
In belly dance, in my opinion, we don’t always *need* a character for our dance. Our own personalities are usually enough. Have fun, smile, relax, and the audience will see who you are naturally. But in the more artistic pieces, in the more theatrical pieces, this may not be enough. And people like me–shy, reserved introverts–may need the extra help of a character–almost a second “personality”–in order to be more comfortable dancing. Kamrah is my belly dance character, and I become her when I dance. I am no longer myself, but her. Kamrah gives me the freedom to be someone else, to put up a mask between my true inner self and the audience; she is an extra layer of protection between the scary world and my tender heart. It sounds fake, but it really isn’t. If Kamrah wasn’t real, was completely fake and not a part of my personality at all, she would not be believable, and no one would enjoy watching me dance. She is part of me; she is my wildness, my freedom, my creativity–all the emotions and parts of me that I would otherwise find hard to share–all coiled up together into my performance self. She’s the one who gets to dance and express herself, while my inner self stays nice and safe while still experiencing the thrill of dancing for an audience.
So what’s this week’s challenge? Let’s find your inner dancer, your inner wild, free, beautiful, unrestrained dancer.
Beginner: Every day this week, write a little bit in a journal–your personal journal, your dance journal, a file on your computer, whatever–about those emotions, those parts of you, that you find hard to access. Don’t worry about expressing yourself, your inner self. No one will see this. If you fear someone finding it, delete the file afterwards, or tear up and/or burn up the paper once you are finished (but try to remember what you wrote, because we’ll be using this later!). This is getting into some deep stuff, and it can be very, very hard to share. Write about your fears, your strengths, what makes you…you. Don’t be critical, don’t judge, just write. We’re not going to do much with this yet, but hold onto it for next week. This will be challenge enough: write about yourself every day this week, even if it’s only a sentence.
Intermediate: You are also going to journal this week (so go back and read the Beginner section if you skipped right to it). As an intermediate dancer, you may already be somewhat comfortable with showing yourself on stage. It may be the I’m-smiling-only-because-I-might-cry-or-run-away self, but at least that’s a start (and it’s okay!). This week, in addition to your journaling, you are going to work on thinking about how these personality traits, fears, weirdness, etc., can be translated into a character. Who is this person? Does she love to dance, but fears the spotlight? Or maybe she’s a beautiful, demure lady with a wild side that comes out when she hears that song, that rhythm, that singer? How could that be translated on stage? After you write your entries, brainstorm some ideas (and remember the rules of brainstorming: no idea is stupid).
Advanced: Your regular dancer character is probably set pretty well by know. You slip into your performance self–whether she is really you or the mask you wear in order to perform–quite easily and are comfortable. Great! But that’s no fun for a challenge! Let’s get theatrical! This week, we’re also going to journal, but in a much different way. If your dancer personality is you–meaning you don’t need a mask, you just get out there and dance (we’ll call this the “you dancer”)–this week, journal about how you would make a dancer character. Someone who is NOT you, NOT the “you dancer.” If you want, try the journaling exercises in the previous levels and see if you can’t come up with a character (and maybe even a choreography piece?) that is completely NOT YOU. Remember, this is theatre now, not just dance. If you have a dance personality or character–we’ll call it the “mask dancer”–that isn’t you, how would that character dance to something that made her uncomfortable? This is deep–how would your dancer character, your “mask dancer,” put on a different character? How would a new character be expressed through the old? Would it work? Too confusing? Try it and find out. Brainstorm some ideas, maybe pick a piece of unusual-to-you music and see what you can come up with. And hey, tell me about it! I love getting feedback!
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