With competition, concert, and recital season coming up fast, chances are that you will be hearing a lot of feedback about your performance quality from your dance teachers. Performance quality in dance is a broad term that could be used to describe a lot of different aspects of dance performance. Generally, when dance teachers talk about dance performance, they are referring to the parts of dance performance that are outside of dance technique and the mechanics of actually doing the movement. Performance quality refers to the way that the movements are performed, and how the performance of them helps convey the choreographers’ creative intention to the audience. Some things that dance teachers may be referring to when they talk about performance quality in dance are:
- Musicality – Musicality in dance generally refers to how a dancer expresses the music in their body. Musicality includes basic things like staying on the beat and following the rhythm of the music. But it also covers more nuanced aspects of dance performance like connecting your movement with the mood of the music, highlighting accents in the music with your movement choices, and conveying all parts of the music with your dance performance, not just the top-lying melody.
- Character Development – Every time we give a dance performance, we are portraying a character of some kind. Sometimes, we are given a clear understanding of who are character is, such as Odette and Odile in the ballet Swan Lake, or a Jet or a Shark in the musical West Side Story. Other times, our characters may be more subtle. We may not be given a name and backstory, but we will likely have a mood, theme, or message to convey to the audience. These all become part of our character, whether we are imaging that we are someone else on stage, or portraying a version of ourselves who is embodying a particular situation or emotion through our dance performance.
- Connection – Even when we are performing a solo piece, dance is all about making connections. How you connect with your fellow dancers on stage can make a huge difference when you are performing duets and group dances. Making connections with your audience is also an important part of dance performance. Many dance researchers have described the concept of “kinetic empathy,” or the fact that audience members can feel like they are participating in the dancers’ movements and experience the feelings and ideas that the dancer is trying to convey.
- Expression – As a dancer, you’ve no doubt been told to “use your face!” or “smile!” while performing your dances. Our facial expressions are definitely an important part of dance performance. But there is so much more to expression in dance performance than just our what’s happening on our face. You must be able to express feelings, moods, and character traits with your whole body, not just your facial expression, in order to become a better dance performer.
If you would like to become a better dance performer, it is important to look at all four aspects of dance performance: musicality, character development, connection, and expression. Following the tips below will help your improve your skills in each of these areas, allowing you to become a better dance performer:
1.) Listen to your music often. To become a better dance performer, it is important to listen deeply to your music in and out of the dance studio. Actively listen and pay attention to the music as you are rehearsing your choreography – don’t just let it play “in the background” while you dance. You should listen to your music while you are not dancing, as well. Play the music while you are getting ready for school, in the car, or as you do your chores, and also find quiet times to sit and listen to the music without distractions. As you become more familiar with the music’s nuances, layers, and complexities, your musicality will improve and you will become a better dance performer.
2.) Know your character. To successfully portray a character in a play or movie, an actor must prepare their backstory and motivation. Similarly, a dancer must also develop their character in order to become a better dance performer. Knowing who our character is and what they want they can make our dance performance more believable and relatable for the audience. Ask yourself the following questions: Who am I supposed to be? What are my likes and dislikes? How did I get to this moment in my story? What past experiences have shaped who I am now? What am I feeling as I tell my story through my dance? What is my relationship to the other dancers onstage, and the audience? What do I want the audience to know or feel? What do I want the other dancers to know or feel? How do I feel about the story I am telling through my movement? What do I hope to accomplish, achieve, or get in my story? How can I accomplish, achieve, or get it? What was I doing in my story right before I started dancing? What will I be doing in my story when I go offstage ay the end of the dance?
3.) Be present and open on stage. There are many things that can distract you during your dance performance: stage fright and performance anxiety, worry over a big trick or technical element, technical issues like music that’s too soft or costume malfunctions, rowdy or inattentive audiences, and more. But to become a better dance performer, you must learn to overcome distractions and remain present and open on stage. Try to dance “in the moment” on stage, without reflecting on past performances, worrying about how you will score, or wondering what the audience thinks. This allows you to make more genuine connections with the audience and the other dancers on stage with you. Some helpful ways to be present on stage are to make eye contact with other dancers or audience members, listen deeply to the music, think about your transitional movements and preparations instead of tricks, and to concentrate on your breathing and how your breath connects to your movement.
4.) Be (overly) prepared. The best way to help yourself be present and open onstage is to be prepared – overly prepared, in fact! In addition to knowing your music intimately, it is also important to know your choreography so well that you don’t need to think about it on stage. This allows you to get “out of your head” as you dance, which will make you a better dance performer. Practice your dance often, with and without the mirror, with and without the music, with and without an audience. In addition, you can try writing down the choreography, making doodles of the formations and pathways through space, saying the steps and movements out loud, and teaching your dance to other people. All of these practices will help ensure that you know your choreography so well that you can perform it at your best every time – no matter what distractions may arise!
5.) Ask your choreographer about their creative intentions. To become a better dance performer, it is important to get input from your choreographer about their creative intention, that is, the theme, message, mood, or story they are trying to convey in their choreography. Sometimes, a choreographer will be upfront about their creative intention and fill you in from the beginning. Other times, they may focus on the movement and form first, and leave the message to come through at the end. If you are ever unclear about the theme, message, mood, or story that the choreographer is going for, be sure to ask them! They can help you better understand your role in presenting their creative intention to the audience, and give you advice on how your can improve your dance performance in their work.
BONUS: Give yourself permission to express yourself authentically. Often, we are the thing standing in our own way when it comes to becoming a better dance performer. We let self-consciousness and concerns that we aren’t “good enough” prevent us from giving our best performance. We compare ourselves to others, and let feelings of inferiority get in our way. We worry that we’ll look silly or appear to over the top if we fully commit to giving our best dance performance. In order to become a better dance performer, you must give yourself permission to express yourself authentically without fear or self-consciousness.
What are your favorite tips for becoming a better dance performer? Share in the comments so we can learn from one another!
Dance students: Give yourself an advantage in your dance training with these Goal-Setting Worksheets and Dancer Journaling Prompts! These one of a kind tools will help you improve your dance technique, performance, and overall well-being – in and out of the studio!
Dance teachers: Help your students improve their dance performance skills with the activities in this blog post: How to Help Your Dance Students Improve their Performance Skills. Discover new ways to incorporate creative and performance skills into your classes with this blog post: 5 Necessary Creative and Performance Skills to Teach Your Dance Students. Help your students grow in their dance artistry with The Holistic Collection of Dance Improvisation Prompts and Activities.