Jump to content
Ballet Talk for Dancers to close ×
Ballet Talk for Dancers

Staring into space


Recommended Posts

I could use a few tips on facial expression in class. One of my weekend teachers gave me a correction that puzzled and intrigued me. He said that although my eyes were looking in the correct direction and I appeared to be concentrating, I looked as though I was staring into a blank space, not quite "present"...if you know what I mean. I mentioned this to my regular teacher and she said that she had been meaning to point that out to me. She was watching me in that other class and said that I looked very flat..too technical...and she wants to work with me on ways of actually EXPRESSING something with what I'm doing.


We do a lot of sustained balances in attitude and retire in class. I have pretty good balance, but only if I stare at a fixed point in space. Yesterday, my teacher started waving her arms around in front of me as I balanced in attitude, I think just to bring to my attention that I looked "spacey". She says that concentration should look like it happens internally. Indeed, when she dances (or just balances), she has the appearance of having an inner calm. Every movement in adagio tells a story..she even will sometimes narrate a little bit. "My love...he's over there...I can't reach him...so I'll just do an arabesque now" (laughter from the class).


When I used to perform, I always got cast in roles which, for want of a better term, I'll classify as "character". I was good at comedy, at anger, at all those "obvious" sort of emotions. Since I could often elicit an audience response, I think I led myself into believing that I had a dramatic ability. But I've found that I struggle with the subtler qualities that make for a truly expresive dancing.


I guess I'd like to find an expression which doesn't depend on narrative. Creatively, I'm more interesting in expressing a joy of being in the moment of dancing itself. But without seeing myself while I'm dancing, how can I start to develop a facial language? How have dancers molded thier expressions? Is this something that one needs to have innately, or can it be learned?


School teachers used to always accuse me of not paying attention in class...even though I was. How to get rid of a "spacy" expression? Anyone have to overcome this? Any tips? thanks.

Link to comment

It's just a suggestion, but I find for ME that really listening to the music awakens expressions in my face -- I see them in the mirror, and I also notice that it puts me in a frame of mind to look around the room and make eye contact with friends in the class (when we're at the barre) -- even on a bad day, when I'm not feeling hte connections, the music is always a friend.


whereas being in pure placement-anxiety mode makes me avoid seeing things, myself or anybody else --


WOnder if this will help you... it's SUCH a good question, you've made me look way inside myself....


I hope a lot of people answer this.... for myself, I'd love to read what everybody else has to say....

Link to comment

lampwick, I think I can help you with this!


First, the spacey look, is really a case of 'looking inward'; you are forming pictures in your head of how you want the step or phrase to look. This is something that actually a good thing, but in your case, too much of a good thing :yawn:


So how to reconcile both inward and outward focus. The key here is to train yourself to use the inward focus not for whole phrases or steps, but only for the key details you find most challenging. Try to keep you focus outward (i.e. really see) as much as possible.


Remember, you can train the muscles in your eyes as you can with all muscles. When not dancing, try sitting in a chair and switching your focus from inward to outward without changing your actual gaze or moving your head; go from seeing a picture in your head to right is actually right in front of you. With a little practice, you will be able to do this quite quickly.

Link to comment

Actually look at your hand during port de bras :yawn:


I use the same balancing technique you do, but it didn't serve me well when my teacher told us to relevé on one leg, turn the head right, center, left, center, stay, and come down :wink: not to mention during promenades on demi-pointe!


Try feeling what I call your "balance muscles" (turnout muscles, abs, upper back) very strongly. You have to be able to feel what's going on inside while looking out with your eyes, and Cabriole's exercise above will help with this.

Link to comment

Try actually looking at something while you are dancing. I think the "spacey" look comes when the eyes are not focused on an object - it makes the whole face look blank. Look at your hand, look at a particular spot on the wall, pretend that there is an object (a partner, a character, a big dish of ice cream if you can control your drooling) hanging in space and really examine it with your eyes.


The audience wants to see you project your dancing outward, rather than just watching you concentrate inward on what you're doing. A big component of that is focusing outward with your eyes. Make sure you can actually "see" what you're looking at (as opposed to turning your eyes toward your hand but not really seeing your hand there, understand?).



Link to comment

A spacey look in a dancer is often solved by improved directionality --- work on the 9 body positions and 8 corners of the box.

Link to comment

I especially like the tips about following your hands during port de bras and working on a sense of direction.


Do y'all remember that line in "To A Young Dancer" about keeping a "quiet face" at the barre, "not a dull face, mind you, but a quiet face?" That line has stayed with me for years.


I think that following through with your head and upper body on every movement puts your expression in the right place.


I've also found that even adult students enjoy it when I say to "discover the miracle of your hands for the first time." One of my favorite teachers was European and had such an interesting way of using English. He would have such delight on his face when doing simple combinations that it was infectious. For instance, when preparing the leg and foot in second for frappes, he would look so pleasantly surprised and say, "Hello, foot!


If you think about it, it really is a wonder that you're born with everything intact and working just so, and when that realization hits home during class, you can't help but let your joy shine through.


Next time you're in class and having a bit of trouble with focus or energy, just consider how many people in this world are living in abject poverty, or are sick, dying, abused, disturbed, etc., or just never had the exposure for one reason or another to ballet. Suddenly, you'll feel amazed that you're in this sanctified place doing something so beautiful, and will be full of gratitude and joy that this is where today found you -- again. Then let that happiness fill your limbs and face for everyone to see. Everything works better too -- your turns, your balances, etc.

Link to comment

I can remember how somebody even got expression into her typing out of the steps of dances while she was making a written record of Swan Lake as her own memory aid. It was in the early days of word processing, and every page had to have its own code word. You could tell what she was thinking: coffee1, coffee2, coffee3, coffee4, boring1, boring2, boring3, (entrance of von Rothbart and Odile) boo1, boo2...(Black Swan Pas de Deux) lust1, lust2, lust3...lunch1, lunch2....

Link to comment

Thanks for asking this question, Lampwick - I've had comments from teachers with regard to this and never done anything about it... Until now! I will try some of the things suggested above.


So, thank you again! :yes:

Link to comment

So many interesting and helpful responses. I think jayo's response was probably quite apt. Most of the problem comes from when I'm not focusing on anything in particular with my eyes. I noticed that I seem to have a strong aversion to looking at myself when facing forward toward the mirror. It was during a combination facing front that the teacher pointed out to me that I was looking into space. In fact, the upper left hand corner of my head.


Last night, we had the most wonderful accompanist and I really felt "into" the class. For grand allegro, I focused on "aiming" myself during leaps. I have a picture in my head of a dancer performing grand jete as if reaching toward something. It would be great if each movement could have a purposeful quality like that. It's fun to go through class trying to invent a "real" reason behind every step.


Citibob--it's been so long since I took a class which drilled all the body positions. I'll make sure to review them and really think about the different narrative qualities each one embodies. And, more simply, get my eyes to gaze in the right direction more purposefully.


Funny Face--I think it's that "quiet face" that my own teacher does so well. That's the tough one. How to look purposeful when you're doing almost nothing. Like standing on balance or waiting for a combo. to begin. Going to think hard about this one...

Link to comment

lampwick, you've made me think about dancers whose faces I like to watch, and I'm realizing that very often they have a quiet face -- Margot Fonteyn's face often was a mask, so was GInger Rogers's, so was Suzanne Farrell's -- Rogers's could almost be poker-faced -- like she wasn't going to LET you know what she was thinking, but here was always a sense of an active mind behind it. ANd the head was ALWAYS completing the line....


I'm going to "aim myself" on my jetes today....

Link to comment

lampwick - it's interesting to me that you particularly appreciated jayo's post, as i thought that jayo was telling you to do what YOU said that you were already DOING! i understood you to be saying that you DO "look", not just fixate on a spot. perhaps i misinterpreted.


MY response to your situation was exactly the same as the first one (i think that was paul parish...): LISTEN to (feel) the music.


of course, all these other posts are good advice, too. i appreciate cabriole's seated EXERCISE to create awareness of internal/external focus. i will try to remember that, for the next time such a student turns up, as they commonly DO.

Link to comment

In our training, we are told specifically NOT to look in all different directions. We start off by looking consistently front --- to develop what we call a "sense of front". Once this is drilled into our entire body, then (and only then) are we allowed to look in other places. Lack of a sense of front makes one look spacey.


This method of training can give good results, but I'll warn it's also controversial. The Russian training and its derivatives insist on specific head and eye movements that go with every step at the barre. This develops a certain level of coordination and later integration of the upper body.


Even if you're training for the Russian-type coordination, I still think there is a great benefit to develop a sense of awareness in the first 10 minutes of class. I do that part of the barre concentrating on looking straight ahead --- in an alive sort of manner. That is because I normally never look in the same place for more than 1 second --- and one cannot dance that way. So I have to calm down my gaze before I can deal with it dancer-fashion.


In any case, you need to look in the same direction that your nose is facing. Often, we think we're looking up, when all we're really doing is moving our eyeballs up.


As for what you're doing with your face --- in performance, very few people see this. Your body language reads --- that is, your head, shoulders, arms, hands, etc. Put your body into a certain position and that conveys a certain message to the audience. However, your face is too small to convey much. In larger concert halls in particular, many people cannot even see it.

Link to comment
The Russian training and its derivatives insist on specific head and eye movements that go with every step at the barre. This develops a certain level of coordination and later integration of the upper body.


Well...not quite :( but the upper body is definitely involved a great deal. However, I'd just like to add that in Vaganova training, everything is learned facing the barre with no port de bras or épaulement first. And I agree--it definitely develops marvelous coordination and an integration not just of the upper body, but of the entire body.

Link to comment

I had a private yesterday and we focused quite a bit on my expressiveness. I had to pretend there was an audience and actually talk to them while I did my retire combination. Felt like a fool but by the end I actually could imagine myself on stage. I also had to force myself to look at myself in the mirror, something that I seem to have trouble with whenever facing front.


A big issue to overcome seems to be that I dance from my legs only. My upper back and shoulders aren't being held properly, so a lot of tension is migrating upward into my arms and head. I have trouble moving my arms in a loose, organic manner, which affects the expressive quality of my movements.


Citibob, even though the audience can't see your face, I think it would be impossible to act without it. I remember working with actors who used thier range of facial expressions even while wearing a mask. I'm not convinced that you can separate the face from the entire body as a whole.


And even in the Met, I know that I can see a dancer's face pretty clearly (at least with an Orchestra seat). When I saw Don Q recently with Paloma dancing, I distinctly remember how sweet her face appeared on stage. But I understand your point about the direction of the head and body conveying mood. I was working on some simple combinations yesterday which started to create some nice circular patterns to the way I moved through steps--really focusing on where I place myself for the plie before an arabesque for instance.

Link to comment

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...