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Ballet Talk for Dancers

more expressive?


balletdaughter

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One of my daughter's ballet teachers said she wanted my daughter to be "more expressive." The teacher wasn't any more specific than that. My daughter thinks she probably meant in her facial expression. My daughter's usually concentrating hard on what her feet and arms are doing and that often is showing in her face. Is there anything in particular that you can think of to help her become more relaxed and expressive? Thanks.

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Well, first of all I think the teacher should be more specific and also do exercises during classtime to foster "expressiveness." My own daughter, who is only 4 is very expressive, and I chalk it up to the fact that I "dance" around the house all the time. Really I just move to the music and do lots of arm movements or spinning, etc. I get away with it since I'm a ballet teacher and my husband expects to see such shinnanigans! Anyway, I think it's really helped her to see me move to the music the way the music makes me feel at that time.

 

The ballet teacher can do things in class to help with that--I have the students dance with scarves, or I have them practice their recital dance as different "characters." eg. "Girls, do the dance again but this time pretend you're a gnarly wicked witch." or "Girls do the dance again but pretend you're a beautiful princess." And then I give them concrete examples of how a witch might dance or what the qualities of a princess are. Telling a dancer to be more expressive without clear directions on how to do it is like telling a musician to be more expressive without teaching what a crescendo or decrescendo is. It doesn't really mean anything.

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Hi - Thanks for responding...I think I didn't add enough information. My DD's 11 and the teacher who said this to her is her teacher for a performing group. I'm not sure that my DD knows exactly what she meant either but the teacher didn't seem to give her any more information (I wasn't part of the conversation so I don't know exactly what was said). Is being more expressive something that can be learned? I think it's mostly because she's concentrating so much on what she's doing with her feet...maybe it will just come with more time?

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I think the same rules apply to an 11 year old. Even when I took classes as an adult I had to dance with a scarf once in order to learn a lesson about expressiveness, and the teacher used me as an example to the teens in the class who weren't very good at it. Even 11 year olds need concrete examples of what a witch might dance like, or what a princess looks like when she dances. The teacher needs to say what qualities the steps need to have when the music is legato or when the music is a march, etc. The same step can have different qualities depending on the music or the character one is dancing as. If it's a facial thing, maybe the teacher needs to show her what she wants in a facial expression or show her videos of other dancers' facial expressions. If the teacher is not going to do any of this maybe you could rent some ballets yourself and study how ballet dancers look when they dance.

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I agree with Myfairlady that the teacher could help work with your daughter on techniques to help her expressiveness. Many of the camps my daughters went to had an acting class specific for ballet. We saw a few ballets in France, and there was a big difference in the amount and type of gestures used in dance than what we were accustomed to seeing in the US. Coppelia, for example, was so much easier to understand there because of the mime used. I know it's not exactly the same, but the point is that dance is a form of non-verbal communication-and you need to learn skills to get your point across!

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My DD has definitely learned how to be more expressive through what she has learned in mime classes, by attending live performances, and watching videos of performances. She has said that it helps if the teacher is specific about what emotion should be conveyed with a given piece of music or choreography (and some teachers are clearer at explaining and/or demonstrating this than others) but she has also said that she also values the opportunity to express what SHE interprets the mood of a piece to be. She has also said that when she is out of class and listening to music, she tries to picture a scene for the music and how she would express herself in that scene. All of this appears to have helped her as she has noted that there is nothing more confusing than watching a blank expression or one which does not appropriately fit the action of a scene.

 

I think that temperament plays a role in the ability to be expressive to some degree and then education and application are additional factors. I know a young professional dancer who is painfully shy offstage but who "comes to life" on stage, yet there are others who's shyness hinders their expression. In the case of my daughter who is, ahem..dramatic by nature, expressiveness comes easily but there are other students who are just as outgoing but who struggle on stage with expression.

 

My observation of performing artists as a whole has been that for the ones who are the most effective at conveying an emotion, their ability to become vulnerable in front of an audience and wear their heart on their sleeve is powerful - whether or not they are fully comfortable with it.

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Guest poetandlyric

My daughter took an afterschool drama class and found it very helpful! Also, going to the opera is a great thing to show how to express emotion without speaking (although they sing) the melodrama of it all was very helpful to my daughter. We saw the magic flute which had an easy enough story to follow that she wasn't bored.

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Hi - Thanks for your replies. She ended up talking to her teacher again and getting more specific information. Turns out, the teacher didn't mean her facial expression. She simply meant that she wanted my DD to be make "bigger" movements of her arms and head. My DD felt better after knowing specifically what it was that her teacher wanted from her.

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I would like to also make a suggestion even though the answer has been clarified as to what form of more expression your daughter's teacher is looking for.

 

If your daughter has Theater Arts as an elective choice in middle school, she should try it. My daughter has been doing it for two years now in middle school and it exposes them to so many styles of expression. I think it will be a great asset to have had as she is cast in different roles.

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A drama class sounds great but our school doesn't have such a program. She was going to be part of the drama production at school but couldn't make any of the practices because of conflicts with ballet class!

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