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mama2dancer

Confused about developing performance skills

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mama2dancer

I am a frequent lurker and an infrequent poster. I love to read but seldom feel I have anything to contribute because there is so much accumulated wisdom here. I am hoping to tap that wisdom now as I try to help DD decide about her future dance training.

 

DD is 14 and has been dancing since birth :) , but has been taking ballet classes since she was 5. She is respected by her teachers, applies corrections, works well, maintains a professional and positive attitude, and is committed to the goal of eventually dancing professionally. She is currently in the pre-professional division of a ballet school attached to a regional company. I think that the quality of instruction she receives is quite good and generally in line with the guidelines recommended here.

 

After a massive growth spurt last year, she is beginning to settle into her body and gain strength and stamina. She is asking teachers for specific things to work on, and they are all telling her she looks really good but just needs to perform. (Some say "dance," but the idea is the same.) However, since she is at a company-attached school, she doesn't have much opportunity to perform. She participates in Nutcracker, but the big roles are all company roles. There is a Spring show, but again, featured roles go to Fellows or Company members. Even the "recital" is a piece or two done mostly as corps with limited featured roles.

 

How is a dancer supposed to gain performance ability with such limited opportunity to perform? Her school doesn't do competitions. :nixweiss:

 

DD says they just want to see her perform more in class,and she is trying to stand front and center more frequently as well as to just relax and dance. Is that enough? Can simply trying to give more performance quality in class develop the skills she needs, or do I need to try to find a school with more opportunities for her to perform on a stage? I know she is still very young, and I am not in a huge hurry to move her on to the next step, but since her teachers are basically only giving her this one thing as a correction, I want to be sure we are tending to this area.

 

Thanks in advance for helping me understand a little better!

 

 

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Momof3darlings

From what you've described, I don't think your DDs teachers are talking about additional performances. I believe they are more talking about dancing in class as if it was a performance. It sounds like she needs to "shine" in class and not just consider class.....class. Not keeping every movement contained. Stage presence, performance quality, giving of herself and not just making it "pretty" and technically correct but pushing for a bit more artistry. I could be wrong, but this is what your description sounds like.

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harbordancer

One observation day in my dd's class las year, the teacher exclaimed, "Look girls. See them dancing!" It was while two dancers were doing one of the last across the floor exercises (I don't remember the combination). What I do remember was that they used the entire floor, seamlessly combined the steps, flowed with the music, smiled, etc. In other words "danced".

 

I remember this because dd was one of the two dancers, and it was the first time I heard that compliment. Perhaps it helped the performance aspect, it being observation day and having an audience, but dancing can be done in class.

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dancemaven

I would agree with Momof3darlings assessment. There is a difference in a body that is doing the exercises/skills and one that is dancing. There is a caution and a bit of rigidity to the first and a flowiness and grace to the second. The skills must be learned with proper technique, but at some point the dancer must also have the movements so ingrained in the muscle memory that the brain is not thinking 'okay, preparation, tendue, raise foot---oh! is my foot pointed fully? is it at my knee? oh! where'd my turnout go just now . . . . , etc.' , but rather is lost in the feel of the music flowing through the limbs.

 

For some dancers, it can be something that slips in only occasionally and has to be instilled after all the concentration on perfecting technique over the years. This is where the 'dance from your heart' comes in and where the dancer just gets absorbed into the music and the movement.

 

It requires letting go-----and for some, that can be either very scary or very self-conscious action or both. It's the step where the dancer learns to trust their innate instincts for movement. And class is a wonderful place to work on it. Your DD has the technique ingrained, her teachers are now encouraging her to free her inner dancer to inhabit the movements to infuse them with her special movement quality and artistry.

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Mdballetmom

When I asked my daughter what she thought was the most important "take-away" from her SI this summer, I was expecting some aspect of technique or something about the new and different style she had learned (she was coming from a classical school to a strictly Balanchine SI).

What she said though was how every teacher at her SI really stressed the "dancing" of the combinations... not merely the repetition or mimicking of them. She told me that one teacher had said she would prefer to see mistakes "danced" rather than perfect technique.

 

She is at a new school this year. In our many conversations, she has told me about one dancer in her classes who has, what Dd described as, "very clean technique." Interestingly enough, this dancer in question is, again according to my DD, lacking this "performance" aspect... and is regularly told by the teachers to relax and 'dance.'

Maybe this performance aspect/dancing ability will come with maturity.... and then again, who knows?

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Victoria Leigh

Maturity and confidence. Confidence comes with increased technical ability, and of course encouragement from teachers. :)

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mama2dancer

Thank you all so much for your insight.

This actually made me tear up:

"It requires letting go-----and for some, that can be either very scary or very self-conscious action or both. It's the step where the dancer learns to trust their innate instincts for movement. And class is a wonderful place to work on it. Your DD has the technique ingrained, her teachers are now encouraging her to free her inner dancer to inhabit the movements to infuse them with her special movement quality and artistry."

 

That is so beautifully stated, dancemaven. There was a time when my DD did just dance, and the joy in her every movement was so beautiful to watch. Some of that joy has diminished as she has, probably out of necessity, focused on technique. I so hope that her teachers' encouragement will help her rediscover that freedom and give her the courage to be a dancer and not just a student of dance,

 

I am so grateful for all of your replies! :clapping:

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dinkalina

Unless your school makes you sign a contract specifically prohibiting her from being involved in other organization's performances, I would look for outside opportunities to be involved in shows. We have at least 2 youth companies in our town who are open to all dancers in the community. It's fun times and the kids learn so much being on stage.

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trythis

Thank you all so much for your insight. There was a time when my DD did just dance, and the joy in her every movement was so beautiful to watch. Some of that joy has diminished as she has, probably out of necessity, focused on technique. I so hope that her teachers' encouragement will help her rediscover that freedom and give her the courage to be a dancer and not just a student of dance,

 

Very timely post for me and my DD. As mama2dancer said, once my child lost herself in the dance. But the joy has diminished. We made the decision to change pre-pro schools, mostly based on the performance opportunities. This past weekend was our first show with the new school. DD performed in a contemporary piece to contemporary music, to a contemporary ballet piece with classical music, and a classic ballet "Paquita."

 

So she pretty much went from zero to sixty with Paquita. She has never performed any advanced corps role before. Her only previous corps role was one where she pretty much stayed in one place. Dress rehearsal, she wore fear on her face. She was much more relaxed in the contemporary ballet piece, and then in the contemporary dance, she was ON. She danced free, and big, and with energy. So I took the opportunity to tell her that she needed to dance with more confidence and smile more. She needed to dance paquita like she did the contemporary. She didn't appreciate it, but she applied it in the actual performance, and she looked better.

 

Her previous pre-pro has excellent teachers, with excellent training and technique. But because the school has grown so much in the past four years, there are many fewer performance opportunities (my older daughter had a much different experience). And what I started to see in the shows, were dancers who were finally being given performance opportunities at age 15, 16, but they didn't know how to perform. Mistakes showed on their faces. Frustration and lapses in concentration showed in the steps as they executed them.

 

So I came to believe that my DD was missing out on a big part of dance training by performing less than her sister did. And I can see the difference between her, and the other girls at our new pre-pro. They are seasoned dancers on stage, with confidence and style, and bravado, that my DD has not developed yet. I'm thrilled that she got to perform Paquita, it was very hard, and she did the steps well. We will have three more performances this season. Nutcracker, and two other full length story ballets. She is in 10th grade, if each season allows as much performance time, she could have 11 performances before she graduates high school. High school graduation is likely the end of her performing career. So I'm happy for her to be someplace where she can maximize that time before she graduates. I'm hoping she can develop into the kind of performer her sister was.

 

I think it is very hard to develop the performance skill, with out performing. It would be a good idea to seek out other performance opportunities, or if there are limits on time, to try to attend some master classes, or open classes in other styles in your area. Sometimes the anonymity in these environments can lead to a braveness that they can't feel in their usual class. Musical theater, might be a good idea, because of the necessary expressiveness.

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learningdance

My observation is that some dancer teachers tend to focus more on technique than artistry and perhaps do so for certain dancers or for certain developmental stages. Other teachers seem to emphasize artistry more. The best teachers do both. I don't believe that either can be allowed to eclipse the other.

 

And some dancers tend to focus more on technique than artistry (perhaps the teacher is focusing on both but the dancer attends more to one than the other).

 

Both are necessary. You must have something to say. You have to be "in the dance." A flat, technician, no matter how skilled, is boring to watch to all but the collection of really knowledgeable ballet audiences. But an artistic dancer with sloppy, imprecise technique won't make it.

 

I really emphasize JOY with my DD. If/when it gets hapless, burnout is a potential. So I want her some place where she can ENJOY it as she grows in technique. Different environments match different personalities.

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Thyme

DS has struggled with this also. Smile!! we all say to him. This last summer he attended LINES Ballet SI and he seems to have really 'got it'. LINES is ALL about dancing with love, passion and meaning it, not just getting your technique perfect. He struggled emotionally at first because he didn't understand but now he talks about how dancers communicate with the audience etc etc. For him, it took an intensive constant effort from these marvelous LINES teachers to get DS 'out of his head and into his heart'. A quick viewing of Alonzo King on YouTube and you will see what I mean.

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camercad

 

DD and I attended a Lines performance two years ago, which was followed by a Q&A with Alonzo King. The experience really made DD think about artistry as the basis for dance. My non-artisitic mind had a little trouble following Mr. King, but DD was entranced by him.

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Line

Musicality improves performance skills. If you don't have natural musicality than it's sometimes a difficult concept to grasp. Musical dancers never ignore the music to fit in more tricks. When the music moves on so does the movement. I think students can always work to improve musicality.

If you have a good concept of musicality then you can start thinking about phrasing. Ms. Chan Hon Goh held a wonderful workshop at our school which included phrasing. Apparently phrasing is about when you are not moving as much as when you are. It's about how steps are organized in a musical phrase. My DD benefited a lot from the workshop

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mama2dancer

Sometimes I wonder if the classroom isn't actually a more intimidating place for a student to open up and let go than the stage. In the classroom, you are at eye level with your audience, and your audience is composed of your teacher and fellow students, who all know whether what they are looking at is being done well or poorly. Though you may be in a very supportive class, you still know that these are your peers in terms of dance knowledge and ability. Your teacher is the one who is guiding you, and that person knows your strengths and weaknesses. He or she is normally the one fixing your turnout, correcting your body position, and critiquing your movements. It is a very intimate environment, in which every detail is obvious. And then there are the mirrors, which you have been trained to watch for clues about your form and movement. Trying to peel your eyes away after years of looking intently in them must be so hard! And it must feel a little like walking on a tightrope in the dark, to try to dance without the mirror giving you feedback.

 

The mental step from student to performer must be huge, especially if you are trying to take that step in the same environment in which you are a student. There are no costumes or stage dressing to help you get into the part; it is just you in your classroom leotard and tights trying to become something more than the student you have always been. Yes, I can see that it would be terrifying. The dancer must feel so exposed.

 

The stage can give you jitters and nerves, but there is distance between you and the watchers. A lot of them are merely there to be entertained and have no idea which steps are even being performed, much less if they are being performed well! You are shielded from the audience by the elevation of the stage, the costumes, the make-up, and the sets. I would think that getting immersed in the role would be easier in that environment than in the studio classroom. Though still exposed, the dancer is not quite so exposed as in that intimate environment of the classroom.

 

 

Unless your school makes you sign a contract specifically prohibiting her from being involved in other organization's performances, I would look for outside opportunities to be involved in shows. We have at least 2 youth companies in our town who are open to all dancers in the community. It's fun times and the kids learn so much being on stage.

 

We do have a contract that limits DD's freedom to perform with other groups, but the dean will work with students if an opportunity comes along that will benefit them. There is just very little time for anything else with her training and rehearsal schedule. Her parts may be small, but she still has to be there for the rehearsals. Oh,and even though we home school, she does still have to find time for academics as well. :D

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Lady Elle

Camercad - we just attended a master class followed by a Lines performance. The class was taught by Mr. King - I observed and took lots of notes. One thing he said that resonated with both my daughter and I - "Dance enters the room and looks around to find who loves her. She'll see's one and thinks, Oh she wants to be famous - see's another and thinks - she wants to look good, another and thinks - she wants to be correct. But when she finds one who LOVES her, that's the one she pours her gifts and secrets into"

 

Ah! Love that. yes, abstract and poetic but that love has to show even just in class. Sometimes he would have a girl who was having a hard time letting go close her eyes and try to feel the music.

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