Developing Performance Skills in our Dancers
January 30, 2021

Performance skills. They can be tricky to teach! How can we get our dancers to authentically evoke emotion, perform with appropriate expression that matches the dance? This is one of the greatest challenges I think as a dance educator and something I have struggled with.

As an adjudicator, I see it all the time. The child who clearly has a prescribed expression on their face. It appears fake, often over the top, sometimes even choreographed. It is not my favourite… I understand why this happens but my fear is that these dancers end up drilling expression and performance quality instead of learning how to incorporate it effectively and naturally. So what can we do exactly?

1. Talk about what the dance performance is about.

What feelings, thoughts, expressions and words come to mind when thinking about the song, the movement, the costume style etc? What do you want to have your audience feel? Brainstorm as a group, write everything down and ensure your students can see the list you have created together.

2. Show examples.

Have your dancers watch dancers in a piece that has a similar feel to what you are trying to express. What are they doing with their face? What exactly are they doing to display emotion and meaning? In addition, show ineffective examples. What do you NOT want your dancers to do? Have a discussion and acknowledge what is effective/ineffective about what you are showing them.

3. Practice with expression every single time. 

“Don’t worry Miss, I will perform on stage I promise”……Nope. Not an option. This has majorly backfired for me in the past. I need my students to perform for me in person for a few reasons:

  • I can provide them with feedback on what is working and what doesn’t. Also, I don’t want them performing for the first time on stage and only then, see that their expression is way off (made this mistake before!) It is a recipe for potential disaster. Having our dancers perform with expression IN the studio is a part of the preparation and rehearsal process and is ingrained in our program culture now.
  • Expression becomes a part of the dance versus something you only think about moments before hitting the stage. When there are so many other variables at play when our dancers hit the stage (i.e. different physical space, the lights in their eyes, the audience reacting etc.), the more variables we have under control in advance, the better.

Performance skills are tricky to teach but we want to spend our time developing this skill to ensure our dancers are performing with authenticity and creating a FEELING for the audience. Do you have any other tips that help your students develop their performance skills? Please post a comment below!

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