- OnStage Massachusetts Columnist
2 minutes and 30 seconds. That’s about the length of an average song used in dance, at least the dances in my upcoming showcase. That’s all the time you have to connect with your audience, convey emotion, make them care, make them invested in you and your piece. All without saying a single word.
For a theater person turned quasi-dancer, that last part is perhaps the scariest. Never mind. It’s all scary. I come from a world where I have a fully fleshed out character, sometimes with a name and backstory usually with lines but always with time. Time to connect with my audience, make them believe. I don’t have that luxury here.
What I have is music, and lots of “just feel it” from the choreographers. I’m sorry but I’m gonna need more than that. Feel what? Feel like I’m going to slip into a split (FYI my 34 year old body has never done a split so this would not be a happy thing) because of my new pirouette shoes that I needed help figuring out how to wear properly? Feel like on the dance spectrum I’m closer to Elaine from Seinfeld vs. Misty Copeland? This type-A girl needs more direction than a riff on the Nike slogan.
Fortunately this type-A girl doesn’t quit. Thinks about it (I think I’ve mentioned that once or twice here) but never actually went through with it. Instead I practiced. I watched my fellow dancers, tried to absorb the technique, listened to my choreographers when they gave notes- hell I went up to them a couple times and begged for critique/feedback. I tried to put it all together. Tried to take how the movements and the music affected me, how I felt when I practiced just for me and translate those feelings outward.
Still something was missing. Normally onstage, I am not myself; I’m playing a part and so I’ll do things, say things, take risks I would never dream about doing in real life. I struggled trying to be myself in these pieces and let myself shine through to connect with the audience. Then I realized- why couldn’t I give myself a dance character? Give myself a backstory and let me as the character feel those emotions and convey them to the audience.
Now we haven’t had our showcase yet so I don’t know if it’s worked from the audience perspective. But for me, I’ve been able to perform better in at least one of the numbers I struggled with since I’ve given myself a character to portray. I feel more in touch with the music and the movements and I believe ultimately that’s the goal in dance. Hmm, perhaps my choreographers were right. Perhaps “just feel it” was enough direction all along.