Sunday, May 4, 2008

On being a performer.

A stream of consciousness post for a Sunday morning...

I think the hardest part of being a dancer for me is also being a performer. I get a little self-absorbed, and not in a "I'm so awesome" kind of way, but in that I forget that there are others watching me perform. If I'm not in the right headspace, I don't project as much emotion to the audience as I should or could. And then the audience doesn't follow me on my journey on stage.

I am an introvert. I have a hard time connecting with people in general, and when I'm putting myself on stage, expressing very personal elements of myself as a dancer and artist, I feel very vulnerable.

What really helped open my eyes was taking a workshop with Sera, formerly of Washington DC and now in New York. She said that when we're on stage we must "give our throat to the wolves" - basically we have to forget our fears and open ourselves up to the audience, no matter how cruel or aloof they might be.

I've always been a technical dancer - the skill of dancing has come rather easily to me, but connecting with the audience has always been a challenge. I think it's a challenge for most dancers who aspire to also be performers. It's much easier to go out there, do some tricks, and then walk off stage... but to really connect with the audience, to give them a piece of yourself, your soul, is so much different... and it's scary!

What I see in a lot of newer dancers is that they have not yet learned how to project, to give themselves to the audience. Being able to project means being confident in your technical abilities that they become second nature... it's like an actor knowing her lines so well that she doesn't have to think about them anymore and she can become the character that she's portraying.

Recently I've been focusing more on getting into that emotional place than on drilling technique, so that I can just dance "in the moment" and yet still give myself to the audience.

What has really helped me is eye contact. I used to be so afraid of looking people in the eyes, even when not on stage. Honestly, sometimes I fake eye contact when on stage. I'll look between people, and not really at anyone, but it looks like I'm staring someone down. I'm trying to get better at this and really look right at people in the audience. It makes them smile, and it makes me smile. Both good things when on stage!

I also try to spend some time alone before the performance, getting into an emotional place. If I don't have that time before a performance to settle into my "character", the piece isn't going to be as successful, and I have a harder time controlling my emotional projection on stage. When creating a piece, I try to have a particular mood or character that I'm portraying, and these are always a part of myself. I never portray a character that isn't inherent in my own personality.

And while I'm on stage, I have to believe and know that I am in control: of my movements, my expression, and the audience. They are my captives... otherwise they wouldn't be there. It's a delicate balance... because if you try too hard for their attention, it will slip away. The audience will know that you're trying to hard and then they won't take you seriously. But if it's obvious that you're enjoying yourself and loving what you do up on stage, they'll go along with you for the journey. It's very zen. It's trying without effort.

The most useful way to become a performer is, of course, getting performance experience. Nothing will teach you most about being on stage than actually being on stage. You can read all about emotional expression all you want, but if you don't actually perform, none of that intellectual knowledge will do you any good.

Where are you in this process? Is connecting with the audience something that comes naturally for you or not? What do you do to help you with this aspect of performance?


Anonymous said...

Heya! First, I want to let you know that I am addicted to your blog and I am constantly checking to see if you have a new entry. :)

I am glad you wrote about this. I get a little frustrated when I see dancers do their thing and even if they are looking at the audience I would notice that I am having a hard time connecting with them.

I have only performed twice and it is definitely nothing like I would have expected. I go into panic mode where the time up there feels like a bubble. I have been reluctant to go back out again. I guess I am going to have to soon.


Amy said...

Good thoughts. I think we are really lucky in that we have three people, so we can give off a lot of energy to the audience just by being more people, but on the other hand we have to make sure we're all together emotionally because the audience can tell when someone is off. And then sometimes we're so hyped up we get crazy face, which is what happens to Lyra and I. There are pictures from one of the Pura shows where we're like, "What what we doing up there?". Having crazy fun, obviously.

My personal challenge? Looking UP. I tend to think and stare at the floor a few feet ahead of me.

Anonymous said...

Asharah! You have a blog! This is so awesome. :)

ANYway, I thought I'd give my two cents.

Believe it or not, connecting with the audience was initially very difficult for me. I could put on a show of being connected, but it was all a facade. What really made a difference to me was working with yasmin, who called me out on being (in her words) an "ice princess" or a "frigid bitch." ;)

Anyway, drat - I gotta go get on a plane to Ashville, but I want to come back and finish my thoughts.