• SkunkWorks Dance

A new approach for dancers struggling with emoting.

#WednesdayWisdomSW There will always be performers who are naturally emotive. Whether it's a light and sassy jazz piece or a dark and emotional contemporary work, these dancers are able to translate the feelings they experience internally to external action easy for the audience to see and feel. For many other dancers, this skill of publicly emoting can be extraordinarily difficult.

I have often seen teachers and choreographers say to dancers who are struggling with the performance aspect of their dance to "feel the music" or, "Show the audience what you are feeling inside, it makes it more fun!" What this assumes is that emoting is a choice like turning a light switch on or off. If a dancer is not emotionally performing it is something they can quickly change by listening to the music more or just working harder to bring their internal feelings to the surface.

What I have personally found is there are a lot of phenomenal dancers who struggle to publicly emote in a dance, but this is not due to lack of effort or want. For dancers that struggle with performance, this assumption can be detrimental to their growth as a dancer because this is not something they can control and consequently will most likely always feel like they are disappointing their teacher or choreographer.

So how do you help a performing artist that is struggling with public emotion? One effective approach I have found is to turn performing into a choreographic choice as dictated by the choreographer or teacher. You make it a structural aspect of the piece.

Emoting is often vital to a dance work but yet by treating it as a choice, we neglect it's necessity to the choreography. For instance, Ohad Naharin's famous work "Minus 16" could not be performed without a dancer repetitively flinging himself out of a chair just like the dance musical number "Singin' in the Rain" could not be done without flirtatious, smooth and a beaming smile. Openly emoting can be a necessary element to choreography as, for example, any structure movement phrase. For this reason, concentrating on emotion as choreographic choice can be a great way to take the pressure off them and simplify the performing process.

With this practice, it can also be very helpful to specify exact emotions to difinitive moments as you would do with a hand gesture to footwork. One way I involve and create a more genuine process for my dancers is by asking them for words that define how they see / feel the work and to use what they offer as inspiration for my choreographic emotional choices. It is important to note that words like "soft", "tough", "sharp" or "fast" while not necessarily emotional words, can be great clues to how the dancer is internalizing the piece, and a great gateway into further conversation.

By applying this methodology, this takes away a few crucial steps for dancers who struggle with connecting their internal emotion to the external; the need for them to define how and when to bring emotion out. This approach can often serve as an initial bridge allowing these dancers to dip their feet in the water of publicly emoting. Longer term, I have found that this has lead to these dancers finding comfort in their own performance skills so much so that they can "choreography" their own emotional journey in a dance.

-Jana Bennett, SkunkWorks Dance Founder and Director

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