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Performance Guidelines

Tips for bringing dances to life onstage

Richard Powers

  • Project your dancing, posture and your personality a little more than you think is necessary, to bridge the distance to your audience.


  • Strive for greater technical control of your footwork than you think is necessary. Casual execution can look sloppier than it feels.

    The most effective technique for strengthening dance gestures is Focused Placement: When you make a gesture, place it in position and freeze it there, even if only for a split second, rather than throwing it in place.


  • Appear to dance with ease. Don't let any muscular tension generated in controlling dance gestures add visible tenseness to your face or movements.

    In order to achieve the opposing ideals of precision and ease, visualize that you are separating your body at your midsection, maintaining precise placements and powerful gestures of your legs while keeping your upper body, shoulders, neck, face and hands completely relaxed, yet animated with fluidity, showing no evidence of effort.

    This important combination creates the illusion that you were born with the gift of effortless dance perfection.


  • Make every motion with self-directed conviction, leading decisively with your head and especially with your eyes as you step out.  You want to give the impression that each movement is your idea, not the director's. The effect is that you're creating each dance phrase spontaneously.  The total effect of a stage filled with individuals who are each self-motivated creates a convincing authenticity.

    At all times truly see what or whom you are looking at, to help avoid the blank stare of self consciousness — the kind that little kids have when they are aware they are being watched.  Also avoid your eyes rolling up in recalling steps.  Catch the eyes of others you interact with and respond to them.  Focusing your eyes also makes you seem more intelligent than does a blank gaze, if that matters to you.

    It's a mistake to think the audience is too far away to see your eye movements, or that they are watching someone other than yourself.  Your facial expressions and eye focus are clear to the last row of the balcony, and you should assume that at least one person is watching you closely at every moment, even if you are in the rear of the stage.


  • Take special care to commence dance phrases clearly, and conclude them with decision. Execute the first step of a dance, and the first step of each internal section, with the full thrust of the phrase, not starting tentatively then ramping up. At the end of a movement or dance, strike a stable concluding stance, without wobbling or adjusting.

    The last step of a phrase in mid-sequence tends to be especially weak, as the mind has moved on to remember the next step. Don't abandon the step in progress.

    The purpose of this clarity is not just to impress the audience with your precise technique, but also to make the form and flow of a dance easier for your audience to perceive.


  • While dancing, strive to develop internal contrast and variety of execution between the different sections.  Similarly, make each dance as different as possible from the others. The qualities of each dance may seem unique to you because of your experience with their subtle nuances, but to the uninitiated audience who may never have seen your kind of dancing, all of the dances tend to look alike unless you make a special effort to broaden their unique qualities.


  • Adjust the scale of your performance to the size of the venue. If performing on a large stage or to a large audience, make all gestures larger and grander, as mentioned in the first comment on this list, above. But if performing in a small room for a small audience, that may feel overdone, so tone everything down, for the observers who might be just a few feet away from you.


  • If dancing in a line-of-direction circle, always be aware of the spacing between couples onstage. Continually check the space behind you as well as in front of you.


  • Memory aid: Just before the final performance of each dance, pause to recall any parts which you are prone to misstep or forget. This last-minute reminder often prevents a chronic error from recurring. Also recall the unique quality of each dance before beginning.


  • Performance adrenaline often makes the music seem too slow, so make sure that you're not rushing the timing of your footwork. Hold back for the music. Don't let your face register that you find the tempo draggy. Instead, use the extra time to add more full-body flair.

    If you're the director, try playing a slowed-down version of the music in one of your final rehearsals, perhaps slowed 6% or more. This will approximate how slow the music will feel with performance adrenaline, and let your dancers practice holding back for how slow the tempo will feel when they're performing.


  • Avoid turning your back to the audience. If a choreography places you in such a position, shade your body slightly to one side and turn your head to present a profile of your face rather than the back of your head. When finishing a dance or clearing a space for actors, beware of the great inclination to turn your back to the audience and head upstage. It's preferable to lead your partner in a graceful sweep toward the audience first, then proceed laterally across the stage.


  • Don't stand frozen in place before a dance, impatiently waiting for the music to signal your first step. Relate to your partner or companions in a lively, natural and authentic manner. Keep the stage alive with motion.

    But don't rush to and from places. Rushing is the mark of a novice who fears that if they are not dancing, they must be terribly uninteresting to watch. Take your time. If you stay in character, the audience will take an interest in your manner, your costume and the way you relate to others.


  • If you are not dancing while others are, don't make any large or sudden moves that will distract the audience from those who are dancing. Have your face and eyes show a great interest and enthusiasm for the dancers (or speaker) who are in the spotlight at the moment.


  • When entering and exiting, the accumulated rumbles and scrapes of dozens of feet walking to places builds up. Make an extra effort to walk silently.


  • Don't strive to merely be adequate, or to survive the show without screwing up. Instead, your mindset is that you are at your best. Add personal style and flair in any and every way possible, from beginning to end, including the fluid grace of your free arms and hands.


  • Try to become the dancers you're portraying as completely as possible, taking true pleasure in your dancing and in the company of your partner and fellow dancers. Audiences love to feel that the dancers are having a great time, and can always tell the difference between false smiles and genuine delight. Find ways to spontaneously enjoy yourself.

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