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Nervousness when leading improv? Glam it up!

posted in: performance tips, questions | 4

Here is a question from a student regarding how to feel more confident in the lead. Letty always asks really great questions, and she agreed to let me share this one, and my answer, with you all!

I find myself getting rather nervous/anxious at the prospect of leading. Often, this translates into me forgetting moves other than the ones I really know well (like basic Egyptian, hip bump, and Arabic) when I get into a lead position. Sometimes, I even forget the move we’ve been focusing on just a few minutes before! Do you have any suggestions or advice for dealing with the anxiety that comes with leading?

Hey Letty,

Right off the bat, let’s get one thing clear: EVERYBODY gets nervous and anxious at one time or another! So you’re not alone at all. 🙂 The good news is, in class is the time to make mistakes and feel stuck, and is also the time to work through those moments and be supported by your fellow dancers who know exactly what you are going through! So give yourself permission to be forgetful, feel stuck, and struggle whenever and however as a student. That is what class is about, that is what learning is about. Enjoy the process!

Part of why we drill combos at the start of class–the move(s) of the day mixed with another move that compliments it–is to get into our bodies new ideas and ways of moving–to help not only to learn and practice the new concept, but to break us out of patterns we may normally fall to, and get some new ideas into our minds and bodies. But the fact is, not everything “sticks” with everyone. We tend to gravitate toward the moves we know best or *like* best and those come to us most naturally. That is natural. At the end of class, you may not be ready to pull out that move confidently in the lead yet. But it’s there, as an option, for when you do feel ready for it.

So when a student says they feel they keep going back to the same moves, I like to talk about fashion. 🙂 Some moves are like your favorite pair of jeans, or that necklace that goes with everything. They will always be there for you, always comfortable and just plain right on your body, feels like “you” and your friends recognize those elements as “you”. But when you are ready to glam it up, you don’t need to take all your old clothes off and replace them with an entire wardrobe of new clothes. You can keep some comfortable old pieces, and just add a new piece here and there and accessorize the hell out of it with whatever is in fashion right now. Our movement vocabulary is the same way. Our Level 1 foundation moves are often the comfy foundation pieces of our movement wardrobe, and as we add new ideas into the mix, we fit them in as they make sense and appeal to us at that time.

With fashion, each season we get a new collection of clothes into the shops–new colors, new shapes, new ways to accessorize that are “in vogue” right now. Like right now, school is coming up and the fall line is in. Our ability and propensity to access certain families of movement is seasonal, too–we go through fluctuating trends where we seem to always bring out move A sometime during our lead now, and later this year move B will be our favorite frequent move. And those moves become somewhat our “signature look”, if you will–our sisters can begin to recognize the pattern and predict some of your instinctual choices as “your favorite moves”. Sometimes this happens organically, and sometimes it can use a nudge!

So how to give it a nudge? Start to plan your fall line now for the “runway”. What moves do you like but never seem to remember to bring out when you are leading? What moves would you like to see come up more often, but nobody else seems to be pulling them out these days? Drill these movements into your brain and body, and have them at the ready whenever you are going to be leading. Don’t try to memorize an entire list of movements–that is overwhelming and self-defeating. Nobody has every single move in their vocabulary ready to lead perfectly at all times. To follow, sure, but to lead, most performers tend to have a few key “seasonal” moves that are at the forefront of their subconscious minds, and the rest flows from those as the music and the moment dictates.

For instance, let’s say I love Turkish Shimmy these days, and I make a mental vow to bring that move out when next I lead. I practice it, and put it firmly in my mind when it comes time to jam. Then really, not only do I have Turkish Shimmy at the ready, but then the variations start to follow from that–1/4 turn and reverse. And from that perhaps it feels really natural to flow into a whole shimmy series, so now my shimmy 1/4’s and 1/2’s come into play, and ooh, shimmy hop hop comes to mind, and that flows right into Arabic shimmy…and pretty soon you are dancing half the song in the lead because you kicked it off with one movement that really felt “right” to you that week, or month, or “season”.

Your seasonal moves need not be just one move or movement family; it can be a small collection of 2-4 moves that you are really digging on now, and you feel confident leading. From that, you can create a whole landscape of movement that flows from one or two favorite elements, and before you know it…you’re transitioning out and your lead was varied and powerful!

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Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

4 Responses

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    Oh Sharon thank you for this post!!

    I was actually thinking of doing some cue cards for practice, with a combination of four moves each, fast and slow. that way I have a combination drilled for the moment I need it. Tribal Elements invited our troupe to dance with them at Sand in the City last Sunday, and at the end of their last set, they added Copacabana so that everyone could join in. So I did and it was a good chance to practice leading in front of an audience, and I was so glad I did even though my mind went completely blank when I got the lead. It was a lot of fun, though!!!


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    Great post Shay! i love thinking in terms of fashion!

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    This is very helpful – I go into a flat panic at the prospect of leading and can’t even remember my own name let alone any of the moves. I must allow myself to fail.

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    Great Question and Answer. I am going to send this link to all my students and troupies to read. Thanks Sharon

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