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Theater skills in dance

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Over on Shira’s Tribe there is a spin-off discussion on what theater skills we think bellydancers could benefit from knowing. As an amateur actor all my life, and a theater major at the University of Washington, and community theater participant for many years, I definitely retain many of my skills (and expectations) that were nurtured in the theater. I try to pass those on to my students throughout their class and performance experiences, but sometimes I feel like we need a whole class dedicated to theater skills, and a big stage production to show them how it all fits together! There is a lot to be learned there for our dance world…

As for what dancers need to know that theater people know…can I say EVERYTHING?! The short list I shared with the tribe (with a few additions) follows.

Professional behavior such as:

  • being on time* and prepared for rehearsals and performances
  • having all your costuming and props and make-up without having to be reminded and chased after by someone else
  • strong entrances and exits
  • staying in character
  • considering your body line and presentation at all times
  • projection (in this case, emotional/energetic)
  • finding your light/use of stage
  • being in the moment and not just doing things by wrote
  • not wearing your costume outside a show
  • graciously accepting compliments
  • taking notes from your director with gratitude and applying them immediately
  • using critique as a method of improvement, rather than internalizing it emotionally
  • how to audition, and the role of auditioning in your career (hint: it’s not just to get the roles you want, it’s to learn how to get the roles you want someday)
  • continue honing your craft
  • there is more than one method to improve your skills, and it’s your job to seek them out
  • stronger performers will get roles of greater exposure or responsibility
  • dilligence and dedication pay off, but…
  • not all plays or roles (performance groups) are for all people and…
  • the best (actor) isn’t always the one who gets the biggest role–there is a lot that goes into those decisions, and YES even your personality and looks can play into that
  • not getting the role you want is not an excuse to give up and throw in the towel, get pissed at the director, or otherwise curse and cry–there will be other opportunities, and if you truly love this enough to want to do it professionally and want this role of responsibility someday, you keep plugging away at it. This is what we call “growing a thick skin”.

* “ON TIME IS LATE”. We NEVER showed up to rehearsals or performances right at “call time”. You showed up as much as a half hour early, because you wanted to gather your props and costumes where they were needed, settle in, talk to your fellow performers, discuss changes with the director, BEFORE you had to be getting into make-up or costume.

As I thought about this list, I realized why I think these are all such issues in the bellydance world.

The things we have listed in the theater world are primarily factors which hinge on the performers working as a team. Striking a set together so it’s easier on all of the performers to come back and make magic again tomorrow. Taking care of your costumes and not making the costume mistress more work that night. Being on time. Not upstaging one another. Listening carefully to the director, and applying what they tell you for the benefit of everyone’s performance. Even in a “one man show”, there are so many cogs in the machine, and we need to oil it together to keep it running. If we don’t support them in their roles, they can’t support us in ours, and we all fall.

On the other hand, though there are many many troupes in the dance world, it is still primarily soloists**. And many teachers and performers are always parroting the “it’s all about self-expression”, which is definitely true, but I think often it is being said in a way that is translating to “it’s all about YOU (me)”. This self-absorption ties into so many other things, such as our ongoing beef with performances which are mere displays of self-gratification with no consideration of the space, venue, audience, even music. We focus so much on trying to help students tap into their inner diva to be able to express something from deep within themselves, that we are getting just that–self-absorbed divas. Maybe we aren’t spending enough time giving them a clear context in which that dance must be considered–a world filled with other people, in your audience and on and around your stage. We aren’t giving them clear enough consequences when they don’t meet the standards which must be demanded in order for the greater “machine” of a shared stage to run smoothly. They need to be reminded it is NOT all about them, and that their actions create consequences for the dance world around them, on both small and large scales…

**I am not trying to say that these problems do not exist in troupes or troupe members! I just meant that there is a focus in the dance world on the individual that is driven by its primarily solo-nature.

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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.

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    Good stuff, thanks!

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