Every spring, I hold a showcase at my studio. OK, I say showcase, but I really mean recital. In an average showcase you can prep what you want, with or without help, show up on the day of, perform your heart out and you’re done! I on the other hand like to go a little overboard. There are rehearsals, dress rehearsals, bows, multiple shows, and if I can swing it… a karaoke stop after the final show. I end up working for hours with every performer going over every aspect of their piece. I also yell a lot. All my girls are familiar with the “Who are you in this piece? What emotion are you trying to convey? One more time from the top! WHY AREN’T YOUR FEET POINTED???”
One lesson that I can never stress enough to new performers is that how difficult your tricks are is irrelevant. It’s your performance that will win people over.
So, what makes a great performance?
Committing to the concept
You’re a first-time performer. You decide to do a stunning piece about heartbreak. But you’re so nervous and scared that you’ll look silly so you hold back. You’re uncomfortable. The problem is that the audience can see your discomfort and they can tell you’re holding back.
Fix it by really and honestly committing 100%. If your piece is sad, embrace that sadness. Try drawing from an experience in your own life. Maybe it reminds you of the time you walked away from someone you loved because you knew they were bad for you. Or that time you ordered cute pole shorts online and it turns out that “size small” was the understatement of the year. I’m not here to judge your inner inspiration. Just go for it! Embrace what you’re doing and leave it all on the dance floor!
Practicing your facial expressions
We often concentrate so much on what our bodies are doing when we dance, that we forget what our faces are doing. This is when you get the thousand yard stare of doom, and the slightly squinted eyes of trying-to-remember-what-comes-after-this-spin. You know how we all say that practice makes perfect? Well, it applies to your face too!
Take a mirror out, play your music, and watch yourself. I do this a lot when I’m preparing a piece. It’s actually my favourite way to pass my morning commutes. Once I’m in my metro car or bus, I end up just kind of staring into the windows, running my piece and going over my facial expressions. Do I look crazy? Well, probably, but that’s not the point! I also try to exaggerate my expressions just a little. In a movie, you can zoom in on someone’s face and catch subtle expressions, but on a stage, sometimes subtle facial expressions get lost.
I know some people just feel odd making faces so when all else fails, cheat. Pick a point just above the audiences head and looks there. It makes it look like you’re connecting with the audience even if eye contact isn’t really your thing. And try opening your mouth a little, just enough to breathe. It softens your expression.
Extending your arms and hands, aka please no T rex arms!
We all know you should have clean lines for your feet and pointed toes. So, what about the often-neglected arms and hands? When you don’t think of what your arms and hands are doing, they have this default T-rex stance. The elbow is bent, the wrist is limp, and all you’re missing is a tail and sharp teeth to complete your T-rex costume.
Another related problem is over-stylizing your wrist. While trying to be balletic and graceful, many people end up with a limp wrist. This style (the visual equivalent of “Guuuurl, check my new nails!”) breaks the flow of your lines visually and can take away from the beauty of what you’re doing. (Editor’s note: I have totally been guilty of ‘Hey, gurl, heyyyy’ hands, so great advice!)
Try choreographing your arms as well. Or be conscious of what they’re doing. Your arms should be clean flowing lines. If you have issues with this, try thinking that you’re dancing in a big pool of honey. Your arms have to actively push through the honey is smooth controlled strokes. Alternatively, film yourself. As much as I find watching myself practice painful, it’s a great tool to see what works and what doesn’t.
Entering and exiting in character, always
Think of how strange it would be to attend Swan Lake and then watch the prima ballerina walk out for her solo like she was on her way to the mall. Off-putting, n’est ce pas? Your performance starts the moment you step on stage. Not while you wait for the music, holding your first pose, but the second you can see the audience. Your entry and exit should reflect your piece.
It’s a small thing, but consider what kind of walk goes with your piece. Maybe something sprightly with a hitch in your step for an animated piece full of happiness. Or maybe a graceful walk with pointed feet for a contemporary piece. It helps your piece seem cohesive and it gives your audience a clue about what you’ll be doing before they ever hear your music.
Holding your final pose, then taking a bow!
You’ve finished your piece and the crowd goes wild!! Roses, and teddy bears, and dollar bills rain down on you!! You have completed months of preparation, blood, sweat, and tears to get here! So take a moment. Hold your final pose for a full 3 seconds. This tells the audience that the piece is finished and it gives you a moment to take it all in. So many performers finish, then just jump up and head off stage. It’s like they’re saying “And TADAAAA! Ok but seriously, I’m out of here now. KTHXBAI!” By pausing, letting the impact of your grand finale sink in, and then taking a bow, you’re also saying thank you to your audience for watching and taking part in your story.
I can honestly tell you, making crazy faces and performance concepts in my favourite part and what makes me stand out (for better or worse). So go wild with your ideas! I mean, did my girls look at me a little sideways when I said “Ok, so for this piece you two are Swedish vampires and I have a magic typewriter.” Yes, but it turned into a really fun piece and I regret nothing!
What are you best performance tips? What weird and wonderful places do you practice your facial expressions? Let us know in the comments below.
Kishanda has been poling for 7 years with Studio 409 where she began teaching in 2011. She initiated and runs the annual Studio 409 Showcase. She is known for her theater-inspired choreography that emphasizes performance. Kishanda also holds a BSc and MSc in microbiology and immunology.
Kishanda danced competitively both provincially and nationally in Canada and holds the following medals:
CPFC Amateur provincials (QC)2012 – Silver
CPFC Amateur nationals (CA) 2012 – Silver
CPFC Pole Art provincials (QC) 2016 – Gold
CPFC Pole Art nationals (CA) 2016 – Bronze