Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Broadway Experience

Last Saturday night I held a three hour workshop at the dance studio and it was a great success! There were dancers between the ages of 10 and 16, and I was impressed by each and every one of them. What inspired me to give this workshop was my experience from The Professional Semester at Broadway Dance Center. I gained so much knowledge about auditioning, careers in dance, how to succeed in the business, and how a positive outlook can change your dancing and your life. This program truly prepared me for the real world and I wanted to share some of this information with my students in order to give them a glimpse of what it's like out there.

I started the evening by talking about some of the tips for success and quotes that I received during my orientation week at BDC. I mentioned them all in, "Continue to Thrive". Then, we practiced strong and confident body language as well as "taking the floor" for an audition or performance. I also introduced slating, which is basically introducing yourself to a panel of judges and usually stating your name and a fun fact about yourself. We had to do this every week during our mock auditions at BDC, and I was always pretty nervous about what I was going to say. But, everyone at the workshop blew me away with how confident and funny their slates were!

Next was a leaps and turns class where we worked on pirouettes, fouettes, and gaining height in jumps. I even had them jumping over chairs! This is a great way to get the floating, "up-and-over" quality that beautiful, airy leaps have. Since there were 17 dancers and a wide range of ages and levels, I gave a few options for each exercise so that each person could work at her own pace.
There were two groups based on levels, and each group got to perform their own combination in front of the rest of the group for their mock audition. The group that was judging got to fill out an evaluation sheet where they rated their peers on presence/professionalism, performance, technique, and remembering the choreography. There is also a place on the form where I get to rate the dancers and write comments. This is a great way for the dancers to get feedback and see what they get to work on because they have two different perspectives. The younger group got to perform a cute, jazz combination to, "Baby, It's Cold Outside", and the older group had a contemporary combination to a song called, "Groundhog Day" by Frisson. I was very proud of the way that everyone acted professionally like they were at a real audition, and they all picked up the choreography so quickly.
Everyone learning the first combination
 The first group during the mock audition
The older group learning the contemporary combination
For the last hour I had just the older group. First, we worked on improv with different instructions such as: staying on the floor, like you have no bones, with bent knees the whole time, with straight knees the whole time, and leading with the head. Improv can serve as a good warm up for your body and your mind. It gets the creative juices flowing because you have to think of new ways your body can move without ever stopping. After a while, you stop thinking altogether and your body just takes over. That is the ultimate goal of improv.
Improv led into the next activity, which was an acting exercise. This acting exercise is for dancers and the objective is to actually feel the emotions that you are portraying in a dance rather than just acting them out or using obvious gestures. This goes for dancing or choreographing. When you are the dancer, you take direction from the choreographer who usually has a specific feeling or idea in mind for the dance. If you make that feeling real in your own body, your body language and energy will change without altering the choreography, so your performance will be more believable. You can do the same thing before you start choreographing so that the emotion is coming through you rather than just being shown.

Since singing and acting was terrifying for me during The Professional Semester and a lot of dancers don't have any experience with that, I expected everyone to feel the same way and resist when I said we were going to be doing an acting exercise. But to my surprise, everyone got really excited and I had volunteers willing to do it by themselves! This was wonderful to see because acting experience will make a dancer a better, more well-rounded performer. I gave a simple 8-count of movement to apply the various emotions to, and in doing this, I wanted to show that it doesn't matter what the choreography is; you can express any feeling when you dance. I had everyone close their eyes and think of a person that they know, an event that happened, or make something up that will cause the specific emotion to arise in their body. When they actually felt the emotion then opened their eyes and did the movement, the result was incredible. We tried emotions such as anger, joy, jealousy, annoyance, grief, and nervousness.

I think one of the highlights of the night was learning "All That Jazz" from Chicago. It's such a fun dance that had the dancers putting their acting exercise into practice. The choreography is simple and the seduction is subtle, so you have to use your eyes and your face to flirt with the audience. This dance requires a strong presence and focus in order to come across to the audience effectively. The girls pulled it off and we had a blast!
This workshop could not have gone any better. I was so pleased with the way everything worked out; I covered all of the activities that I had planned and we all had fun doing them. Everyone was so enthusiastic, open-minded, and professional, and I could not ask for more. It is the greatest compliment to a teacher when the students embrace what they are doing and put all of their energy into it. With the two age groups dancing together, they not only learned from me, but they learned from each other. The younger girls worked very hard to keep up with the older girls, and I was so proud of their determination and professionalism. The older girls got to lead the way and they were excellent role models for the younger ones. This night reminded me why I dance and why I love sharing my passion through teaching.

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