I decided to do some research online. I started off by looking up relevant keywords on Google: “how to improve your dance performance” and “how to be a better dancer.” Related articles offered some typical advice on the subject matter: practice makes perfect; stretch before you dance; use visualization to improve performance; etcetera. This is nothing I haven’t heard before, but not to say that it isn’t useful advice!
I did find a few more intriguing articles on how to improve dance performance. For example, an article written by Christopher Bergland, Why is Dancing So Good for Your Brain? (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201310/why-is-dancing-so-good-your-brain), mentions dance marking, a technique whereby ‘dancers can improve the ability to do complex moves by walking through them slowly and encoding the movement with a cue.’ So, in other words, marking implies going through choreography at slow speed (as opposed to practicing choreography at normal speed to the actual music) and without necessarily making full steps, but rather using hand gestures to represent choreographed dance movements (for instance, using a finger rotation to depict a full turn).
According to Bergland, marking can help improve memory of complex steps, which can further improve the quality of performance. ‘Marking essentially involves a run-through of the dance routine, but with a focus on the routine itself, rather than making the perfect movements.’ The whole idea of marking reinforces psychological theories related to how learning through meaning can support long-term memory.
Another interesting article, Your Best Body: The Secret Performance Enhancer (http://www.pointemagazine.com/issues/junejuly-2012/your-best-body-secret-performance-enhancer) by Jennifer Stahl argues that a cup of coffee before the show can actually benefit your performance. Stahl indicates that, ‘caffeine prepares your body for peak athletic performance’ by increasing heart rate and alertness. Moreover, Stahl writes: ‘Research has shown that caffeine improves endurance by sparing glycogen, your muscles’ primary fuel source. One study found it reduces the loss of glycogen by as much as 50 percent in the first 15 minutes of exercise, which means your body can go longer before running out of gas.’ The recommendation made by Stahl is to consume one cup of coffee (or 2 cups black tea) about an hour before your performance, and with a good nutritious meal. Remember that too much coffee can make some people shaky and nervous, so moderation is key.
Beyond all this talk about what makes dancers good performers, we must remember that no one is perfect. While talking to some of Inspiracion Latina’s performers, I came to learn that performing is a metaphor for life. If you mess up or make a mistake, you got to keep going. I remember last year, when I went to see the Nutcracker ballet show, one of the ballerinas fell down while doing multiple turns on her pointe shoes. She got up gracefully and continued to dance her routine.
I also remember, as a little girl, I was part of a small dance competition at a friend’s birthday party. I spent so many hours rehearsing for the competition. When my turn finally came, all I felt was nervousness. As a result, I forgot one of my dance moves and I ran away. Looking back I can’t help but laugh at myself. As an adult, I am better equipped at facing my flaws and moving forward.
If you take away anything from this article, I hope it is the fact that everyone has flaws. Even great performers have flaws! To conclude, I believe all dancers have the potential to be great performers. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. All dancers worked very hard to get where they are. Practice may not always lead to perfection in your performance routine, but dedication, resiliency and perseverance will definitely lead to positive results with time.
At the end, what really distinguishes a dancer from a performer (in line with the title of this blog)? When I was learning the technique of Samba-the cultural dance of Brazil that goes back many years ago-someone mentioned that technique only plays 40% importance in the actual dance, and 60% comes through the confidence and attitude of the dancer. Based on this, we can conclude that good performers do not necessarily need to be masters of technique, rather have the right spark on stage.
Please share your comments with us! What are your thoughts on what makes a good dance performer?
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