With competition season well upon us, a kind reminder that it’s not the result, but the process of such performances that will enhance your experience.
by Josef Brown
Dancing in competitions and eisteddfods are important, but perhaps not for the reasons most students think. The winning is not that important.
What is important is the experience of being on stage, of getting the opportunity of performing for an audience. Like anything in dance, it takes many hours of persistent, conscientious practice to be good at. There’s a process and a technique to being on stage and part of that, like most things in life, can only be gained from the doing.
So whether you get a medal, a certificate or a trophy or not, please remember that is not the only, or even most important reason for being there.
The experience to help you develop your stage craft, to help you learn your personal process – what you need to do to prepare for being on stage – the experience of bonding with other dancers around you, creating a dance community and being able to get a better idea of where you are in terms of your technique; these are the most important reasons you’re there. And to have fun.
Regards an adjudicators notes to you; They are only one person with one voice. And while they’re judging on technique, it is not technique alone that determines a score and there is no mathematical equation for this; there is a subjective aspect. They have their personal preferences and biases towards certain types of movement, certain aesthetic styles and particular choreography. They likely work hard to see past their biases as much as possible, but they are there. Therefore take what they say and if it serves you, great; but if it doesn’t, don’t let it put you off. Continue to work hard and prove them wrong. And remember, that perhaps some of what they say will make more sense a year from now or even five years and yes, perhaps never. Because perhaps they are wrong. We all are wrong sometimes, no matter our experience and expertise.
Finally, people dance for all sorts of reasons and aspiring to have a dance career is just one. People dance simply because it feels good; because they love the social aspect, the friends, indeed the community they come to be part of. They dance for the dedication, focus and discipline of working on a craft. People dance because it heals them, or because it’s an escape, or because it’s where they find themselves. Or simply, because it’s fun. There’s no right way or right reason and often our motivation mixes, melds and changes over time. So enjoy your dancing, whatever it means to you, and remember we are all grateful that you’re sharing your dance with us.
What an adjudicator is looking for:
I was asked recently what I’m looking for as an adjudicator. Obviously I can’t speak for all adjudicators, but I know quite a few and I suspect most have a common approach after years of experience in the arts and entertainment industry.
First and foremost I’m wanting to be moved. While athletic ‘tricks’ have their place, I’m looking for connection. This is, physical and emotional connection to the music and movement. If you’re not connected then it’s unlikely that the audience will be. There are many great dancers that don’t have the best technique, but are beloved by audiences because they connect and make an audience feel and respond.
So commit to the choreography; listen deeply to your music and engage profoundly to the movement at every moment. If you believe in it, your adjudicator probably will.
Beyond that I’m looking for technical proficiency.
Technique is what moves us beyond our own idiosyncratic movement styles and allows us into a vocabulary that we can share in and join with others. It both helps us extend our own range of movement potential and allows us to be part of a group enjoying the experience of being bonded in something larger than ourselves. Much like language, your dance technique allows you to move past your own personal, though perhaps wonderful gibberish, to be able to communicate ideas and feelings with a wider world.
In general, technique allows for cleaner levels of articulation, so that our communication and expression doesn’t become muddied or mumbled when shared with others. This articulation is about finding the right balance between the energy we invest in each movement and our control of that energy. Too much emphasis on energy without technique and the movement gets thrown away and lost. Too much emphasis on technique without sufficient energy invested and our performance might look under-energised, flat and too safe. The correct balance for each movement and piece of choreography is something that needs to be personally explored and understood in conjunction with your choreographer, teacher and/or mentor.
Finally, whether you’re aware of it or not, dance is placing untypical forces and stresses on your body, ones not there during more functional daily activities. Technique helps stabilise our core and builds a strong musculoskeletal architecture from the feet upwards protecting us from injury over time.
Ultimately good technique should lead to being able to push our bodies and take risks, or at least make it look like as though we are, which makes it more exciting, engaging and surprising for an audience.
So get connected to your music. Listen to it over and over and know it inside out. Know your movement in the same way. In general – though not always as it depends on the choreographic adventure and interpretation – your dance should appear as natural as walking, as though it were something you do without conscious thought; flowing from you organically. But like walking, that only comes from sustained practice.
Above all, enjoy the journey of your dancing for when you do, you always win!