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Entry 11 - P Is For.....


Performance…. This has been at the forefront of my brain for obvious reasons for the last few months as I’ve been busy in one of my other happy places - on stage, performing. 

Granted, yes this is my chosen profession and I am sometimes paid to “perform” but for the most part paid or not it’s what I love to do more than anything in the entire world. It’s my escapism. 

One of the biggest compliments I get as a dancer is not about my ability or my technique (although I like to think they are good!) but much more often my performance. For a long time, I found this almost insulting.  What was wrong with my dancing that they couldn’t comment on that instead? Did it make me a bad dancer?

And then I started to teach. 

Over the years I have realised that you can work with some of the most talented dancers in the world, their technique can be outstanding but if they can’t perform then I’m still left cold and wondering if in some way I have failed them.  I can watch someone who is technically perfect but be left completely unmoved if the performance doesn’t match the ability.

So, as dance teachers can we teach performance? Well, the arts industry has course upon course, degree upon degree to say that you can teach acting… but is acting performance? And what about “dance” acting – is that even a thing? I often choreograph facial expressions to help my younger students look like they are performing, I can tell adults to smile but something about this will always seem wrong.

During one of my recent performances whilst on the floor I started to think about what I do to perform, what do I do that’s more than simply the steps and a smile? On stage theatrically I can become a character, give them a backstory and stick to it so even if I’m simply in the background I can be that character. Maybe she’s loud and brash, maybe she’s quiet, maybe she walks with a swagger… I can be anyone I want to be… but how do I connect that with a waltz or a cha cha?

Then someone hit the nail on the head… Someone, after seeing me dance for the first time said to me “Emma you act when you dance” I said: “how so?” and they said “you light up”. And there it was…. “You Light Up …. The most important thing anyone has said to me in a long time.

We light up when we are happy, never when we are sombre. We light up when we are excited and mostly we light up when we are in a state of complete and utter joy. That’s how I dance, that’s how I perform... I simply enjoy what I’m doing.

We can practice technique forever, we can learn steps forever like we're trying to reach a holy grail… but whether you are doing a basic waltz or a Strictly showcase, if you enjoy it and show it in your face then you will out-perform anyone in the room.

I often worry about students/dancer friends who I watch get more and more stressed when they dance, whose quest for perfection or fear of looking silly or out of place is so great they look miserable and I have to console myself that on some level they must enjoy it. How can you enjoy something if it doesn’t make you happy.

So as a teacher and dancer I urge you to think about this. P may be for practice, it may be for perfection, it may be for passion... but if you simply embrace what you love, let yourself go to the freedom of dance, laugh, smile and LOVE each and every moment the way you want to, then P will always be for performance and you will definitely dance better for it.

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