Monday, September 23, 2013

Is it Nutcracker time again?

Doesn't it seem like we just danced to Waltz of the Flowers?  No?  Seems like it to me!  A year has passed so swiftly....!

As lots of studios and schools tackle the annual winter show, whether it's Nutcracker or something else entirely, both dancers and choreographers struggle with the steps.  Teachers and choreographers usually have little time to teach the material to dancers, who in turn must be able to process and memorize in an instant.  More follows from week to week.  In the case of smaller schools with smaller bodies of dancers, there is the added pressure of multiple roles within a show.  Most dancers do not have the luxury of spending several months learning one piece and most choreographers do not have the luxury of a full-time cast.

It can be frustrating on both sides but I want to offer some tips to students and teachers at this time of the year, just to ease the tension that inevitably builds as you get closer to performance.

1. Attend technique classes regularly.  Stay on top of your pointe work, your pirouettes, your allegro.  This is not the time to skimp on classes.  Confidence comes from knowing you are technically in control.  Also, consistent class attendance gives you the opportunity to practice picking up choreography and learning spatial awareness for the stage.

2. Be focused during rehearsals.  When a section is being taught to another group, do not check your iPhone.  Do not chat with your friends.  Do not rest.  Pay attention to what is being taught because you may be asked to do it, repeat it, reverse it, etc.

3. Let go of the ego.  Some of the dancers in your group will be better than you, faster than you, pick things up more quickly than you.  Get over it.  You were chosen for the piece too.  You all have a reason for being there. But if you get yourself worked up over your skills or whatever, you will lose the thread of the choreography.  Instead, GET TO CLASS!

4. Be prepared. This means get your shoes and tights ordered in advance, homework done, schedule cleared.  If you know you cannot make a rehearsal, tell the choreographer well in advance!  Do not rely on a friend to tell him or her you won't be there.  Better yet: don't miss rehearsal.

5. Don't talk back in rehearsal.  Having a problem picking up a step? Work on it at home or in class.  Talk to the choreographer outside of rehearsal only when you absolutely cannot do something.  DO NOT challenge the choreographer during rehearsal.  It is rude and disrespectful- and time-consuming.  And it will guarantee you will be replaced.

1. Manage your expectations.  You will rarely, if ever, see your work performed exactly the way you imagine it in your head.  Get over it.  Do the best with what you have and understand that the essence of the piece, its meaning and subtext, can still be achieved even if the steps are not what you had in mind.

2. Simplify whenever possible.  While it's tempting to give dancers challenging material, if they are not pros, they may freeze up when they get on stage.

3. Encourage your dancers. Let them know when they are doing something well so they will not always hear negativity from you.  You want them to enjoy themselves in rehearsal so they will learn to project it on stage.

4. Videotape rehearsals and send to the dancers for between-rehearsal practice.  Not only does it give you a record of what you did from week to week, but it also can help them remember what they need to work on. Also, since they are in the middle of the piece, they may not understand how it all fits together. Looking at it on video gives them a wider perspective.

On Nichelle's Dance Advantage website, David Alonzo Jones writes about how he helps his students pick up choreography in class.  I think both dancers and teachers can benefit from reading this.  Thanks, Nichelle!

Happy dancing!  Happy Nutcracker~

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