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Taking the Stage

The final term of the school year usually means one thing for dancers: performance season!

Most of you (especially VyMy students) will be gearing up towards an end of year recital, production or sharing of work.

It can seem extremely daunting, knowing you have so much you need to remember. I have children talk to me about this a lot, asking how to be ready, what to do if they forget, etc.

So I decided to dust off my keyboard and write a blog post about preparing for the stage.

How Will I Learn It All?

Your body has so many different ways of storing information, and it's not just all in the brain. We also have something called Kinetic Memory, or Muscle Memory, which is where our bodies remember how to do things without needing to actively remind yourself. It's how we remember how to walk and breathe, it's how you remember where the keys are on the keyboard without needing to constantly look.

It's also how you dance.

The steps might seem a challenge now, but the more often you practise your combinations, the more your muscles will remember what to do. Before long, you can strut your stuff without even needing to think what comes next. Keep that in mind next time your teacher says "one more time" for the fifth time.

It's Not Just "What", It's "How"?

Knowing the steps is only part of the journey. Your teacher may have talked about character, expressiveness, attitude or dynamics. Our dances tell a story, and the combination is only half of it.

Martha Graham, the mother of modern dance, famously said, "Great dancers are not great because of their technique. They are great because of their passion."

Whilst it's important to remember your technique, it's also about how you dance. Is your character happy? Are they sad? Sassy? Angry?

If this isn't addressed in your sessions, then get the music and listen to it. How does it make you feel? Your teacher will have chosen it for a reason, and most likely they will want you to reflect the feeling of the music in your performance.

Taking your movement from robotic repetition of the steps to an emotive experience will take your performance one step further and show us all that passion for dance that takes you from "good" to "great".

That said... don't forget your technique. Get your feet in the right position, remember which moves are sharp and soft, keep that alignment correct!

How Do I Remember It?

Obviously the best way to make sure everything stays in your brain is to practise, practise, practise. Get a copy of the song(s) you're dancing to and run through the steps between classes. Unsurprisingly, it'll mean fewer recaps in class time if everyone does this. Which means your teacher can help you with the "how" as mentioned above.

For many people, there will be reasons why this isn't possible. Whether it's space or privacy, not everyone can practise at home. This is where Mental Rehearsal comes in. All you need for Mental Rehearsal is your own head- picture yourself doing the dance(s). It needs to be from your perspective, what you see and feel when you are dancing the routine(s). Studies have shown that, when you picture yourself doing movement, your brain fires the same signals to your muscles as it would if you were actually moving. This helps to program your Muscle Memory almost as well as physical practise does.

When In Doubt, Style It Out!

Now, hopefully, when you get to the day of your performance, you will not be in a position where you don't remember the dance. In fact, you might find that all that adrenaline kicks in and you know it better than you thought!

But nerves can happen, and you might draw a blank whilst you're onstage. It happens to all of us- even your dance teachers will have at least one story of performing and suddenly having no clue what comes next.

The important thing to remember, if this happens, is not to panic. The only people who know the choreography are you and your teacher- the audience won't know something has gone wrong unless you tell them. So keep that performance face on and just keep moving. Do a move from the dance that you do remember, until your brain catches up with you and everything comes back.

Similarly, if you are onstage as a group and someone in that group forgets what they're doing, you can help by moving into their line of vision and prompting them with your own steps. Again, it's important to keep the audience from seeing something has gone topsy-turvey so be as subtle as possible, which may just be dancing nearer to them until they catch up.

The Most Important Thing

I've given a lot of advice here, but there's one crucial thing I haven't mentioned.

And that is... have fun.

Being on stage can be scary, but it's also one of the best feelings in the world. You will step off that stage buzzing with energy and wanting to run back on to do it all again. Even if something doesn't go according to plan, your teacher will be beaming and your friends and family who came to see you will be so proud.

Not everyone can walk onto that stage and do what you did. Remember that and be proud of what you've achieved!

So to sum up: practise loads, relax and have fun!

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