Saturday, September 3, 2011

What Makes Dancers Good: Tension (and Release)

In this series, I'll be discussing different aspects of dance that I think "good" dancers have or do. Please note that these are my opinions and I am in no way trying to force my ideas on you, and that I'm not an expert, so I'm just sharing my thoughts as another dancer who's noticed things. See my first three posts on "Soft Power" , Breathing, and Relaxing. Thanks!

I was at an audition a few nights ago and started watching what other dancers were doing, what dynamics they used to perform each combination. And what I really started to realize by the time we got to the contemporary combination was that many dancers didn't have dynamics. Of course, there were rises and falls, ins and outs, ups and downs, but they stagnated in the way they held tension. Either they were really tense the whole time or too relaxed. And no matter how beautiful their movements were or how fast they were moving (some of it was truly amazing), it was kind of boring.

I realized by the time that I got to the third (and final) combination of the night that I was really tense. I was trying and thinking too hard. The harder I thought, the harder I gripped my muscles and tried to push through things and hit them as hard as I could. Not good, considering the combination was fast, hard hitting, and intense. I was getting tired fast and I couldn't do the movements fast or clean enough. When I finally realized that I had to relax and only tense the muscles that needed to be tensed, it seemed so simple (but it was also almost time for me to go on). When I finally performed it, it came a lot more naturally (not completely perfectly though).

I watched other dancers power through the whole piece with the same level of tension throughout. Some of them managed to hit every single movement harder than I possibly could, and some of them just looked incredibly tense and awkward. Honestly, there was nothing wrong with the dancers that could power through the entire piece. Their dancing was beautiful and amazing. Yet, they weren't the ones that I wanted to watch for more than ten seconds. I wanted to watch the people who were able to tense one arm to whip it around, but stay fluid in the torso and hips so as to make the next move that much more crisp. Is that making sense?

I guess the moral of the story is to have dynamics. Don't dance every movement with the same level of fluidity or rigidity - vary it a little. Linger on that juicy arm swing and power through that tilt kick (but control the leg on the way down!). Challenge yourself to create different dynamics each time you perform the piece (maybe power through the arm swing and linger on the tilt kick? It could make you stand out from the rest). It makes dancing much more interesting that way, for both the audience and the dancer.

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