Category : Performance

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Mental Preparation, Performance
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Stage presence – how to get noticed by the judges

It’s a story we hear over and over again – a dancer who is flawless in class, unbeatable in class, fantastic at home. Then they get on stage and the judge barely notices them. You can have all the talent and skill in the world, but if you can’t sell it then no one will want to buy. Standing out, whether in competition, an audition, or in a show, is all about stage presence. Are you born with stage presence, or is it something you can be taught?

What is stage presence?

According to six-time world champion and Riverdance cast member John Lonergan, it’s “that little ‘something’ that someone has to make your eye draw towards them. That little glimmer of extra confidence and a poise about them.” Natasia Petracic, lead dancer of Riverdance, adds, “It’s all about confidence within yourself. If you are passionate about what you are doing it will shine through”. So confidence, poise, and passion. What happens if you’re not confident or poised?

Can stage presence be taught?

“It can and it can’t,” says Lonergan. “Having it naturally obviously is a great help, but it can be taught with the right direction. If you’re told what to do and watch others around you, you pick up on little details that they do that make them stand out.” Petracic echoes this, saying, “It can be taught through experience. Take every moment for what it is and build from that”. She goes on to explain, “Not every performance will be the same, so learn to adapt and evolve within the performance. Eventually something will click and you will find that happy place every time you step on the stage.”

If you’re not naturally blessed with stage presence, the first step is to watch some competitions or a stage show, and see who your eye is naturally drawn to. What is it about them that makes you want to watch them? Observe the little things – how they smile, how they hold their head, whether their chin is up or down, how they walk on stage. See what works for them and adapt it for yourself. And if you don’t feel confident, fake it until you make it. This is where feis experience comes in – the more you do your dances onstage, the more confident you’ll be. Meagan McGough, TCRG and Director of the McGough Academy, notes that gaining experience is essential, “We encourage our dancers to attend as many feisanna and International majors as they can, as we believe practice makes perfect!”

How do you practise stage presence?

Beyond attending feisanna, what else can you do to gain stage presence skills? For Ciara Sexton, five-time world champion, leading show dancer and Choreography Director at McGough Academy, it’s all about allowing space in the choreography for stage presence to shine. “We make sure our dancers visit every judge during their routines, and that their special show stopper pieces within the steps are executed to their full potential. When our dancers are training in class, we focus on their direction and map out a floor plan for each of their dances. Our choreography is specific to stage direction. We often say ‘photo finish’ to really reiterate the emotion, hold and poise we need to get from them in their routines!” Lonergan emphasises this, saying, “You have to map out exactly the way you’re going to perform in order for it to be successful. Obviously with experience comes the ability to improvise but to begin with it’s important to have a routine and stick to it, until you’ve grown enough in yourself and in confidence to be able to change things up a bit.”

Essentially, it’s the same as practising for a drama performance, where you would practise your stage direction, your lines, your actions, and your facial expressions. You should practise your steps, practise how you move across the stage, and what you will convey with your facial movements and posture. Specifically, Lonergan points out, “I think it’s very important (more so in shows) to practice your facial expressions and how your body reads to the audience. Obviously if you’re tense and have a strained look on your face, that won’t read well to the audience and will make you appear quite ‘cold’. A very natural look of a pleasant smile, relaxed yet rolled back shoulders conveying a strong upper body, gives an impression of enjoyment in what you’re dancing.”

Petracic sums it up best, with the reminder that “Ultimately you are on stage for a reason; make them remember you.”

Do you practise your stage presence at home or in class? For dancers who don’t feel confident in their stage presence, what would you recommend they work on? Leave a comment below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Image courtesy of Milton Baar, Media Images
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irish dancing show
Performance
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So you want to be in an Irish dancing show…

It’s a great time to be an Irish dancer with professional aspirations. There are many opportunities for dancers to go into shows, with multiple companies touring the world and employing dancers who are living out their dreams. But is being in a show right for you? What kind of dancer is suited to being in a show, and all the rigours that come with it. Do shows only accept world champions? How do you even get an audition?

Tour life

According to Breandán De Gallaí, the most important trait for a show dancer is being a team player. De Gallaí, who has spent years involved in professional shows, including seven years as the lead in Riverdance, Riverdance Dance Director, creator and choreographer of many works including Noċtú and Rite of Spring, and presenter for TG4 and RTÉ, explains “Once in a show it is important to be a team-player. I often noticed that dancers I was auditioning were so eager to be selected that when they eventually made the cut they were simply euphoric. Yet when I would visit the show a few weeks into their contract they had become moaning menaces, whinging about how many numbers they had been rotated onto on a given evening. What happened to the delight to be selected? Contracts are relatively short and there is no guarantee that they will be renewed. Having a good attitude and maintaining a sense that you’re one of the fortunate ones is crucial if you want to stay in the company.”

Along with being a team player, looking after yourself physically is a crucial aspect of surviving in a show. On this, de Gallaí says, “Although injuries are inevitable, a dancer who is seemingly delicate, constantly complaining, regularly looking for shows or numbers off, is of little use to a company. The people who run commercial shows are business men and women and can be ruthless when it comes to selecting dancers. Once on the road, one must maintain a professional disposition, looking after themselves and preparing properly for each and every show.” It’s important to note that ‘competition fit’ and ‘show fit’ are two very different things, and dancers need a different type of fitness for the day-to-day strains of a touring show.

Auditioning

If tour life is something that you want to be involved in, the first step is auditioning. De Gallaí points out that the show website should be your first point of contact, as most sites have a page with audition information. If there is not, he advises, “send an email to the show office with a 1-pager CV/Résumé, a head shot, and a full length photo stating that you are interested in auditioning.” You may be asked for videos of your dancing. His advice is to film them as professionally as possible, and even most phone cameras can shoot something of excellent quality. When it comes to sharing the video, “Post them on YouTube/Vimeo so that you can send the link. The easier you make it for the decision maker, the more likely you will make a positive impression. Don’t try any fancy stuff with the editing. I just wanted to see the dancer dancing. Clever edits were annoying and often badly done (pictures not in sync with sound for example). I always suggested that the entire dancer be in the frame at all times.”

When de Gallaí was casting for Riverdance, he was looking for, “A dancer with good technique and in good athletic shape. If the dancer had bad posture it was a major disadvantage.” While looking at audition tapes and dancers in person, “I was not swayed by an overly confident/cocky performance. When I was deciding between my preferred top few dancers I couldn’t help being impressed by difficult, interesting material. That said, dancers doing material that was beyond their ability would have been better of doing something solid and less complicated. I guess I’m saying that an auditionee should be certain that they can pull off what they are doing.” It’s important to put your best foot forward in audition tapes, showing a range of skills in both soft and hard shoe.

Social Media

While it’s important to have a professional, polished video ready to go on YouTube or Vimeo, what about all the other social media channels? Does a strong social profile play a part in show selection? According to Jason Oremus, Creative Director of Hammerstep and the upcoming show Indigo Grey, “Connecting and networking with talented dancers all across the US and internationally has been made a lot quicker and easier by the web. The exposure for dancers has also increased.” Sometimes that exposure is not the kind that you want though – remember that you are auditioning for a professional paid job and you will represent the company, so be mindful of what is posted publicly on social media.

Do 15 second clips on Instagram have an impact on getting seen or getting an audition? Oremus explains, “It is handy to initially scout for dancers and spread the word regarding auditions and training sessions, but it does not necessarily reflect the quality of a dancer – often a social media profile is just a show of popularity. Talent is not often reflected, so it is important to not make a social profile the most important quality when looking for quality dancers and performers. The most important thing for us to bring dancers in with skill, versatility and the passion to be a part of the team.”

At the end of the day, tour life is fun, challenging, and an amazing opportunity. The final word from de Gallaí is this, “It is important to be able to enjoy yourself. A company is like a family and everyone should make an effort to include themselves in the entire life of the company.”

Image credit: Tim Reilly
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Performance
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Delight your audience this St Patrick’s Day

It’s that time again! St. Patrick’s season is coming, which means dance outs, parades, dance outs, and more dance outs. One of the great joys of Irish dancing is getting to share your talent and passion with an appreciative audience, and there is no date more fun for an Irish dancer than March 17th (and the surrounding weeks). Whether you’re doing a 20 minute set at the annual city ball, or doing a treble reel at the local nursing home, there are a few things that can elevate a good performance to a great performance. Below, the best advice from the professionals.

Uh oh…

You turn up to the venue and it’s an uneven floor with a pole in the middle. Don’t stress. Caitlin Ehrich, TCRG and principal dancer with Eireann – A Taste of Ireland, has experienced every kind of venue possible. “Often we turn up to an event that has been organised by somebody who has no idea about dancers’ requirements, let alone an appropriate floor for Irish dancing. To be on the safe side, we always bring with us a small piece of chipboard flooring made of light wood. These come very cheap from the hardware store. We put small felt stoppers on the bottom so that the board doesn’t move while we dance. These boards are small enough and very light weight so that the dancers can carry them around. They only need to be large enough for a dancer to do treble reel steps on.”

Garrett Coleman, two time world champion and director of Hammerstep, points out that “a good performer can adapt choreography and content to any venue. If the floor is slippery or the stage is small, try to stick to heavy percussion on the spot rather than choreography that relies heavily on movement around the floor. And make sure to use duct tape on your shoes!” Ehrich adds, “When choreographing for an event that you predict may not have ideal facilities and space, try to limit the movement in the steps. Create the effect in the rhythms and accompany this with arm movements as opposed to formation, as it will reduce the chance of anyone having a slip.”

One of the best ways to make sure a show goes smoothly is coming prepared and travelling light. “Always prepare yourself as much as you can prior to arriving at the venue as there may be limited changing facilities, mirrors and dressing room space. Bring with you to the venue only the things that you need for this exact performance as excess items may become a nuisance,” says Ehrich. This means hair is done, makeup is on, and you’re wearing as much of your costume as you can.

Pump up the jam

Music selection is crucial for performances, and can be the difference between people enjoying the show, and people rocking out and clapping along. Ehrich points out “Always start and finish your performance with a high energy track to grab the audience’s attention and to end on a high leaving the audience excited and wanting more.”

According to Ehrich, “Audiences love music that they recognise. Likeable and familiar tunes such as the traditional tune ‘Lord of the Dance’, that is used as a basis for the internationally acclaimed show Lord Of The Dance, will always go down a treat. We have also found that audiences love anything that they can join in on and feel part of the performance. One of the all time great performance tunes is ‘Whiskey in the Jar’. Many audiences know where to clap along and even know some of the lyrics. Using a track like this is a great opportunity to get the crowd involved.” Coleman adds, “For St. Patrick’s Day shows, ‘Shipping Off to Boston’ by Dropkick Murphys is guaranteed to get people on their feet!”

Handy hint: If your music is on an iPod or smart phone, make sure someone is carrying a charger in case of a flat battery emergency, and keep a backup CD just in case! You never know what kind of technology you’ll encounter, so be like a Boy Scout – always prepared!

Shine on

So what’s the secret to a great show? Coleman says, “Getting the audience involved is key! If the audience feels included then they give you energy back in return, and the performance can be pushed to new heights.” Ehrich adds, “The number one most important element in putting on a successful show, no matter the size or scale, is performance and passion. You have to believe in what you do – the audience can sense this and this is where their enthusiasm comes from. You need to engage with your audience and share this passion. Show personality and enjoyment in your performance, and if you are enjoying yourself, the audience will too. Overall performance is of utmost importance. Confident posture, facial expression, high energy and enthusiasm will get any crowd going.”

What’s your secret to a great show? Do you have a particular track or routine that never fails to get the crowd on their feet? Share below, or join the discussion on Facebook

Eireann – A Taste of Ireland has upcoming tour dates in Australia, visit their website or Facebook page for more details

Hammerstep are currently running a Kickstarter campaign for their new full scale production Indigo Grey – check out the project, or visit their Facebook page for upcoming shows and workshops

Image courtesy of Caitlin Ehrich, Eireann – A Taste of Ireland
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