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.