By: Susan Angell-Gonzalez(President/CEO ShowMakers of America / Former Texas State University Strutters Director/Choreographer
For dance team directors/choreographers preparing their team for competition, all kinds of factors come into play when shaping the total performance package. What does it take to make a lasting impression in the eyes of the judges? Being original and unique is a sure way to be remembered. I used to tell my students that there is no such thing as a perfect performance. It is not about the number of turns or the height of the leaps or kicks...it’s not about the costume or even the choreography. It’s about having an effect on the audience and being the best performers they can be. Dancers today are capable of more than ever in the way of turns, leaps and acrobatic skills. Nowhere is this more evident than at competitions, where it seems like the bar for technical excellence rises every year. Many people argue that we have gone too far, and competitors should not be so focused on double-digit pirouettes and aerials. Dance is an art form, and there must be ways to judge a performance that has to do more with quality than quantity.
Presenting the Total Package Combination
There are a lot of teams that can perform all the skills (technically) but lack entertainment value. In addition, there are the opposite with all personality and no technical skills. Winning teams will have to combine stage presence/showmanship, technique, precision, and difficulty level. Tricks/skills/stunts can be a gamble. When performed without technique, they simply highlight the limitations of the dancer. Too often we see technique compromised for the sake of the skill. The most successful dancers are the ones who bring it all together: an amazing dancer in a strong piece of choreography that includes some awe-inspiring technical boldness performed with exquisite artistry. Pushing through is dangerous if the foundation is not really there. Teams and soloists will lose points for attempting a trick/skill/stunt they can’t pull off. Always present choreography well within the technical ability of your dancers.
Be Different and “Trend-setting”
Following current trends (and doing it well), is a solid strategy, but intense new material is a reliable way to stand out. Try exploring styles of dance that you do not see much (something out of the ordinary). Example: adapt a jazz style to “funky jazz” or a military style to a “lyrical military” routine. Daring choices can also be an attention-getter, no matter what the style of dance is. Choreography that is “cutting edge” and innovative will be remembered but you have to make sure it is age-appropriate and not distasteful. In addition, finding original music for your routines rather than Top 40 hits or songs heard on “So You Think You Can Dance” is another way your team will stand out. Overused songs: If you hear it every time you turn on the radio, chances are the judges are already sick of it (and so is the audience!).
Consideration: Alternative Renditions of well-known songs are becoming very popular AND the re-mix can be something your audience will relate to.
Appearance can really affect competition outcomes. Judges always keep a watchful eye out for uniformity. Every performer should have the exact same hair, makeup, costume, and accessories. In addition, costumes should match the tone of the routine. Otherwise, it pulls the judges’ focus away from the performance and becomes an unnecessary distraction. Presentation should be one of the most important factors considered in the overall package… command of the floor with your perfect appearance!
In presenting your team as the total package, it is necessary to cultivate a balanced blend of choreography, execution and personality. Remember, the “Overall Impression” category is important on the score sheet, as it encompasses the feeling of the choreography, the dancers’ technique and their ability to connect with the audience. Dancers who either over-perform or don’t bring enough ruin the performance. Teach them to dance with purpose and intention
Think Outside Your Comfort Zone
Creativity and innovation can also assist in your team’s climb to the top. Explore artistic and creative movement while keeping strong technique as a base. Do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try a new “trend-setting” idea. WOW your audience with the “element of surprise”! Be different and experiment with a new approach to choreography that will be a “sure way” your routines will be memorable. Movement concepts for transitions, formations and unique styles of skills (yet to be seen) are all elements that will set your choreography apart from the rest along with unique prop concepts that actually enhance the piece. Choreographers can tap into any number of diverse performance styles when they step into the realm of the unexpected.
A performance can fall flat without the extraordinary quality of, “stage presence”. There is nothing worse than watching skilled dancers who are amazing but just lifeless in showmanship. On the other hand, one or two dancers always seem to stand out from the crowd. Along with top-notch technical ability, these performers radiate a “certain something” that makes them irresistible to watch. Stage presence, is a performer’s ability to project a sense of ease, poise and self-assurance (and it captivates audiences). Dancers with stage presence, project in such a way that they take the audience with them. They surprise the audience and they are not predictable. Tip: Have your students practice without the mirror to help them feel their performance rather than see it.
There are many times at contest where we see teams and individuals who try to execute too many turns without good form or musicality. And/or we see them attempt to execute skills that they don’t have the technique and strength to do properly. Judges might appreciate the routine, but they take technique and artistry into account when assessing the overall dancer and routine. Of course, it’s nice to do a lot of pirouettes and leap high, but if it is not technically sound, the skills and stunts mean nothing. In today’s world of instant gratification, it can be hard to make students and their families understand the value of consistent careful training. By establishing a good foundation first, you enable a dancer to then tackle the hardest of skills. But some teachers fear they will lose students if they take the time to break things down and focus on the details that make up good technique. For teachers, the trick is to establish a healthy and responsible path from the basics to outstanding dancer. Simple steps are building blocks for solid technique. And since more and more competitions are rewarding dancers and teams for beautifully executed performances, the results are helping to prove my point. As a teacher, it should encourage you to go back and refine your students’ technique rather than throwing them too much information at once. Quality is key to success.
The most successful teams are the ones who bring it all together, along with an amazing soloist in a strong piece of choreography that includes some awe-inspiring technical boldness performed with exquisite artistry. While there is not an exact science to taking home the top awards, knowing how judges think can make a big difference. It is really about discipline, hard work, motivation, positive attitude, and the confidence where everyone comes together (and works together) as a team. I’ll leave you with a motto that my former team (the Texas State University Strutters) lives by: “One Team, One Love” (and they were reminded of it every time they met for practice and when they departed from practice). Become an agent of change and give your goals and dreams a framework for success!
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