In dance, your words are your movements. However, it can be very difficult for young performers to tell a story without words. Regardless of whether students come to me with exceptional dance training or not, it’s the acting of the piece—not the choreography—that always presents the biggest challenge.
I see this all the time at auditions. The young performers who book the jobs are the ones who bring much more than proper technique; they communicate the story through their bodies as if they were telling the story with words. Here are some tips to dance your way into booking your next job:
1. Train with improvisation. Improvisation is the perfect training ground to communicate without words. And it is not just for acting class. Kids love it, so my advice is to practice in the checkout line (especially when it’s long), on interminable car trips, and anytime when boredom is about to turn into crankiness. The skills they learn will be the bridge that joins movement for acting with movement for dance.
2. Understand the piece. Before lacing up your tap shoes, learn the story behind the dance. What is the choreographer trying to communicate and how does the movement tell that story? Many, if not most, young performers overlook this critical part and instead go directly on to mastering the dance routine. The expression in your dance will immediately improve if you avoid this common mistake.
3. How does dance move the story along? Janine Molinari, choreographer and founder of Dance Molinari, tells her students, “Dance is often integrated into the performance, as it can advance the plot and character in the same way that singing a song advances the story.” With this type of understanding, dance communicates something honest and specific, and it turns movement into meaning.
4. Show it on your face. My mama always said, “Don’t forget to smile.” When performers bring understanding to the routine, it’s not just a plain old smile; it’s connection and expression that shows on their faces. When joyful dances are accompanied by the same big grin I see on a water slide at a Disney park, I know my students are getting it.
We all know that it is important for actors to move well. What young performers also need to know is that it is equally important for dancers to act well. Know more than the dance steps; know what you are trying to say with the movements you are making. It will make your dance performances stand out at auditions and in every job you book!
Master your craft, empower yourself, enjoy the journey.