Performance time is always exciting and nerve wracking, especially when its you're own work you're presenting.
Over the coming days I want to look at tips for getting prepared and ready to dance your best in your solo season.
Tip 1. Know your stuff.
There's nothing like that moment when you forget your dance and your body just takes over.
After all the work you have put in choreographing your solos, you want to make sure you perform them at their absolute best on your exam day. What are the best techniques used by professional dancers that you can apply in these last weeks leading up to the big day?
So you've choreographed each movement and phrase ensuring your use of vocabulary and elements of movement or spatial organisation are innovative and expressive. You've arranged the work so phrases flow, you've highlighted phrases and contrasting sections. Now you want to perform with consistency, artistry and clarity for the assessors. In an article by Diane Solway for the New York times "How the body (and mind) learns a dance", Daniel Glaser, a neuroscientist discusses how dancers achieve muscle memory. Muscle memory is when movements become "thoroughly mapped in the brain, creating a shorthand between thinking and doing'.
To build body memory, dancers must first 'get the dance into their bodies'. That's the process where you sketch out or mark phrases, sections and the dance as a whole gradually adding details such as eyelines or energy qualities that help you to connect to the different rhythms and story of your choreography.
Apparently no two dancers "chunk" the same way according to Karen Bradley, a movement analyst who directs the graduate dance program at the University of Maryland. 'Some do it rhythmically, some consider spatial configurations, some think about weight shifts, some rely on imagery and some follow an inner monologue'. Its worth thinking about how you chunk your movements and phrases together.
Repetition is your friend. Going over and over your solo in dedicated rehearsal sessions is the next step in building strong body memory. Make sure each transition allows you to connect your phrases logically and expressively in a way that makes sense to your body when you are rehearsing for repetition. Repeating each section separately is necessary with your link into the first phrase of the new section. This will make sure you have continuous body memory with no gaps. When you can perform your solo non-stop, it's in your body. However this does not mean its performance ready.
This is not a state all dancers achieve every time, have you watched someone perform when they are still in the rehearsal period? Can you tell when the dancer is still thinking about where to place their leg or where to direct their focus? How many hours or rehearsal sessions do you need to ensure you have moved to the point where the movement is automatic and you can focus on expressing the emotions and details in your performance?
When you have achieved full body memory you will be able to immerse yourself in your solo. Even if you experience a moment of fear your brain and body pathways will be strong enough that your phrases and transitions will unfold naturally, allowing you to connect your intention skilfully with the audience. So hit the studios as much as you can these holidays and get "chunking"! :)