How to Become a Better Dancer
See how to get noticed at dance conventions, picked for main roles, selected on dance teams by becoming a better technician, leader, performer, and learner.
Here are 3 steps on how to become a better dancer:
- Step 1: Become an Excellent Technician
- Step 2: Becoming an Ideal Student!
- Step 3: Become an Exquisite Performer!
The answer is simple but not easy, in the quest to become a better dancer, there are a few areas that will need some attention to make good use of the information provided in this 4 part article. Each section of the ongoing article could be a short book. Four things make all dancers GREAT: they are great technicians meaning knowing your vocabulary, where it is derived, and how it is relevant today, secondly, they are great leaders, they influence others, especially as role models to the younger dancers in their studio. They may also have influence over their classmates or people in their communities, they are great performers, and they are great learners.
In this article, I’ll show you exactly how to improve as a dancer. If you follow those steps, you’ll improve and get better as a dancer. Here are the steps:
Part 1: Become an Excellent Technician
To become a better technician, some fundamentals exist. Fine-tuning these basics will help you stand out as a dancer. Becoming a better technician means knowing your vocabulary, where it is derived, and how it is relevant today. This is where the internet has a limited supply of sound information. In other words, if it is in print, it is “king” when it comes to vocabulary. Start with “The Classical Ballet Dictionary” by Gail Grant or “ The Jazz Dance Anthology” by Gus Giordano.
There will be more resources discussed in one of the follow-up articles, Become an excellent Learner! You will have to resort to books, and there are many in ballet and jazz and modern that carefully breakdown the movements for deeper understanding, and you must seek them out. In other words, until there is a Wiki Dance or Universal unbiased dance resource library website with credible authors with diverse backgrounds and worldly knowledge, books will be your best teacher. Knowing the names of steps in ballet, jazz, and modern and hip-hop and what combination of moves make up the steps leads to the next point of knowing mechanics.
Mechanics are everything it takes to make a movement happen or move through space. All the parts of a movement from the first tendu in fondu to begin a pique turn to the demi plie, degage, push off the second leg to elevate the body into the air, move through space and close the second leg behind in demi plie is a glissade. Knowing all the parts doesn’t mean only working the parts, be definitely working on the parts of the movement that are keeping you from pristine execution. That attention to the details will come in handy for the final point to becoming a better dancer: refine the fundamentals of movement for the structured class.
It is Not Popular but...
Every great athlete and performer knows the importance of a strong foundation. Look at the routines of the NBA All-Stars and Olympic athletes, from scripted meals to designed days, hour by hour, from start to finish to keep them at their best. Michael Phelps(the most decorated Olympian in history and Kia Greene (notorious bodybuilder) both attribute their success in their field to their attention to the basics. It is not popular now for a proclaimed advance dancer to take a lower level class to return to the essence of what made them advance.
All advanced dancers were once beginners, and the culmination of all the work leading up to becoming advanced/pre-professional happened prior to the label of the class or level.
Taking a lower level class to work on skills instead of only getting through the class because the complexity of each exercise allows for deeper concentration and more mastery! We all have to rinse and repeat every process that will keep us growing, internally, and externally, at our best. This is one-fourth of what it takes to become a better dancer, the follow-up articles will hold the other three parts that make up the whole formula that is needed to become the best dancer you can be!
Part 2: Becoming an Ideal Student in The Studio or Dance classroom
Another essential part of becoming a better dancer is improving your ability to learn faster, more efficiently, and more effectively.
This means you must become an ideal student in the studio or dance classroom. This is the easy part for most dancers to adapt and see instant results.
The best way to become an ideal student is to be completely involved with what is being taught in class.
Simply put, paying complete attention to the teacher without distractions. Practically speaking, this means learning the skills for their fundamental value. Refining the fundamentals is what gives every dancer, gymnast, and athlete a competitive edge. Consistently working on this skill, without your teachers' repeated reminders are what allows the dancers to see immediate results in every class.
This is a mature step of a dancer, but it is readily available to all dancers all the time. When you take ownership of what your teachers tell you to do, and you start applying right away, you will see your dancing change within the class.
The most significant difference between intermediate dancers and advanced dancers is how they take corrections and new information. Advanced dancers take action to apply the corrections right away. Those same dancers have the self-motivation and self-discipline to continue working on the corrections until they accomplish them.
On the contrary, intermediate dancers wait to work on the corrections until a later time. This delayed approach is not fun for the student or the teacher, so the ideal student avoids the frustration of delayed gratification and advances quickly. These "ideal" dancers do what is asked of them at the time it is requested. The teachers enjoy seeing the effort in the ownership of their success.
Another secret skill that successful dancers use is asking questions with their eyes before they use their mouths. If the ideal student uses their eyes to pay attention to the teacher's demonstration and explanation of the steps, they will advance over less skilled dancers every time.
Only use words to ask questions if your eyes continue to miss something you are trying to accomplish.
This means that the ideal student is present mentally as well as physically in each class. Concentration and focus on the mastery of the skills in class are secret tools that advanced and professional dancer drill with each class. Their minds do not wander away from the class. Professionals and advanced dancers do not need more class to get better, they get more out of the lessons they take!
An additional tool that successful dancer use is downtime. When an exercise has been taught, the "ideal" student is working on the exercise until the teacher is satisfied with the results. The ideal student goes into multiple groups until he/she has adequate knowledge of the material and then continues to work until they have perfected the skills and movement to the best of their ability.
The key: ideal students work energetically at getting the exercises correct until it is their best. They do not settle for just doing the exercise for the sake of getting through the exercise. Mediocre is not in an ideal dancer's vocabulary!
The "ideal" student exemplifies the approach that "good enough is never good enough." The "Ideal" student's persistence will outshine natural talent and flexibility every time. Ideal students do not take breaks in their classes, they work the class for all it is offering until they are fulfilled.
A fearless eagerness to get the steps and skills correct makes the ideal students rise to the front of the class. The "Ideal" students are entirely comfortable making mistakes.
Mistakes show that they made choices, and even if the choices are not the best at the time, the teacher can correct the choice if needed. Teachers can not correct students that do not make decisions in class. It is a waste of time.
Dancers that are afraid to make a wrong decision, definitely will not make a correct decision.
What I am trying to say is that you should do the exercise or the steps in their fullest range of motion, covering as much space as possible no matter what. If they are wrong, adjust to the correction and do it again, bigger, until it is consistently correct every time you attempt the movement. Most dancers don't do this part.
The "Ideal" dancers adjust how they learn, so they get it correct right away. Most dancers waste their time learning and perfecting a "mark" through. Even at 100% mark through, it is still wrong. An ideal dancer will not settle for a "mark," they learn it correctly and spend time enjoying the steps instead of using their time to learn multiple incorrect versions of the combination.
They have a high standard for how they present themselves. They are tuned into the details that add up to make a massive difference over time. Their neat hair and neat dress code, as well as being thoroughly prepared for class, all affect how they pay attention and work in class. Satisfied knowing the work they put in was their best, ideal students always stand out because of the high standards they demonstrate.
The most pleasing part for teachers is that the "ideal" students make us want to become better teachers! It is a two-way street, and both win.
Becoming a better dance is a four-part circle. The first is to become an excellent technician so that you master the information from every angle. The second part is to become an ideal student that can be referred to as an example to be patterned after.
Part 3 - Become an Exquisite Performer!
This is the 3rd part of a 4 part series on how to become a better dancer. Previously, the topics Become a Better Technician and Become a Better Learner have laid the groundwork for the first half of how to become a better dancer. Adding to the list is becoming so “good,” you can not be overlooked. Becoming a better dancer means becoming a better performer. Performing possesses the magnificent power of dance. It is what drives us to blossom in front of an audience. Using the body to express feelings, moods, and set tone on stage are the characteristics of an exquisite performer. Allowing expression to morph into its fullest potential is the hidden treasure held by every dancer.
There are several practical ways to improve performance quality: Be Present, Be Aware, Be Focused, Be Mature, Be Confident, Be Resourceful.
Having your mind and body completely undistracted while taking a class is obvious, but has become routine. Giving your mind and body what is needed to concentrate on is the solution. Eliminate distractions! The brain can not successfully fulfill two cognitive functions at the same time. It can focus on one piece of information or the other, but not both at the same time. Knowing this, dancers and teachers need to tolerate limited distractions in class/rehearsal. Clear objectives for time in class is a way for everyone to feel accomplished. A clear focus will allow the teachers to communicate and the dancers to reciprocate effectively and save time in the learning process.
This clarity will open up many more opportunities for dancers to excel.
Being prepared to accomplish the objectives for the class will take some pre-work by the teacher and the student, and the benefit will shine through at performance time. It will be easier to pick up the choreography, and the dancers will pick up choreography faster. More importantly, it will give the dancer more time to put your own style in the choreography. When observing a dancer’s level of performance does not match the level of expectation, evaluate the dancer’s learning process, and use more clarity in class to get a better result.
Being present means, the dancer has a sense of awareness. The idea of awareness is usually emphasized in meditation and yoga, but the principle is universal when moving the body through space. Physical awareness of the dancer in space and the relationship of the dancer to other dancers in space is crucial. The mental awareness is where some dancers fall short when attempting to hone performance skills. To improve mental awareness for the sake of becoming a better performer, dancers can make a note of sensations that are felt while doing choreography.
How do body parts feel when moving quickly or slowly as well as how the weight of the body feels on against the floor when shifting weight are two ways to become more mentally aware and give more foundation for communicating a feeling. Using all the senses is vital to becoming a first-place performer.
These can be simple cues given by the teacher while the choreography is being taught. If only steps are given without a base or meaning to stand on, trying to add them later will be more of a challenge. Teachers may have to spend a little more time on the front end of choreographing, but it will pay off when it comes time to show the work to an audience.
When focusing on clear direction in class/rehearsal, consider the genre. There are some forms of dance that innately make them easier to perform than others. Jazz dance, musical theatre, and hip-hop are all allowed for the dancer’s personality to come out right away from the beginning of class. The tone and mood of the music give the class an upbeat canvas to try. Jazz music and jazz dance have the most room for individuality and personal expression through the given steps. If the music has words, hip- hop and lyrical dance also give the dancers an opportunity for expression of the words that make up the lyrics to the song. Being in tune with the meaning of the lyrics will give dancers a solid foundation for how to express movement.
Think of literary analysis when listening to the lyrics of a song. Remember, the songwriter and the vocalist are artists themselves. The meaning of a song or the lyrics of the song in its entirety has to be considered when performing, not select verses. It is easy to encourage younger dancers to embody simple lyrics on stage. This innocent search for different ways to communicate on stage is vital for a well-rounded performer. The ages of 6-10 years old are the best ages for dancers to delve into better performing skills.
Starting, younger dancers with lively musical theatre dances is excellent. Musical theatre dance has a few parameters because the music is used to help tell the story of the musical, and freedom is not as broad and interpretive. Adding lyrical to the list of styles of jazz would be an advancement to a dancer’s arsenal. The movement quality in lyrical really feeds from the dancer’s technique. Weak technique showcases a dancer’s shortcomings and steals the desired impact.
Maturity in dance is similar to maturity in nature. Both take time, experience, growth, and development, but unlike natural, maturity in dance is not linked to age. Like the wide variety of sizes and body shapes in the world, a four-year-old in America is not the same as a four year in another country. Teachers educating students and parents on this process can prevent confusion and frustration along the dancer’s journey.
Performing skills take practice the same as technical skills. As dancers develop their maturing with time and various experiences, the eloquent performer evolves. Mature dancers have a well-founded understanding of their senses and how those senses affect the brain. It takes a keen ear to listen to the words and a mature understanding of what the songwriter is trying to communicate to show a connection with the music.
In addition, it takes a keen eye to pick up details in the choreography while it is being taught. Efficient learning is a true demonstration of a mature dancer. The practice of these skills is only sharpened by doing them. There is no shortcut to being a great performer; it is only developed over time with proper repetition.
Through the consistent practice of being present, being aware, being focused, and being mature, a dancer’s confidence grows. Confidence is the supreme badge of honor in performance. Confidence on stage, confidence in class, and confidence in rehearsal are never overrated. Knowing what you know opens a wide opportunity to explore various ways to communicate with, you know.
The faster the dancer is comfortable with the steps, the faster the steps will look more natural on their bodies. The faster the steps look more natural, the easier they are to recall. The easier they are to recall, the less stressful the choreography becomes. Once the choreography is not stressful for the brain to remember, the door is open for personality to come through. This is where the “rubber meets the road” in dance. This is where performance quality and technical ability have to become equals. Technique is the foundation on which performance quality is built.
Akin to the foundation of a house, the walls depend on the foundation for support to stand. If the foundation of a house is weak, the walls will eventually fall. In the same, strong technique is the foundation that supports strong performance quality.
A dancer is in class many more times than he/she may be on stage, so waiting until stage to work on performance skills does not set the dancer on a path for improved performance quality. Class is when to do it! Dancers are in class 30-36 weeks out of a year and in classes more than three times a week. With a simple application of the performance building skills, a dancer has almost 100 times to improve his/her performance. This gives the dancer control over the speed of developing better performance quality.
Teachers would rather reel a dancer in for performing too much too big than to work to pull out the smallest smile.
Take the chance!
Fellow dancers know how it feels to see confident performing, even non-dancers can tell when a dancer is “into it” on stage. With consistent practice, all the performing skills can grow and improve.