How To Improve Your Artistry When You're In the Ensemble

Students from Dance Institute in Austin, TX. Evolve Photo & Video

When you're dancing in an ensemble, it can be easy to feel like a cog in the machine. Instead of lamenting your lack of spotlight, look for ways to embrace being part of something larger. Over your dance career, you'll likely spend far more time performing with others than flying solo. Group work doesn't only teach you skills like timing and spatial awareness—it can also build your artistry.


Learn The Whole Story

When a choreographer's vision involves a lot of dancers, work to understand not only your specific role but also the big picture. "If you were in a story ballet, you'd read the plot of every act," says Philip Neal, artistic director of Next Generation Ballet in Tampa, Florida. "The same goes for contemporary work: How do you fit into the whole? Don't just know your part—know everyone's part." When you're on the sidelines during rehearsals, watch the sections you're not in.

Autumn Steed and Darius Hickman from Next Generation Ballet. Photos by Soho Images, courtesy NGB

Show Your Feelings

Being one of many dancers onstage doesn't mean you aren't being seen, or that your personal expression doesn't matter. Neal says he often spends the last few rehearsals tweaking dancers' eyes and heads. But if your choreographer doesn't give you explicit instructions regarding focus and facial expressions, it may be up to you to find what feels right.

Ashley Shaw, an instructor at Dance Institute in Austin, Texas, recommends this exercise: "I'll put on the song and have the kids sit in front of the mirror and stare into their own eyes, to see what their face is doing as they think about certain lyrics or moments. It's uncomfortable," she says, "but it can make it easier to trust the other dancers and be vulnerable."

Share One Voice

Imagine that instead of dancing, your group is speaking to the audience. "If everyone's shouting over each other, the point won't get across," says Shaw. Modulating your "volume" can ensure that the message gets heard. Avoid fighting to stand out when you're meant to blend. If you're given a featured moment, that'syour time to shout.

It can help to talk, as a group, about what the piece means to each person. "Everyone can listen to the same song and take away something different," Shaw says. "Sometimes you have to narrow down those ideas, so you're all on the same page."

Leap! Executive Director Drew Vamosi (Courtesy Leap!)

Since its inaugural season in 2012, Leap! National Dance Competition has been all about the little things.

"I wanted to have a 'boutique' competition. One where we went out to only one city every weekend, so I could be there myself, and we could really get to know the teachers and watch their kids progress from year to year," says Leap! executive director Drew Vamosi. According to Vamosi, thoughtful details make all the difference, especially during a global pandemic that's thrown many dancers' typical comp-season schedules for a loop. That's why Leap! prides itself on features like its professional-quality set design, as well as its one-of-a-kind leaping competition, where dancers can show off their best tricks for special cash and merchandise prizes.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Getty Images

The term "body shaming" might bring up memories of that instructor from your own training who made critical remarks about—or even poked and prodded—dancers' bodies.

Thankfully, we're (mostly) past the days when authority figures felt free to openly mock a dancer's appearance. But body shaming remains a toxic presence in the studio, says Dr. Nadine Kaslow, psychologist for Atlanta Ballet: "It's just more hidden and more subtle." Here's how to make sure your teaching isn't part of the problem.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Courtesy Russell

Gregg Russell, an Emmy-nominated choreographer known for his passionate and energetic teaching, passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, November 22, at the age of 48.

While perhaps most revered as a master tap instructor and performer, Russell also frequently taught hip-hop and musical theater classes, showcasing a versatility that secured him a successful career onstage and in film and television, both nationally and abroad.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.