|Photo: Maharet Hughes/Graphic Vibe LA|
Great stage presence is one of the most compelling qualities a dancer can possess, but it’s also one of the most esoteric. Stage presence has been described variously as “star power” “charisma”, “it”, “animal magnetism” and even “the X factor”- hence the name of the popular television show. It has nothing to do with looks, or being sexy…although both of those qualities certainly help! Stage presence is something that emanates from inside.
A dancer who is a superlative technician but who lacks “that certain something” will almost never be able to hold a handle to a performer with competent skills, but with that extra captivating appeal… the kind that means the audience can’t take their eyes off you. Many people believe that only a few very lucky people are born with presence. In real life that may be in a small part true, but for work on stage stage presence is learned skill, a technique that can be developed by anybody!
As with the learning curve for any skill, developing great stage presence will take some time and effort. You might want to take an acting workshop or a few classes, but there are also plenty of things you can do during your home practice to start honing your stage presence, too.
Start With The Basics And Give Yourself Permission To Play
Whether you are in class or practicing on your own, remember that stage presence is a learned technique- so put that concept into action immediately. As you drill your technique, experiment with different emotions in both your facial expressions and in bodily gestures. This way, your brain will be working twice as hard, processing what you are doing physically and emotionally. Like any sort of muscle memory, after a while, your attitudes and expressiveness will become second nature. Work up an entire repertoire of different emotions, and be fearless in expressing them!
Believe In Yourself
Remember when you were a child? You weren’t self-conscious when you were at play; you gave it your all, not caring who was watching! You became completely absorbed in what you were doing within the realm of your own imagination. You really thought that your teddy bear was a sparkling and witty conversationalist! That’s the level of imagination and “what if” commitment that you need to develop for your stage work. Remember, if you don’t believe what you are doing, the audience won’t, either. Be fearless!
Musicality is another somewhat mysterious attribute- but it’s also a very necessary part of a dancer’s stage presence. Musicality is basically feeling-and illustrating- the music; but it’s also emotional. It means feeling not just the beats, rhythms and phrases of a piece of music, but also having regard for nuanced pauses, smaller lyrical embellishments, and the feeling of the music in general. Try listening to music while you are sitting down, and breath along with it… you’ll begin to really clearly “see” where the pauses, crescendos and slower parts all fit together. Close your eyes and let yourself really see where the music takes you emotionally.
Try A New Approach
If you are used to doing choreography a certain way, take a different perspective. If you’ve been focusing mainly on movement, run the piece focusing on facial expressions only. Try it again, only this time, concern yourself with adding expression and intent to your arm work. If you’ve been dancing this piece in a holding back a little, dance it full blown; if you’ve been performing athletically, try dancing in a more restrained approach. This work in opposites, as well as concentrating on different aspects of your dance can make it newer, fresher and more audience accessible in the long run.
Remember, dancing is a living, breathing art…and while we should be taking dancing seriously, we don’t need to always take ourselves seriously! Relax; let your intuition take over, and have a great time doing something you love!
Princess Farhana is teaching her “Drama Queen Performance Intensive on Thursday, March 20, 2014 at Art Of The Belly in Ocean City, Maryland. Info here:
“The Belly Dance Handbook: A Companion For The Serious Dancer” by Princess Farhana is available on Amazon: