We all want opportunities. They’re what take us from where we are now to where we want to be next. Opportunities to shine, grow, experience and be a part of something more. In dance, we come to think of them as looking like auditions, master classes with choreographers we want to work with, the chance to be in dance pieces, perform etc.
The problem is that we’re so very practiced in our thinking that opportunities look a certain way.
The truth is that this thinking means we’re missing them all the time.
In a nutshell: if we’re constantly expecting an opportunity to be sign-posted and labeled so that we recognize it, then we’re only prepared for the obvious big ones (or those that we think are big). The majority are hiding in plain sight. Those that we might overlook. Those that, as some have figured out, make a massive difference.
We all like to think we’ll be ready for an opportunity, ready when it counts. Keeping it real - it always counts. So, beyond treating every (big or small) performance, class and rehearsal with the same respect and investment…
Say what you mean, mean what you say
Or risk sending the wrong message.
Although we have a lot to say outside of the dance space and offstage, being a dancer is essentially a non-verbal thing. Since we have to express so much without speaking, we become masters at the art of communicating without opening our mouths, sending energy and emotion that reaches far beyond our bodies. The thing with being really good at this is – dancers tend to forget that we are telling people all the time who we really are, whether we realize it or not!! Translate this into – your body language is sending a loud message to the other dancers in the space, the choreographer, the production people and anyone else who happens to be watching. I’ve seen this trip dancers up and send a false impression.
Your energy introduces you before you speak
When a choreographer is looking for someone to be a part of their work, they need more than great shapes and facility. They need a package of dance skills plus professionalism, openness, etiquette, great energy and more. They often don’t have time for an in-depth interview with each dancer. They read the room, scanning for people – and they’re usually not going to select the dancer who appears to have an attitude problem, seems uninvested, uninterested or tuned out.
So, if your energy introduces you before you even speak, it makes sense to think about the message you want to send to anyone who is listening – and choose to send it on purpose.
There’s no such thing as TRANSITIONS.
Now wait. Before you jump in to argue this point, I do have a point to make. I don’t like the word transition because using it has meant we think of these moments as lesser, as joining steps, preparation, traveling or movement between ‘real’ dance moments. Actually they’re as major as every other moment because it’s all dance and the audience doesn’t close their eyes during transitions. They’re expecting you to be equally as present in those as any other moment. The dancers who really get this are those that keep you on the edge of your seat for every single second of their performances. They get that dance is more than your best tricks, turns, leg lines and leaps and it’s always an opportunity to connect, carry the vibe, make every moment mean something. Let’s face it – if you only get 2 minutes onstage then you want to make every second count. So give them – these connective opportunities (aka transitions) - your attention and some intention too.
Get comfortable relating to the people who are a part of the dance experience
Back to this non-verbal thing again. We spend so much time not speaking that when the chance pops up to ask a question, volunteer a contribution or make a connection we sometimes lack the courage to claim it. When the appropriate time ('appropriate' is important) presents itself to communicate in our out-loud voices it’s important to make the most of it. Ask a really great question when the offer is there in the next master class you take, respond when a choreographer is asking, thank the people who check you in for the audition, confidently say your name and share your story when people ask, let people know when you are inspired by them, get comfrotable relating to the people who are a part of the dance experience. It says a lot about you. And people remember that stuff.
There are probably a million other chances to make it count and opportunities to be all in. It’s not just about being ready for the big ones, it’s easy for everybody to knowingly prepare and be ready for these. As they say, it’s about who you are when you think no one is watching.