How to Make the Most of Stillness Onstage

Alvin Ailey AmericanDance Theater in Ailey's Masekela Langage (photo by Paul Kolink, courtesy Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater)

There's an iconic moment in Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet when Juliet sits on the edge of her bed, staring into the audience. She's completely still—thinking long and hard about her tragic situation—while the emotion of Sergei Prokofiev's score washes over her. If the dancer does it well, this dance-less scene can speak volumes.

As dancers, we tend to focus on mastering steps and speaking through movement. Yet the way we hold ourselves when we're not moving can also be a powerful way to communicate with an audience.

How can you make the most of those quiet moments onstage—and what happens if your muscles cramp, you have a crazy itch, or your mind starts to wander? We gathered tips from industry professionals to help guide you through.


Use Your Imagination

Keep your character in mind, and every pose will be infused with meaning. When Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Jacqueline Green approaches a role that requires holding still, she thinks about her character's background, motivations, and emotional state to help project the right feeling. "If you're onstage in a role where you have to be quiet or still, it helps to understand why you're doing what you're doing. It makes it more authentic."

The cast of "Groundhog Day" (photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown)

Another useful tool is a mime technique called suspension. Commercial dancer and choreographer Dana Wilson describes it as an exercise of the imagination. "Pretend that your body is full of an energy source or color, something that is constantly moving," she says. "Even if your body is still, there's an energy within that idea that keeps you feeling very much in motion."

Stay Active

Just because you're holding a pose doesn't mean your energy dies. "A moment of stillness has to be completely active," says Ellen Kane, co-choreographer of Groundhog Day on Broadway. "What's living inside of you has to be a fully realized thought." Several moments in Groundhog Day play with the idea of stopping time. Dancers have to freeze mid-action, as they're waving to someone or blowing a kiss, and continue to communicate fully during that phrase. "They're never allowed to shrink back into the shell of their body," Kane says. "When the freeze is over, they're released into the fruition of that thought."

Keep from Cramping

Jennifer Goggans, program coordinator for the Merce Cunningham Trust and former company dancer, remembers once having to hold an attitude front onstage for about 45 seconds. "Because I was in plié on one leg, the muscles in front of my shin and ankle would start to get tight," she says. "The leg that was lifted would get so tired." To keep from wobbling or cramping, her physical therapist suggested she make tiny movements that no one would notice. "I tried to gently come up and come down in my plié so it would help the muscle not get stuck. It was very helpful advice."

Jennifer Goggans in Merce Cunningham's "Ocean," with Daniel Squire (photo by Tony Dougherty, courtesy Merce Cunningham Trust)

Another trick to prevent cramping is to breathe deeply, like you would in yoga, so that your muscles get enough oxygen. "Use your breath and hold everything from your center," advises San Francisco Ballet corps de ballet dancer Madison Keesler, who had a tough time dancing in the corps of Swan Lake (for eight months straight!) when she was with English National Ballet. "Your feet and calves might be hurting, but you can't put your focus there. Hold your stomach and back so that you take some pressure off the lower legs."

Be Present

Each moment of stillness is different, depending on the choreography and what you're trying to convey. But the more present you are in the pose, the more successful it will be. Your commitment will keep your mind from wandering during the long holds, to a point where even a relentless itch will become secondary. "Someone who is waiting for a count is less interesting than someone who's holding still but their body is full of the galaxy," says Wilson. "That type of imagination really does cross over to an audience."

A version of this story appeared in the November 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Standing Still."

Thinkstock

You've seen it a million times: A glamorous, toned dancer posts a perfectly styled shot of her colorful smoothie bowl. The caption gushes about how great you'll feel if you eat "clean"—but what does that actually mean? DS asked registered dietitian/nutritionist Rachel Fine and holistic health coach (and founder of The Whole Dancer) Jess Spinner for all of the dirt.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo by Travis Kelley, courtesy Kathryn Morgan

In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email dearkatie@dancespirit.comfor a chance to be featured!

Dear Katie,

I'm being bullied by one of the girls at my studio, and it's awful. I've talked to my dance teacher and confronted the bully directly, but it hasn't made a difference. What should I do?

Faith

Keep reading... Show less
Angela Sterling

Bunheads, this one's for you. They say you can tell a Nutcracker by its "Snow" scene—and we fully believe it. There are so many versions with extra goodies—olive branches! Fake snow! Sleds! Choirs! Snow queens!—and each brings a special something to the holiday favorite. But do you know which ballet has what?

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
(Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy BAE)

Consistent turns are a must for aspiring professional dancers, but pretty much everyone struggles with pirouettes at some point. Luckily, since we're all beholden to the same rules of physics, there are concrete steps every dancer can take to reach his or her top turning potential. “Three is the new two when it comes to pirouettes, but the secret to turning is technique, not magic," says Bojan Spassoff, president and director of The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia.

Falling out of your doubles? Aspiring to go revolution for revolution with your class's star turner? No matter where you lie on the turning spectrum, our 360-degree guide to pirouettes will help you improve.

Keep reading... Show less
Parris Goebel and her ReQuest Dance Crew (via Twitter)

Are your moves smooth and sexy like Chloé Arnold's tapping Syncopated Ladies, or is your dancing bubblegum sweet like the girls of Suga N Spice? Behold, the answer:

Keep reading... Show less
(Lucas Chilczuk)

Let's face it—spare time is pretty tough to come by when you're a dancer. You're either rushing to get ready for rehearsal, rushing to rehearsal, a combo of the two, or in rehearsal (or performing, or in class, or at an audition...you get the picture). Well here at DS, we understand the struggle is REAL, which is why we've rounded up our favorite foolproof makeup hacks, approved by resident #LazyGirl when it comes to makeup (spoiler alert: it's me). On to the hacks!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Kalea Hidalgo (Photo by 567 Photography, courtesy Stacey Hidalgo)

Kalea (pronounced kah-LAY-uh) Hidalgo knows how to move. Her decisive, dynamic dancing commands the stage: She gobbles up space so confidently it's hard to believe you're watching a mere tween. Unsurprisingly, that presence and power have started turning heads in a serious way. Not only did Talia Favia choreograph one of her solos in 2017, but Kalea also recently signed with Bloc Talent Agency in L.A. and, last summer, placed first overall in the junior contemporary solo category at Radix Nationals.

"When you're out on the dance floor, don't ask for permission—ask for forgiveness."—Kalea Hidalgo
Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Swift in her latest "Making of a Song" episode (via Youtube)

Taylor Swift is #blessed in many ways: She's got a great voice, insane song writing skills, and, to quote her new hit single, she's "Gorgeous." She is not, however, blessed in the dance department. But that doesn't stop her from busting out the occasional dance move. In fact, Swift likes to playfully show off her less-than-stellar dancing, be it in her music videos (hello, "Shake It Off") or at music award shows. So we weren't surprised when during the latest episode of her "Making of a Song" series for AT&T, she unveiled a new endearingly awkward maneuver, which she's dubbed the "dolphin body roll"—and it practically had friend and producer Jack Antonoff rolling on the floor!🤣

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Ray Batten (left) teaching class at Wagner Dance and Arts in Mesa, AZ (courtesy Batten)

You rehearse your group routine to perfection, but when the big performance rolls around, everyone turns into speed demons. It's the runaway-train effect—and it only takes one loud tapper, or zippy turner, to throw the whole group off the music.

While nerves and excitement are partly to blame, the ability to keep to tempo begins in the studio. A well-developed sense of musicality is your best defense against the dreaded speed trap. "When you understand how the steps fit with the music, going too fast won't just feel like rushing," says Jeremy Arnold, lecturer of tap at the University of Texas at Austin. "It'll feel wrong." How can dancers develop that musicality? It all starts with learning to listen.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Want to Be on Our Cover?

covermodelsearch-image

Video

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored