The "I" in Team
You're used to dancing solos at competition, but now you've been cast in a large group piece. Or maybe you're one of 35 girls on your dance team, and your coach wants everyone to perform the choreography exactly the same. It's hard not to feel discouraged. How are you supposed to stand out—not to mention become a better dancer—when you're part of a crowd?
Tempe Dance Academy team (Photo by Propix)
Dancing in a large group has unique challenges. You're often aiming for complete synchronicity and picture-perfect formations. Whether you're taking the floor at dance team Nationals or dancing the Kingdom of the Shades scene in La Bayadère, if you're performing with a group, the whole is usually greater than the sum of its parts.
But that doesn't mean you, as an individual dancer, aren't important, or that you can't use your time with the group as a chance to grow. Here are some tips on maintaining your individuality while sharing the spotlight.
Focus on What You Can Learn
Are you frustrated because you want to work on your triple pirouettes, but the choreography in your group routine calls for everyone to do doubles? There's a time and a place to work on skills that aren't part of a group rehearsal. Save those extra pirouettes for class, or practice them on your own. In the meantime, try to acknowledge what dancing in a group can teach you.
Look at the other dancers in the group. You probably don't all have the same strengths and weaknesses. Think about what you can learn by watching your peers. “It's easy to make comparisons to other dancers," says Dr. Kate F. Hays, a performance psychologist and founder of The Performing Edge in Toronto, Canada. “Instead of thinking, 'I'll never have extensions as high as hers,' ask yourself, 'How is she doing X in a way I could translate onto my own body?' Nonjudgmental comparisons are a vital part of working in a group setting."
This shift in mindset can be especially crucial if you're competing within the group for featured roles. If someone gets a part you wanted, look at what she did right—and try to figure out how you can emulate it.
Put Your Role in Context
If you're performing in a group, it's not all about you. So what is it about? “When I'm in a group piece, I remember that the choreographer made the dance that way, with certain people doing certain things, for a reason," says Danni Coen, a high school junior who dances at Tempe Dance Academy in Tempe, AZ. “Then I can look at it and say, 'Wow, I'm so lucky to be part of presenting this piece to the audience.' "
Tempe Dance Academy at competition (Photo by Propix)
Find Your Niche
Chances are, your group isn't going to be in complete unison the entire time you're onstage. “There are always moments in our routines where we highlight individuals with certain skills," says Audrey Perkins, a senior on the University of Louisville Ladybirds Dance Team. “Every dancer has something special to offer."
If you get a moment in the spotlight, make the most of it. And if it didn't happen for you this time, keep trying. “You have to know your role on the team," explains Justin Su'a, head of mental conditioning at IMG Academy, “but you also have to realize that your current role might not be your role forever. Don't ever stop working hard. The people who get to the next level are the ones who put in extra effort to show they're ready."
Keep in mind that you can contribute to the group offstage, too. Perkins says senior Ladybirds often take on leadership responsibilities, organizing extra technique classes, helping other team members polish certain moves and assisting the coaches.
Remember Your Motivation
If you're frustrated about being in the middle of a group rather than front and center, take a step back and think about your motivation. “Reminding yourself that you love what you do can help to put things in perspective," says Su'a. Even if you're one of 100 dancers onstage, you're getting an opportunity to do the thing you enjoy most.
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In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
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Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
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She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
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