Sexy vs. Skanky

Mallory Butcher proves that covering up and being sexy aren't mutually exclusive. (by Simon Gerzina)

Whether you’re dancing backup for Beyoncé or trying to wow the judges at Nationals, working it in a sexy way is something professional and competitive dancers must master. But knowing the difference between sassy and inappropriate is essential: Not only is it key to maintaining your artistry, but going overboard makes the audience uncomfortable. Here’s how to navigate that line successfully.

BE CONFIDENT.

A positive attitude bolstered by self-esteem is the first step. “I always emphasize the idea of ‘being a queen,’ ” says Joey Dowling, master teacher, choreographer and veteran of both stage and screen. “There’s a grand sophistication to the sexiness of holding yourself well. People want to see dancers who are pulled together and have a ‘Look, don’t touch’ quality.”

CHOOSE YOUR MUSIC CAREFULLY.

The music you dance to can keep your performance fun and cute—or it can push it into inappropriate territory. Pay attention to lyrics. Any song with blatant, suggestive words or themes should be off-limits.

COVER UP.

Though midriffs and booty shorts are commonplace at competitions, think about whether they’re the best choice for the character you’re portraying. Choose the outfit that best accentuates your assets and line, not just what you see other girls wearing. A good rule of thumb: If it looks like it’s from Victoria’s Secret instead of a dance store, try something else.

DON'T TRY TOO HARD.

If you want your improv to have an edge, don’t just take the most obviously “sexy” approach. “A slow shoulder roll or a bevel is much more alluring than grabbing yourself or grinding,” Dowling says. Robin Antin, creator of the Pussycat Dolls, adds: “Dancers use their bodies in a way that’s naturally appealing, so when I choreograph, it’s all about that physicality, energy and athleticism, not about trying to be sexy.”

HAVE FUN.

Musical theater and commercial dancer Mallory Butcher says tapping into your girly side is another great way to ensure you don’t go too far. “There should always be a level of innocent playfulness when it comes to dancing sultry choreography,” she says. “Don’t demand attention in an aggressive way; allow the audience to enjoy your experience.” Antin agrees: “It’s all about dressing up, having fun and being empowered.”

TONE DOWN YOUR FACE.

Though exaggerated facial expressions are sometimes encouraged in competition pieces, they can also be misconstrued. And staring down the audience can be seen as aggressive, which is the opposite of your goal. Instead, go back to the idea of playful energy. “Smirks, half-smiles and cool nods of acknowledgment are so effective,” Butcher says. “Showing you’re having fun is the sexiest.”

BE YOURSELF.

Trying too hard to act older than you are often reads as unnatural. Butcher remembers competing solos about love and relationships before she’d ever experienced those things herself, and wishes she’d stuck to topics she knew more about. “Think about what works for where you are in life and what actually means something to you,” she says.

CHECK IN.

If you’re not sure where you stand on the line between sexy and vulgar, ask for help. Parents, coaches and teachers are great sounding boards. They can help you tweak a section of over-the-top choreo or find a better song. In the end, if you feel comfortable with the choreography, music and costume you’re presenting, odds are you’re in good shape.

 

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