Developing Showmanship

Discussion in 'Ballroom Dance' started by pygmalion, Nov 16, 2003.

  1. pygmalion

    pygmalion Well-Known Member

    I recently went to a ballroom dance, and sat on the side briefly, just to watch. And even though there were a hundred couples on the floor, I saw two. Actually, two women, who looked like they had a spotlight on them. Stage presence like you would not believe. Gorgeous! As it turns out, both were experienced competitive dancers. Needless to say, I'm trying to figure out how to be like them.

    Question: What is stage presence? How much of it comes naturally? Can you improve on it? How do you develop that showmanship, that star quality? What are judges looking for in a dancer? How about the audience? Anybody have ideas?
  2. Adwiz

    Adwiz New Member

    Good topic, Pygmalion.

    Judges, competitors and teachers have told me that showmanship is one of the main things that judges look for.

    One of the reasons stated was that the whole purpose of competitive or performance dancing is to perform, so showmanship is vital.

    There is also the issue of measuring who's best, especially at high levels. Assuming that many of the dancers are very similar in quality of technique, most of what you have left to gauge one over another is the quality of showmanship. Their confidence and the way they include the audience. That "larger than life" quality.

    Some of the competitors I talked to said that it comes primarily from confidence, and that comes primarily from competing often and watching yourself improve. As a new competitor, one of my top goals is to compete several times a year so that I can build up the confidence.

    One championship-level finalist said last weekend that he had learned quite a bit about showmanship from another couple, Hungary's Maurizio Vescovo and Melinda Torokgyorgy, because of the way they included the audience as part of their performance. It's hard to explain but the effect was sensational. You couldn't take your eyes off them.
  3. SDsalsaguy

    SDsalsaguy Administrator Staff Member

    Yes, Maurizio and Melinda are definitely fantastic performers! His "performance" is the more visible, but the subtlety of hers is quite impressive once you realize it's there. Have you had a chance to see them Adwiz? At the Snowball I'd assume, no?
  4. Adwiz

    Adwiz New Member

    Yes, at the Grand Ball on November 6-9. They won the Adult Championship Latin competition. Awesome dancing, especially the Cha Cha. I ordered a highlights video so I can review the subtleties in more detail.
  5. pygmalion

    pygmalion Well-Known Member

    So one way to learn is by doing, another is by going to competitions and watching?
  6. Vince A

    Vince A Active Member

    Jenn,
    And don't forget, as you go up the various levels (Newcomer, Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Pro in the Venues that I dance in) that the judges look at your feet first to see if you can do "the basic dance steps." If you are not doing those steps, they won't look any higher than the knees.

    So, make sure you have the basics down 100% as you work on your showmanship. "Time on the floor" will contribute to gaining showmanship.
  7. MadamSamba

    MadamSamba Member

    What a fabulous idea for a thread, Jenn.

    Aside from the very wise things everybody else has said, I'll add the rather simple comment that some people just have it. I know of one guy who has done all sorts of medals, well past gold and has been dancing for years. He is technically perfect, but he just doesn't have "it".

    Another guy I known has only been dancing for a year, but can he dance. It's actually exciting watching him move across the floor. Boy does he have it! :)
  8. Adwiz

    Adwiz New Member

    Absolutely!

    Nothing compares to doing, especially when it comes to competitions. I'll never forget how nervous I was during my first competitive event. It was terrible, but the confidence grows exponentially.

    However, you can also learn a lot by watching great dancers in action. My wife and I buy lots of videos and watch them every chance we get. We'll slow down the action, pause it to look at body lines and footwork, and use replays to see specific details of head movements and all the other factors. We've made all kinds of great improvements from this approach. I've even transferred many of the videos to DVD so I can take them to our studio with our tiny portable DVD player and look at specific details as we practice moves. It's not as good as a lesson but it's a lot cheaper. :wink:
  9. pygmalion

    pygmalion Well-Known Member

    Hmm. I also have a large collection of videos, but, up until this point, I've been focusing more on using them to practice step patterns. Your sugestion is a good one, adwiz. Often, the top pros SHOW a lot more than they're telling. Meaning, their unconscious styling is worth watching and copying, even if they don't focus on it. And cheaper than lessons is a good thing, too. :lol:
  10. Adwiz

    Adwiz New Member

    We have almost as many "competition" videos as we have teaching-style ones, and both are useful. However, I find that the show dance or competition vids offer a wealth of additional stuff that really applies to competitive excellence, especially in the area of showmanship. But in both kinds, like you mention, the unconscious styling is huge and something you can never pick up the same way in a studio.

    An example in point: on an intermediate Jive video by Corky and Shirley Ballas, he shows some warm up exercises. No big deal, one would think. But as I watched him doing the flick ball changes, it just looked so good I paused the video at key points and noticed that the line of his back from the head all the way down the extended leg was so perfectly straight you could have run a yardstick along it. Wow! Something I had subconciously tried to do but never thought was really achievable because there is so much high-speed motion. Yet he shows -- unconciously -- that it is very doable.
  11. pygmalion

    pygmalion Well-Known Member

    Thoughts, anyone? :wink: :D
  12. spatten

    spatten New Member

    I believe stage presence can come naturally. I was gifted with a strong stage precense, from what directors have told me, which helped me considerably in all the acting and stage work I have done.

    However, I don't know that it correlates well to presence on the dance floor. I don't know if it is natural for the dance floor.


    Scott
  13. Genesius Redux

    Genesius Redux New Member

    I have a bit of a different view. Stage presence does not come naturally, rather those who seem to have a "natural" presence learned so early that it appears natural even to them.

    I agree with what's been said about confidence. You can even tell the difference between two very stunning technical dancers--the one who's done it a thousand times and comes with all the unspoken confidence of that experience is quite obvious; whereas someone who is "adopting the pose," however good the pose is, will also be very clear.

    That confidence comes from a very clear intention--you know what you're about to do in a dance. What's more, you know that you have a number of different steps you can use--and you don't necessarily know which ones you'll use at any given moment. But you're alive in the moment and you know that you'll choose something from your arsenal. That is vey different from having a rigid and inflexible choreography. You can tell who dances according to pretty strict choreography, and who is comfortable making it up--even if they're not making it up at the moment. The awareness that things can change at any moment will affect even the choreographed sequences.

    Your intention is clear in terms of two things--your relationship to your partner, and your relationship to the audience. If you're responsive, that will appear in a better sense of presence. If you're inwardly focused, maybe thinking hard about how to execute a step, then that will read too.

    Presence on stage of any sort is a matter of attention directed outward, an awareness of partners, audience, space, energy, everything. That's why I feel that practice is the time to focus on technique and performance is the time to forget about it--not because technique isn't critical, but because it should be internal. There's nothing worse, in my view, than watching a couple practice when they should be performing.

    So my suggestion to work on presence would be to forget all the technical things and be awake and alive to the moment.

    A simple acting exercise can get you in touch with the world outside. Do a little mirror game with your partner. First your partner does something, and you try to mirror him. Then you do something, and he mirrors you. Next he starts again, and at a particular period (usually when you coach or your director tells you to), you take over and your partner follows you. And then, you try to establish a rhythm where you naturally shift back and forth--you're doing the exercise well if you can't tell where one person stops and the next starts.

    And ask yourself why you're dancing this particular dance with this partner. Even before the dance starts--gentlemen, why do you even extend your hand to this lady? What are you asking? Ladies, what are you answering when you approach? If you can't answer those simple questions, IMO, you have no business dancing--however flawless your technique. You don't have to verbalize your answers, but you need to have the answers in the form of at least an unspoken relationship.

    When your partner turns you out, or when he lifts you, what's going on?

    That kind of presence isn't something that you have. It's something that you give.

    Hope this is all at least semi-lucid!

    Cheers,

    Genesius
  14. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    I don't know about in latin, but in standard the benefits of doing this are mixed with some very real, and very serious dangers.

    A lot of the look of high level dancing is not done the way you would assume just by looking at it. As a result, some of the most objectionable faults seen at comps come from people who might otherwise look like strong amateurs trying - and failing - to immitate the look of the pros.

    I'm talking about things like follower shape taken from the waist, breaking sides to give the appearence of sway, distorting bodies to take bigger steps, and of course the all time favorite - choregoraphy far beyond one's capabilities.

    I won't say it's impossible to learn 'the look' from a video, but I do think it's important to figure out how the appearence one sees is created in a way that adheres to all the fundamental rules of posture, connection, and balance. Analyzing the stills in detail as Adwiz does is certainly better than just going by one's memory of what something looked like.
  15. Genesius Redux

    Genesius Redux New Member

    I agree completely--that look is a reflection of technique. But I also feel rather strongly that presence is different from look. Presence means just what it says--the state of being in the moment. A dancer can be technically perfect but have no presence whatsoever, because s/he's on auto-pilot.

    Not just amateur dancers but many professional dancers mistake look for stage presence. Anyone who's ever tried to direct a dancer knows this. :roll:
  16. spatten

    spatten New Member


    I do agree with your warning, but I would also add that in the right context you can learn a lot from watching the best dancers. If you have a good eye and know the right technique - you can figure out what the dancers are doing and learn how to produce the same--- which if often NOT what the book says to do, even in Standard.

    Of course I always run my interpretations by my coach - very important!!! Sometimes I am wrong - but several times I have picked up on advanced material that nobody had bothered getting around to teach me. As an example take the bronze chasse in Waltz. Everytime I watched it on Blackpool tapes, I noticed a rise and fall that is different than indicated in the book and it looks better.

    Perahps this is off topic a bit, but I also think you can develop a good eye by watching the pros again and again. Figure out what one couple does differently than another, ask yourself why? Which looks better? What is that guy doing with his hands in an sliding door? That kinda thing.


    Oh, and yes I still think that stage presence can be natural. I belive stage presence is an almost indefinalble quality. You know it when somebody has it, and you know it when they don't. But I don't know of anyone the really thinks it can be taught - only mimmicked.

    Thanks,
    Scott
  17. Adwiz

    Adwiz New Member

    An excellent point. However, if you already know some of those issues because of private lessons you can learn a great deal by watching the higher-level dancers. When you know that larger strides are not the result of ugly looking big steps but power generated from the stable leg's ankle then you can learn a great deal by watching videos.

    The trick is to ignore the stuff you haven't learned yet and focus on the minute details of the stuff you have. In my case, it is watching how the world's top dancers do some of the basic movements.

    I had the distinct pleasure this weekend of watching Paul Richardson and Olga Rodionova do an impromptu "basic Rumba" during a showcase performance. It was an unchoreographed dance to fill time using pretty basic Syllabus steps done at world class level. I can only dream of doing a Rumba that well. A wonderful display and a great learning opportunity for everyone present.
  18. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    Good point! Actually, this is sort of an alternative to something a friend and I discussed the other day. We were thinking it would be interesting if they sold a video of typical couples in the 2nd and 3rd rounds at Blackpool. The idea would be to document the characteristcs that look promising to judges in that tradition, but are more in reach of average amatuers than the more complete development of the final round dancers.

    But simply looking at the best and saying "I might be able to do this, but not that" isn't a bad approximation. Though you do have to either guess at the judge's priorities, or simply make your own priority & feasability decisions.
  19. Kitty

    Kitty New Member

    I did that kind of investigation by comparing my boyfriends dancing in the final, with the couple who got first. I was able to figure out some mistakes he made, and some things that judges valued more than his incredible style.
  20. mamboqueen

    mamboqueen Well-Known Member

    Another good topic! What makes a judge look at you instead of the couple next to you? I'm working on this for my upcoming comp. I think it is hard to focus on showmanship until you have your steps and technique in really good shape. I mean, at bronze level, I'm focusing on making sure my feet come together, my upper body stays in position, my arms are doing what they're supposed to be doing when open, my neck is good and lengthened, my steps are long and sweeping. So, where do I find that nanosecond to show some expression? LOL. And what particular expression do you really show in smooth anyway? Okay, foxtrot, general smiling, right? Looks like you're having fun. Tango....my teacher will tell me to play the "hard to get" kind of game, ie., you repulse me, so I snap my head away from you (I actually think this while I'm dancing with him! Although he doesn't really repulse me!). I can pull off some decent expression in cha cha, swing and mambo, but rumba is generally where I have the toughest time. It's just not quite natural for me, a married woman, to be playing the flirt/slut with another man! But, I'm working on it!!

    I guess if all else fails, it's good to look like you're having fun, right?

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