Dancers are physical communicators. It is both our profession and our passion. But what happens when the music stops and there is a break in rehearsals?
Our communication doesn't end when the choreography is completed. The truth is, the way you act at rest can make or break your career. Ballet masters, choreographers and artistic directors see meaning in all forms of body language, not just those that happen while the music is playing.
Maintain Eye Contact
Dancers need to demonstrate active listening skills. Even when you're not dancing, choreographers take note of who's watching what is being demonstrated. If your back is turned, there is an assumption that your ears are not open.
Julie Kent, artistic director of The Washington Ballet, says, "A dancer should show an interest in learning not only their steps, but in whatever the stager, choreographer or teacher has to share with the room."
Watch Your Alternate
A pet peeve of many choreographers and stagers is repeating the same information to every cast. Remember: Listening to all the corrections given on your role saves both your studio leaders and your colleagues from having to hear every correction twice. Even if you are first cast, keep your ears open to new corrections. Peter Boal, artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet, often reminds dancers to keep working even when they are not dancing. "During that time, they can listen to corrections, learn from others' successes or struggles and review port des bras and timing while their legs get a rest."
If you're stretching while your alternate is dancing, stay engaged. Photo by Kyle Froman.
Put Your Cell Phone Away
Cell phones have become a common item in most dance bags, but they should stay in your bag—not out in the studio. Unless you are researching a role or listening to music from the rep, phone use is usually aggressively frowned upon. "I want the entire hour and a half to be devoted to the shared process of learning and improving," says Boal. "Check your likes later." If you need to use your phone for an emergency, check in with the artistic staff.
Be Aware of Who's In The Studio
Every company culture is different and each studio leader will have a different interpretation of what constitutes attentive behavior. Tony Randazzo, ballet master of Boston Ballet, says there are so many inadvertent gestures that all dancers need to be aware of: "Talking, leaning on the barre, hiding in the back, sitting down, eating, poor posture, grooming and wardrobe choices are all behaviors that can send a negative message." Know who is in the front of the studio and be sure your behavior is an active representation of your inner ambitions.
Control Your Facial Expressions
There is most certainly a thing called RBF (Resting Ballet Face). This does not mean you have to smile at all times when in the studio; it just means you have to know yourself. Guard against those moments when you are simply at rest but look hugely displeased. Even if you are having a rough day, seek out inspiration in the room around you. "Don't waste time with negative mental distractions," says Randazzo. "Inspired, happy dancers absorb material and concepts more rapidly and do well over time."
Maria Kochetkova keeps a positive attitude in the studio even when relaxing. Photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy SFB
Fight The Urge To Lie Down Or Daydream
Everyone has had that inclination to seize a nap while in rehearsal or even daydream off into a good space while not actively dancing. "They may just be resting, but it can read as a level of disinterest," says Sasha Janes, resident choreographer of Charlotte ballet and Indiana University Jacobs School of Music faculty. "Fight the urge and stay mentally present in the studio." In a rehearsal, the plan can change in an instant and you must stay ready for action. If your body is tired beyond belief, have a stretch and drink some water.
Have Empathy, Above All
In choosing how to conduct yourself in the studio, think of your audience, your peers and leaders—the large group of artists all collaborating together. Figure out how you can best contribute your energy to the group's success.