Teaching Performance Quality
Updated: Jan 7, 2019
Performance quality is that "something extra" a dancer exhibits, besides just knowing the steps. It gives a performance life and artistry, and it also separates the star students from just the technically-talented.
Many people think this performance quality is nature over nurture: You've either got it, or you don't. But I am going to argue that, for students who remain open to improving all aspects of their dancing (not just the footwork), you can see improvement when you drive this concept home.
Step 1: Introducing the Concept
Dancers can't work toward improving their performance quality if they don't know what it is they are trying to achieve. This can be hard to explain, too, especially since performance quality is more of a feeling the audience gets rather than a certain set of steps you accomplish.
The best way to introduce the idea is through contrast. When teaching a step, perform it two ways: first, just do the step. Then, show your class again while adding some pizazz (stronger arm movement, direction of the head, smiling, energy, etc.)
Ask them to help you dissect the differences between the two performances you gave. Which was more interesting and enjoyable to watch? What made that performance better? How could you do that, too? It's important to get your students active in analyzing their own steps. Otherwise, they will associate performance quality with each particular step you teach. Once they've perfected one dance and moved on, you'll be back to square one when teaching a new dance.
Step 2: Show, Don't Tell
Once you've introduced the idea of making artistic choices to improve a performance, show your dancers some great examples of professionals doing this. YouTube is a great resource for high-quality professional dancers, and you can pull it up on your laptop or phone for an in-class activity.
First, teach a simple combination. Make sure it isn't too long or complicated, because the focus today is not on technique.
Find a short video clip of a dancer performing a combination with a similar vibe to your combination.
Give each student a pen and paper. Have them watch the video once through, just to observe. Then, play the video again and ask them to write down what they notice about the dance that makes them excited to watch it. What does the dancer do with her hands? Her smile or facial expressions? How does she interact with other dancers onstage?
Then, have a roundtable discussion about what each student notices. See if they can share new observations with each other. Have them each pick out one thing based on their discussions that they could do in your combination to improve their performance.
Now, have your students perform the combination again, adding the new style and artistry. Discuss. What happened? Did it feel different? Was it harder to perform the steps while concentrating on making style choices?
Step 3: Apply It
After students begin to grasp the concept, have them apply it to themselves. Have students record themselves performing combinations, then let them to watch it back together in class. Allow for the same process of note-taking and discussion.
Example Discussion Questions: How did the performance feel to watch? Is this how you thought it looked while you performed it? Is this how you want the performance to feel? What concrete changes could you make to give the performance more of the feeling you are looking for?
Have them adjust the performance and practice. Then, record them again, have them rewatch, and compare the two performances. What changed? Which one was more enjoyable to watch? Why? What did you do differently that had a bigger impact this time?
Some helpful tips for this activity:
Watching oneself perform is hard to do. Establish quickly and early on that there is to be no "bashing" of your own or others videos. This is a learning activity to help us all grow as performers. You can even require they give a certain number of positive comments before they are allowed to critique themselves.
Double check permissions on recording/photographing students in rehearsal. It isn't a bad idea to send a note or email explaining in advance to parents what you'll be doing and why it's important. You could even have students record themselves on their own devices to provide extra privacy protections.
I hope you find these tips useful for introducing the concept of performance quality to intermediate students! Let me know in the comments below what types of things you like to do to help dancers with this tricky concept! Or, give me more ideas of what I can do to expand on these ideas!