By Angela D’Valda Sirico of Dance Teacher Web
How often do you look at your dancers in class or during a performance and think to yourself, “There’s just something missing!” It’s really not something that is huge but in a way it is, because so often when the dancer does not finish the movement completely the whole thing starts to look like a blur. There are no defining moments, there is no crispness to the movement and it is often lackluster in appearance.
The most important part of the movement that needs to be clear is the port de bras and the use of the head. I notice that many times when students come out of a pirouette they do not finish the movement off especially if they feel it hasn’t gone as well as they would have liked it to. I always say to my students, that no matter what happens during the pirouette, even if they land in a heap on the floor, “just finish it off!” By that I mean hit a pose that makes it clear to the audience that you have completed that particular movement. Good, bad or indifferent, there needs to be a defining moment when the person watching the dancer understands that they have completed that portion of the exercise or performance. If the students can get this ingrained into their brain their dancing will improve because it will always look clean. Every dancer has moments when things don’t work for them as well as they would like. In fact, I tell my dancers that especially with pirouettes, if they go perfectly 2 times out of 10 they should be ecstatic but that it is how they cope and finish off the other 8 times that will show control in their technique.
Port de bras can make or break the way dancers comes across to their audience. If the arms are rigid or only working from the shoulders instead of from the back it makes it so much harder to hit good lines. Anything that you, as a teacher, can do to help your students understand how to use the port de bras from the center of their backs will help them tremendously, not only in their overall dancing but when it comes to finishing the movement. They will be able to lengthen the arms and give a great line at the end of each movement.
The use of the head and eyes is also extremely important. Sometimes a student will finish a movement without putting the head in a position that completes the picture, or their eyes will be wandering all over the place making it very unclear to the person watching whether or not the movement is finished. Training your dancers to have good eye focus is an important part of their technical knowledge. Not only is eye focus important to let the audience feel the emotion that the dancer is portraying, but it will also tell the audience where you want them to look, which helps to give them a better idea of the movement and the fact that it is completed.
Sometimes finishing off the movement can be something as simple as throwing the hands to emphasize the finish, or even just stretching the fingers and looking directly at the audience. By training the students to always finish off their movements you will be making it much easier to have clean and polished group performances and exciting and dynamic solo performances. If everyone knows that when they come out of their pirouette they hit a certain arm position and look front, it will be much easier to keep everyone together. The key is to make everything crystal clear.
Of course there are always subtleties and nuances in dance movements that need to be explored, and a movement can go on and on into infinity so to speak, but by using the eyes and head the audience will understand that it is the end of the movement. I use port de bras exercises in class to help my students understand how to finish movements off and to let them see that there is more than one way to do so. Making fists with the hands and then throwing them to finish is a good way to get students to understand the different dynamics the hands can portray. This type of movement is great as an end to a jazz pirouette, or to emphasize something in a dramatic way. I also have them do arm movements that go from a rounded position, to a fully stretched arm and hand, all the way to the fingertips. One that I particularly like is taking one arm over the head in a full circle and then stretching it out to an arabesque position, using the eye hand coordination to complete the movement. I also like to do these exercises in groups and have the students watch each other so that they can really get a good idea of how different people do or don’t finish their movements.
For clean execution of choreography, finishing off the movements is important and will make a big difference to your performances once the dancers understand what it means and how it will impact their work.