As the great performer Shakira once said, “Hips Don’t Lie”. Neither does the rest of the body. Body language has often been cited as the best way to read a person’s true feelings and intentions. As humans, we are all endowed with powerful neural software which unconsciously (and constantly) evaluates body language in order to assess physical threats, find mates, and recognize unspoken intent. Since dance is an art form which demands mastery of movement and the artistic presentation of the human body, the dancer must always be aware of what body language signals are being communicated at all times.
In this post, I’m going to break down the do’s and don’ts of body language in a dance performance situation, and give you some tools to ensure that you always present yourself with body language that helps you convey your best self on the dance floor, and off.
The “Don’ts”.. Body Language that Conveys Nervousness and Fear:
Many dancers become nervous before a performance, even seasoned pros. The trick that successful competitors learn is to not appear nervous. Here are some body language cues to be aware of and avoid:
- Pacing around in circles, erratic moving about; this is a pet peeve of mine in competition- stay in one spot until it’s time to dance or you might start your routine facing the wrong way!
- Closed body posture; folded arms, downward head, etc.
- Unconscious habits like wringing hands, fidgeting with clothing or hair, picking at the ears or the skin around fingernails, licking lips, etc.
- Looking around erratically; rapid eye movements
- Pasted on, “deer in headlights” smiling or just plain terrified expression
- “Amped up” vibe, excessive nervous energy
- Excessive shifting of weight, bouncing on the spot, etc.
The “Do’s”.. Body Language that Sends the Right Signals:
Great performers convey grace, ease of movement, and look comfortable onstage. Certain body language cues convey these qualities, and these are the ones that we want to develop and incorporate. Here’s what the body language of a confident performer looks like:
- Natural, relaxed smile- practice this all the time in social situations and do exactly the same thing on the dance floor
- Elongated spine with relaxed shoulders, chin parallel to the floor or slightly higher, eyes focused ahead (not on the floor)
- Slow, purposeful movements- relaxed, “unaffected” vibe
- Eye contact with partner; mirror your partner’s emotional level
- Deep breathing, through the nose- try to keep your mouth closed unless you are smiling
Tips for Walking On and Off the Dance Floor
At a dance competition, you’re always onstage if you’re in the judges’ line of sight. They might not be “judging” you when you’re not dancing, but as human beings, they’re always judging you- and everyone else. This is perhaps even more true in the moments slightly before and after your dance, when you walk on and off the floor. Treat the walk on and walk off as part of the performance, and never break character. Here are some tips:
- Have a slow, purposeful walk. Never rush, even if you’re the last one on the floor in the heat. Rushing can bring on a feeling of nervousness, and certainly conveys it. This also applies to leaving the dance floor. Never act like you’re anxious to get out of there.
- Be as visible as possible, but don’t get too close to the judges. Their natural inclination will be to look into the “clump” of dancers in the middle, because that’s where the action will be. If you’re right under their noses, they’ll most likely look past you in order to see everyone else.
- It’s advantageous to be the first couple to start, or the last. Try not to “blend in” too much. Always be the exception to the rule.
- Adopt a relaxed, yet confident vibe. Don’t do what I call the “taaa daa!!” walk on posture. I like to adopt a vibe that I call “casual champion”- you should look as though being onstage is so natural a state for you that it’s borderline boring; assume the character of a “natural performer”. Always avoid looking “try hard”.
- Bow to the audience if they applaud you, bow to the judges if they make eye contact, but don’t act like you just won 1st place at Blackpool after every heat.
Incongruency is when your body language doesn’t correspond with your overall presentation. The mixed signals of incongruent body language can confuse intent and
- Body language which is incongruent with the music, or the dance itself. (Smiling like a Cheshire cat during a passionate tango, looking proud and pompous during a soft and sensitive number, etc.)
- Incongruency with your partner. Always try to compliment the body language and vibe of your partner. Be playful if they are playful, emotional if they are emotional, etc. You can mirror them, or vibe in a compatible way, but never clash with your partner’s emotional state.
I hope that this post helps you identify aspects of your body language that can be improved as you develop your skills as a dance performer. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comment section below! Thanks for reading!