When you get more comfortable with dancing in front of an audience, you may come to realize that your technique and dance steps aren’t the only important elements of a performance. Other parts of your body require just as much attention as your feet. For instance, things like arm styling and head placement matter a lot when it comes to performances. Another big detail that matters as a dancer is facial expression. What is on a dancer’s face can sometimes make or break their entire performance. For example, a blank face would not compliment a dance very well if it was meant to be emotional. Similarly, smiling rigidly for your entire piece can come off as inauthentic and forced. If you have little or no performance experience, the idea of using facial expressions and dancing may seem like a lot to take in, but it’s really not as bad as you think! Here are some tips to help you shine and add an extra bit of personality on the dance floor.
Pay Attention to the Music
If you have a song prepared for an upcoming performance, it’s a good idea to set aside some time to carefully listen to it. Pay attention to the lyrics, the tone, and how it makes you feel. Use those observations when you dance to help you with facial expressions. Perhaps, the song lyrics make you feel joyful. Therefore, your facial expressions should reflect that joy with smiles and smirks. If the music is funny or silly, aim for as many comical expressions as you can, or even a laugh!
Practice in Front of a Mirror
When you use a mirror to practice dance steps, you can also practice your facial expressions. This technique can be helpful if you have trouble figuring out what your expressions should be or if you worry about how you will look. Put on your song and don’t worry about dancing; just play around with expressions that you can use during certain parts of the music. Using a mirror to test out your expressions can be very helpful because you’ll be able to clearly see how your face looks, and you can fix any expressions you don’t like. You can also record yourself when you dance, and take note of the conscious and unconscious faces you make. You might like some of your expressions and make a mental note to keep doing them, or dislike some expressions and remind yourself to avoid them.
Let Them Come Naturally
You may find that it’s hard to force facial expressions like big smiles, or angry faces. In that case, it’s better to allow your facial expressions to come naturally. Think back to our first point about listening to the music and thinking about how it makes you feel. However the music affects your mood can be naturally reflected in your face. It’s also good to pay attention to how you feel when you are actually dancing and let your face reflect those feelings. For example, most people feel happy when they dance, so allow yourself to smile when you are on stage. Allowing your facial expressions to come through naturally can add a lot of authenticity and sincerity to your dance performance.
Treat it Like a Conversation
When people are speaking to each other, they usually show each other that they are fully engaged in the conversation by making eye contact and using expressions. The same should apply when you are dancing for an audience. If you have an expressionless face the entire time, it can really dull your performance, even if the steps are executed perfectly. One of the goals of a performance is to show the audience that you are fully committed and interested in what you are doing, and facial expressions are usually the clearest way to indicate that. Even if you aren’t sure of a particular emotion to portray at the moment, try to keep your eyes and eyebrows raised during most of your performance so that the audience can connect with you in some way.
Give your Face Choreography
Another thing you can do that will push you into the habit of using engaging facial expressions is to choreograph them into your routines. What this means is having a planned set of expressions that will correlate with your dance steps and music. This may be extra work for you and your instructor, but if you struggle with facial expressions, this is a good approach to use. The choreographed expressions don’t have to be anything too complicated; they can be as simple as “remember to smile during this explosion line”, or “wink as you shake your hips”.
Avoid the “Oops Face”
Even though we really want dancers to use facial expressions, there is still one face that we want you to avoid – the “oops face”. The “oops face” is any expression that indicates that a dancer messed up a step or transition. Many will show confusion, frustration, embarrassment, or just laugh when they make a mistake during a dance. Some will make strange faces if they are just feeling uncomfortable. This is a common and mostly unconscious reflex that happens to many dancers, and even professionals will let their “oops faces” pop up every once in a while. If you are person who knows that you constantly make “oops faces” while you perform, or if your instructor always calls you out on making those faces, it’s not a bad idea to work on breaking the habit. During rehearsals, practice smiling through your errors and that will train you to stay in character even when you misstep. Additionally, keeping a straight or smiling face will make it less obvious to the audience that you’ve made a mistake. No one will know, but you!
Happy Dancing! ^_^