What can a troupe learn from Judy Garland?

I love Barbra Streisand and I love Judy Garland. Watch this clip and see if you don’t smile from the inside out.

This clip is also a wonderful teaching tool for bellydance troupes. What?! What could a bellydance troupe possibly learn from watching Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland sing this beautiful duet? What I’d like you to see is their easy interaction with each other. Notice how they remain connected even when looking or leaning away from each other? See how they smile with their eyes? Each singer is obviously enjoying both a personal & private moment in the music while at the same time enjoying sharing with the other and the audience. The are definately performing for an audience, but they are including each other in their presentation. The body language and facial expressions reflect the music, the moment AND the friendship. When they look at each other, they are sharing with each other- they are not looking to each other because they don’t remember what comes next. They know the piece inside out.  There is no uncertainty on their faces.  No faltering. They are strong individually and strong together. We, the audience, watch this interaction and are left breathless at the strength and beauty of the performance.

How can a troupe achieve this flowing interaction with each other? This ease of movement? How can they be strong together?

First, by being strong individually. By taking the responsibility to practice at home. By knowing the choreography inside out and not needing to rely on visual cues from the other dancers. When even one dancer in the group is looking to another for cues of what comes next, she is showing uncertainty on her face. Her movements will be faltering and slightly delayed. Believe me, the audience sees this. The other dancers are aware of her uncertainty. The energy of the group is tentative. The audience sees this, too.

Second, by being aware of each other within the dance. See your fellow dancers out of the corners of your eyes. Feel them beside you. Feel them behind you. Hear them breathing. Breath with them. Look at each other! It isn’t bad to look at another dancer in comradship – when it becomes “bad” is when you look because you aren’t sure what comes next. If you are both dancing in the moment, you both know your choreography, you both are strong individually,… then when you look at each other you are sharing a moment. The audience sees you share this moment and they feel the power of the two of you together. Or the five of you together. Or the eight.

Third, by keeping the audience engaged emotionally. How? Animate your face! Smile at them. If a big smile isn’t appropriate to the piece, then smile with your eyes! It’s called “smize” – look it up on youtube.  If you aren’t smiling with your eyes, than at least arrange your features into a pleasant expression – look interested, look aware. Never let your face be slack and expressionless. Look at old pictures of yourself taken at a performance. How many show you looking at the floor? Or uninterested? Or slack? Too many, I’ll bet.  Remember, the camera isn’t catching you at a “bad” moment. The camera is catching you at a “typical” moment – a totally random moment. If the camera catches you in a typical random moment, you want to see at the least a little Mona Lisa smile, alertness in the features, a smize in the eyes. This is something you can practice at home. Become aware of your expression. You can practice right now!  Smile at the computer screen while you’re reading this… look like you are interested in what you’re reading. In troupe, practice this with each other while you are dancing. And don’t limit it to troupe rehearsal – practice keeping an expression of alert friendiness while you drive downtown, while you walk to the bank, while you fold your laundry! Turn that frown upside down!

As you know, I play in a 16-piece swing band called The Big Band. On our regular practice nights we rehearse in a circle, all players facing in to the center. In a band, listening is critical. Playing in a circle allows us to listen and hear each individual player and part as we are playing. So I know what is happening in the music at all times. Then, when we play a gig and are set up in show formation and sometimes in poor acoustical surroundings, I can play my part with the security of knowing what else is happening around me even though I can’t always hear it very well. I know that what the audience is hearing will be balanced if I play my part the way I did in rehearsal. Practicing in a circle also gives critical visual cues. When we stop to work out a sticky measure or two, we can see each other which allows everyone to participate in understanding. As in dance, each player must also be responsible to learn his or her music. The audience hears it when the group is not playing together or is not in tune.

Just like in a band, the audience sees it when the troupe is not playing together or is not in tune with each other.

So there you go. Learn your part and carry your own weight inside the dance. Smile with your eyes at the audience and at each other.  Keep your expression friendly and approachable. Practice dancing with an awareness of who is beside, behind and in-front-of you. Trust your fellow dancers and be someone they can trust in turn. Relax and allow yourself to enjoy the moment. The audience will see this, applaud all the louder and remember your group all the longer for it.

Right on, Dave!

Driving in to work this morning, I listened to an interview with a local computer guru, Dave Rogers. This is an interesting series about local small businesses that the CBC morning show, A New Day, does. Dave runs a computer business called Yukon Dude Now this may be a small thing to pick out of a much longer (& very interesting) interview, but Dave said something that jumped out and struck a chord. Dave, Yukon computer dude extraordinaire (and a cool guy who I happen to know because we both work at Yukon College) does not have a cell phone! Dave says that he did not move all the way up here just to be surrounded by millions of people, which is what a cell phone feels like to him. Hey, Dave! Me too! I feel exactly the same way! I do things the old fashioned way…if someone wants to speak with me, they leave a message on my answering machine (yes, answering machine – the kind you plug into your wall) and I phone them back as soon as its convenient. Nuts to being tied to everybody else’s schedule. I am not at the world’s beck and call and while I admit that it could be handy to phone home in the middle of the grocery store when I can’t remember if we’re out of lettuce or not, I certainly don’t want to carry the world around with me in my back pocket. (Well, okay – I don’t have a back pocket. I don’t want to carry the world around with me in my purple leather ruffled purse).  And then Dave said another thing that jumped out and struck a chord – Dave is annoyed by all the nose-down, thumb-pumping action that you see just about every second person doing on their blackberries. And you know what, Dave? It annoys me, too! It feels so anti-social. I suppose that that person is being technologically social (as opposed to….socially social?)… Hammering away with their thumbs and not having to make eye-contact with anyone. I guess I am not a technologically social person. I like to look at people and have people look at me. The other day I sang out a cheerful “good morning” to a fellow College employee only to realize that they were totally oblivious: head down, thumbs racing. Well, I wasn’t trying to interrupt, but when someone says good morning to you in the office, you look at them in the face and smile and return the greeting – and then go back to what you were doing. When did that change? I’ve been in a room having actual real live conversation with people when suddenly they give a start and stick their hand into their pocket, pull out the little device and start the thumb pumping. (Did you think I was going to say something else?) And what does that say to me, the real live person in front of them? I am suddenly left painfully aware that I am the least important person in the room. Whoever is texting or phoning is eminently more important than I am. Why is that? Why is it that the blackberry is more important than the real live conversation you are in the middle of? So much more important, in fact, that you have to drop everything you are doing at its command? Sort of like alcohol to an alcoholic.  Well, the nature of addiction and the loss of manners in society are two other topics entirely. But when it comes to cell phones… I’m with Dave on this one.

I wish I was at the lake…

It’s always sad to drive away from our little cabin at Fox Lake.  In fact, as soon as I leave I’m already wishing I was back.  I wish I was there right now! Closing the shutters, snapping the padlocks shut. Putting the deck chairs away, closing the heavy home made wooden front door – a door that looks like it belongs on the front of a castle or fortress with it’s thick wood slabs and wrought iron hinges; and then, reluctantly, one last stroll down the dock to gaze north and then south.  

Going to the lake feels like a ritual. We are there for several days each week of the entire summer. Kelly goes for several weekends throughout the winter, leaving me at the town house to work on my various dance projects. In the summer, when I am travelling back and forth, the drive is so familiar that I know where I am by the feel of the road under the tires. When we finally arrive it is almost like a surprise – we’re here already? My insides smile as we park at the top of the drive. Kelly gets out to unlock the chain across the driveway, and I look down the long slope and see the lake at the foot of it. I watch for the first glimpse of the cabin roof as we descend through the trees. Always a relief and thrill at the same time at the first glimpse of the green tar-paper roof, and then the cedar siding around the bedroom window.  The outhouse, cute as only an outhouse can be, the mowed lawn that is more gravel than lawn, the shed with the broken antlers and crooked wooden wind chime nailed to the peak – then the porch and the brick oven and the dock.  Home.

When I first enter, I stand in the middle of the room and just breathe. I feel a sensation like water pouring through me. Starting at my head, stress and tension flood down and out through the soles of my feet. I feel instantly lighter, fresher. Most of the time I don’t do anything at all when we are at the lake. I always take a box of work to do…dances to choreograph, lesson plans, whatever. What I actually end up doing, though, is reading and gazing at the view, and maybe some knitting and stitching. I have a dream of getting a treadle sewing machine and setting it up at the cabin. We don’t have electricity, so a treadle would be a requirement. I visualize myself sewing quilts and summer dresses.

Home is where the heart is, and my heart lives at Fox Lake. I wish I was at the lake right now. I really do.