Be a Smart Dancer: 10 Qualities of Smart Dancers

In workshops and at your classes, you often hear, "Be a smart dancer!"

Being a smart dancer will help you, your fellow dancers, the choreographer and the performance piece much stronger. Let's break down what being a smart dancer includes.

Photo: Greta Hodgkinson gets ready backstage before performing as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. Source: The Ballet Blog Tumblr

Being Spatially Aware

Being spatially aware means that you understand you're dancing in a 3-dimensional world. Smart dancers know about body directions and how they relate to the space around you. Being spatially aware means you know not to stand too close to other dancers, how to use your space, how to travel upstage, downstage, stage right and stage left. It means you understand how a combination will travel so that you can properly set up, thus not running out of room before being able to finish the combination. Being spatially aware means you won't run into other dancers while going across the floor, and it means you understand how to not be in the way of other dancers. Being spatially aware helps everyone.

Body Directions:
Croisé devant: Crossed and in front.
Croisé derrière: Crossed and in back.
Effacé devant: Open and in front.
Effacé derrière: Open and in back.
Ecarté devant: Separated and in front.
Ecarté derrière: Separated and in back.
À la quatrième devant/En face devant: To the fourth front.
À la quatrième derrière/En face derrière: To the fourth back.
À la seconde: To second.

Staying Focused

Smart dancers know how to make themselves focus and find their centers even on bad days. Through exhaustion and frustration, smart dancers can pull it together under pressure. They are ready for anything at any moment. If a choreographer needs you to perform a role because someone is injured, you have to be ready. You have to be able to push the chaos away and focus on the current space and time. Smart dancers know how to override stresses in order to get the job done.

Understanding Patterns

Smart dancers know the importance of identifying patterns in combinations, in phrasing and in choreography. The faster you pick up on patterns, the easier it is to comprehend and memorize. Once your mind has absorbed the pattern, your body can embody the movement making it easier to mentally reverse the patterns or combinations. Understanding patterns helps with speed, coordination and reversing. It also helps with communicating and notating movement to other dancers. If you can identify which part of the pattern you're discussing, it will help other dancers know where in time and space you are.

Understanding Music Theory

Smart dancers learn music theory. They understand the difference between rhythm, tempo, melody and timing. They understand different time signatures (or meters), and how that will effect the dance. They know how to count using numbers and letters to signify different accents and movements. (For example: 1-e-&-a, 2, 3-e-&-a, 4). Being able to read music helps a dancer understand and flesh out what a composer is trying to get across. The more you understand music and can hear rhythms inside of rhythms the more detailed your dancing will become.

Musical Terms to Know:
Rhythm: Regular re-occurrence of the accented beat.
Tempo: The rate of speed of the music.
Melody: A succession of notes forming a distinctive sequence; the tune.
Timing: Ability to put movements to the tempo of the music; counting.


Observation: Picking Up On Details

What makes a smart dancer is being able to pick up on details without being told. A smart dancer knows what to look for and how to transfer the knowledge into their memory all at once. For example, being able to pick up what the arms, head, hands, body, legs, feet are all doing at what tempos in what directions and not missing a detail is a learned skill. Smart dancers watch with the intention to digest the information and commit it to memory.


Anticipation: Thinking Ahead

The ability to anticipate is an extremely useful tool for dancers. For example, in ballet class if you want to hold your arabesque a little longer, than you have to anticipate speeding up the transition move following it in order to stay within the phrasing of the music. Or perhaps there is a surprising shift of weight, you have to anticipate this happening so you are not late on the timing. The same goes with anticipating how a combination will travel. You have to think ahead so that you are not in the way. Anticipation also becomes useful when preparing for auditions and rehearsals. You never know what is going to happen or what you will be asked to do, so you have to prepare for everything.

Making Connections

Smart dancers know how to make connections. This can include making connections from class to class to cross-training, rehearsals and observing others. Smart dancers are always learning and they are always keeping an open mind about how to approach movement and training their bodies. Smart dancers also know the dance world is small, and they know how to interact with different people in order to stay successful. Making connections and understanding how their bodies work and how their field works is what keeps them on their toes.

A ballet teacher instructs her students at the Iraqi Music and Ballet School in downtown Baghdad. Photo by: David Furst. Source

Self-awareness: Knowing Your Body & Emotions

Understanding your body and your mental and emotional status is not always easy, but smart dancers know themselves and their weaknesses. They know what muscle imbalances or structural challenges they are working with, and they know when they are having days where they are fighting muscle fatigue. Knowing how to take care of yourself is important. Understanding how to prevent injuries or care for injuries when they occur will get you back dancing faster. Understanding your emotions and how you deal with stress, long rehearsals or certain types of people will help you evaluate situations and how you function within them. Smart dancers listen to their bodies and they take the feedback seriously.

Understanding Different Techniques

Smart dancers are open to learning different techniques, and they also educate themselves on the different techniques. For example, Martha Graham's technique offers different focuses and skills than Cunningham's technique, and vice versa. Learning how to fuse the benefits of different techniques will make you a well-rounded dancer, and you'll be more prepared for whatever choreographers or teachers throw at you.


Showing Respect

Smart dancers show respect without questioning. They take it upon themselves to learn their dance history and know the people who have shaped dance. They understand the responsibility that falls on their shoulders to dance and dance well; to train and train hard. Smart dancers learn where they've come from in order to anticipate where they're going. Smart dancers respect the art, the studio space, their teachers, their fellow dancers and the creative process. They know how to provide constructive criticism without hurting someone or killing an idea. Smart dancers place their hope in each class and every day in order to protect the art we love so much.


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