So, I accidentally stumbled upon this quote today and it got me to thinking about how it applies to my dancing. I’ve been getting into a lot of discussions with some close friends recently about the “space” that we inhabit. By space, I mean where we do life in the moment (not necessarily the more generalized idea in the quote). I realize, as a performer for the stage, that it is important for the performer to take responsibility for his or her personal space on the stage and fill it completely.
We are, all of us, occupying some “space” at all times — at work, at home or at the studio on the floor, etc. It’s not just filling the space with energy, but the kind of energy makes a difference. However, the first issue is learning to take ownership of that space.
Recently, I had a free-lance job working with some students on a musical — as part of the directing team. My job was helping to choreograph the huge cast through large crowd scenes with movement, etc. When directing, I always insist that each student take ownership for whatever space they are occupying on the stage. They need to know exactly where all the set pieces are, the other actors, where they are coming from, where they are going, how long it will take them to get there, how they will navigate to a new position, how their body fills their space, etc. After that, we talked about how they should take responsibility for filling that space around them with specific energy. Each cast member has to fill their own space 100% or they pull down the rest of the cast.
I hadn’t really given it much thought — how important this is on the dance floor. I think I do this almost unconsciously because of so many years on-stage and learning to command attention. Sometimes when I talk to other dance students, they lament on how much they wish they could light up the floor, and I never seem to have enough time to discuss something so esoteric to them as owning their space and filling it with energy. But, this is really what works for me. And it starts with taking responsibility for that space. Sometimes it’s easy to place that responsibility on our teachers or the music or the dance costumes … but, this is absolutely the wrong choice — in my opinion. Your teacher or dance partner can only be responsible for their own space. They can guide you around the floor and encourage you and keep you upright — but they cannot fill any space except their own. The music will never wait for you to fill the space — in fact, it will happily take over whatever space you leave empty — it doesn’t mind. Your costume is not alive — no matter how many rhinestones or cut-outs or fringes you apply — it can only be an extension of what you initiate. You must realize that YOU are the star of your space — nothing else. If you leave a void, it will fill with something else.
So, first, take ownership. Be responsible for the space you inhabit on the floor. Realize that no one else can do it for you and no one can do it the way you can. If you admit that it’s yours, it takes the pressure off of you blaming your partner, music or costume for being a less-than-memorable performer.
When I take ownership, I must concentrate and focus on taking care of the space I’m currently inhabiting. And I must care for that space. If I own it, it is a direct reflection of me. So, if I fill that space with minimal energy, negative thoughts, pass-the-blame accusations, insecurity, fear, etc., then I have not cared for what has been given me — and I must answer for that. It will show in my dancing. However — it is most certainly a process. A difficult and possibly arduous process for some. But, definitely worth striving for. Let me tell you a story about me:
When I started college, I thought I’d be a teacher. I assumed I’d be some of kind of speech or English teacher. That became my course of study. When I was a sophomore, I had to take a voice class. I really enjoyed the art of telling stories. I didn’t have much experience on the stage and had never had any instruction until I went to college. My teacher for this class was an older woman who was obsessed with pronouncing words exactly how the dictionary said the general American should … and that drove me crazy. 😉 I had a very small, thin voice and my teacher made it abundantly clear to me that I’d most likely never get a role on a big stage if I did not fix this. She let me know that I would be lost on stage and my weak voice would be overwhelmed by other actors, etc. She was “old school” in the sense that she let all of us know our problems in front of the whole class. Lots of students would get mad or quit. I remember sitting there in my seat and looking at her and instinctively knowing I had a choice. I could get mad and keep doing things my way or I could change and see what would happen. My personality type is the — “just wait, I’ll show you!” — and that’s what I did. I took those voice drills and every night I went outside late in the evening behind the theatre on the campus. A busy road ran close beside and I practiced those drills over and over … trying hard to drown out the sounds of the cars driving by. There was nothing to confine my voice like four walls or some great acoustics in a practice room — but I knew this was the best way to get results. It took a long time and many hours, but my voice started to get stronger and stronger. And eventually, I could hold my own on-stage — even beside the most powerfully resonant male voices.
It wasn’t easy and it took time and lots and lots of drilling. But, it worked and I learned more than one important lesson from that experience. I was responsible for my performance. I couldn’t expect other actors to lower their voice or energy for me. I was the weak link on stage by my choice. I had to take ownership of my body — only I could do that. From there I started learning that I have to take ownership of my space. And ownership starts with care. I looked up the definition of care — here it is: