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.

1 comment

  1. Great advice! Smize, hunh? Never heard the word before and I can’t say I like the sound of it, but I like what it means.

    And if you can smize, you can even look friendly when they tell you to wear a “neutral expression” for your passport photo.

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