"Chatty Dancers... When It's Not A Problem" article by Jo Boden

Let’s talk about TALKING. Let’s be clear here – I don’t mean talking in class, on stage or during dance. I mean talking – FOR dancers and WITH dancers. And how I’ve seen it make all the difference…

I often find myself beginning an article or presentation with the words ‘I was having a conversation with a class or dancer’. I have a lot of conversations. When choreographing, in class and with other dance creatives who live and breathe in this same dance world. And I still call it DANCE too – because we’re still connecting as dancers in that moment, we’re just not necessarily moving our bodies.

You and I are so much more than the sum of our shapes – our lines, our extensions and placement.

Sometimes I stop and speak with dancers who are clearly not expecting it. They expect the music to continue and the movement to be our goal. And it is. But not just movement to music, getting the correct lines and applying the correct technique. Because you and I are so much more than the sum of our shapes – our lines, our extensions and placement. It’s also our goal (and, I believe, our responsibility) to make the most of each dance moment… and how can we truly do that if we’re only bringing our bodies to it? If you and I are more than our bodies – then it stands to reason that we can get more out of the dance experience (AND share more with those who watch us) if we ALSO engage our minds, emotions and whole selves.

Now I’ve met with some eye rolls. I’ve met many dancers who shut down when I ask them to contribute to or open up to the conversation. I’ve also met dance teachers and choreographers who dismiss the need for talking, for conversation about what and why we’re doing this or that. I’ve heard ‘It’s too much’, ‘Too deep’ and ‘It’s fluffy stuff’. But I will continue because I think it’s more important than I can say in one article. I believe that who you are as a person walks into that dance studio with you and HOW you bring this to the WAY you dance is what makes each one of us different from the next. And I don’t want to see the dance world become a sea of sameness.

I have many reasons for believing in conversations with dancers, here are few of them: - You’re more than the shapes your body makes. How we execute the choreography will clearly differentiate us – we all make different shapes with our different bodies and our facility and ability varies. But connecting with an audience – many of whom don’t ‘speak dance technique’ - is about the thinking/ feeling HUMAN that you are too.

  • Without you breathing life into what you do – what makes you any different from the person making almost identical shapes next to you? Sad/ happy/ lost/ sassy/ determined/ powerful… these feelings don’t have ONE facial expression, ONE energy and ONE vibe. They don’t have a right and wrong way to be shown. The possibilities are endless and it takes knowing what you want to say and then investing it in the movement, not just completing it.
  • Keeping it simple for a second: If you don’t engage with what you’re doing, how do you expect an audience to engage with you?
  • Often mental blocks are what stop us more than anything else. Talking about these unpacks them and brings us together in what we face and feel as dancers. And it sometimes releases us from the limits we put on ourselves – this is a game changer. For you AND the audience.
  • If we want our love of dance and our experience in the dance world to last then we have to learn to sustain it, understand it and process it with more than just our bodies.
  • Here I am going deep because you’re a dancer and I’m a dancer and dance goes there… Dancers, like singers, authors, actors, and other creatives, are those who shine a light. We make an audience feel/ remember/find something. Dancers are amongst those who remind the world to feel not just function. When dancers do brave work, the audience also benefits. Brave work involves thinking/talking/feeling through what you’re doing and the dance choices you’re making. And I happen to think this is important stuff.
If you don’t engage with what you’re doing, how do you expect an audience to engage with you?

The dancers and dances that stick in my mind are the ones who made me feel something. Those who shared more than just movement to music and who gave me a glimpse of the fire (and so much more) that they have to offer. Because dancers have something to say and it takes work to get to a place of being courageous enough to say it. If dancers don’t realize they can share this in the way they move there’s a chance their unique voice will never be heard. Or they may just not realize that what they have to say is worth hearing. That’s all too risky for me.

And I believe that’s worth talking about.

About the author

Often heard saying 'Stand like you mean it' and 'You don't get this moment twice', Jo is an enthusiast. ​A teacher with experience from across the globe, a choreographer and dancer spanning film, TV and live performance. A writer and former children's talent agent. 

Currently LA-based, Jo makes regular appearances at EDGE PAC (Hollywood) and is represented by Go 2 Talent Agency. She is also one half of the creative partnership As1creative and co-creator of in-studio workshop OneDanceEpic.