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As spiritual beings our past (negative) thoughts, emotions and experiences are triggered by internal and external occurrences, prompting them to be repeated in the present. People do everything they can to prevent past (negative) thoughts/emotions/ behaviors/experiences from coming into the present and impacting their lives. Social skills easily grease the wheels of social relations for normal people. Not so for performers.

Performers need and want these emotions, thoughts, behaviors and their accompanying experiences – especially the negative ones - to come to the forefront and be accessible when performing, in order to aptly portray the full spectrum of human experience. For performers the past is like a hurricane whose fury is vented daily at work, and they are in the eye. Sure, all a “chorus girl” has to do is smile, be pretty and bubbly. But a true artist has at their disposal, every gnarly and horrid emotion, thought and behavior - as well as the happy, jolly ones - at their beck and call, in order to share a deeper and more profound feeling, with their spectators. Because what the performer feels, the audience feels.

To Be "Normal" or Not to Be Normal - No question - NOT!

Imagine, you are an actor, you spend your day screaming at another/others; shooting guns; having sex with a co-worker or pretending to be an insane person locked in a cell. Then, at the end of the day you go home and calmly take care of your cat/children/sick mother/husband – self – whatever. How do you handle the stress of the tumultuous day? You drink, take drugs, meditate (if you have time or are so inclined) – whatever you need to “be normal”. Hence the preponderance of drug and alcohol use in the performing arts.

Balancing the demands of working as a performing artist with that of everyday responsibilities can be a challenge. You have strange hours of work; you do strange and wild things (as mentioned), and you are considered by many (if you are any good), to be a divine power - (when, of course you are probably closer to being an UnGodly mess!) Nonetheless, many great performers bring their inside life to the outside in their work and still remain sane enough to be considered “normal”.

Age and Development

It’s been said that, as a dancer you don’t really become great until you get into your 30’s. After you have had a child, a husband, a business - a life. Only after you have experienced the roller-coaster that is life. Until then, what do you have to say about the human condition through your art? Can you adequately be that person who is agonized by guilt because of being sexually assaulted? heartbroken because your lost a child? enraged by the injustice of being jailed as an innocent, or depressed because you lost your career to a permanent injury? What do you bring to the table that reflects the human condition through your art, if you have never bested the hurrianes of living.

Having taught dance for 36 years I have recognized four fundamental attributes that come with being a great performer in my students. The best ones:

  1. Love sex. Sexuality is one of the critical fundamental parts of being human. To be a great performer, sexuality has to ooze from every pore of your being. And, I don't mean gross obvious sexuality - I mean the love of sexuality, which is apparent in sensuality, confidence and being comfortable in your skin through movement.

  2. Have humor. Humor is the reaction to the absurd and the negative in a way that releases tension through laughter, being amused and stating the obvious in an overt, ridiculous way. Depending on the tone behind it, humor can range from light, amusing comedy to mean-spirited satire. Fear of offending others tends to put a damper on humor. And, it prohibits expression in performance.

  3. Understand Psychology. Performers have to have a grasp on human emotions and understand a broad spectrum of personality traits. They need to know - subjectively and objectively - what makes us human and how that is expressed in behavior and being.

  4. Are unabashed exhibitionists. To be emotionally expressive, one has to enjoy being the center of attention - but also, know when not to be. They are charming, charismatic and quixotic.

Barring physical impediments, dancers who are stiff and rigid are often out of touch with their sexuality. Or, those rigidly bound to behaving correctly socially are often denied the emotional freedom to be expressive. Dancers who have led happy, carefree lives without pain, suffering or conflict may smile a lot but never show any emotion but joy. Living a privileged life in an ivory tower, how do you express to others, the pathos of human experience? Life is a bowl full of complex emotions and experiences that make us all human.Our job as performers is to reflect the human condition in our work. We do this by letting go of our fear of judgement, embracing the rich tapestry of life experience, loving ourselves and our audience.

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