A show-and-tell of tricks? What the heck is that?
This is my absolute favorite way to describe a potentially great performance that fell flat because the artist didn’t think about the transitions between poses. They hold beautiful shapes and then lose all their stage presence as they work on getting into their next move. These often feel rushed, confusing, clunky, and have distracting hand traffic*.
Think about every floor-based dance you’ve ever seen, whether on Youtube or at a concert hall. Have you ever seen a dancer completely lose their focus as they prepare for their next pose? No. Dance is fluid, energetic, and purposeful every single second. It doesn’t matter if it’s fast or slow, fluid or choppy, happy or sad, there is always energy in a dancer’s body as they continue their choreography. You would never go to a ballet to see a dancer hit an arabesque only to lose her stage presence, walk across stage, shuffle into position, and execute a fouette. It would never happen! If it did, you’d be bored, you wouldn’t understand any story or emotion they tried to portray, and you’d be upset that the performance you thought you’d get to see that night fell short. Worst of all, you’d wonder why you should care about this dancer or dance company since they don’t seem to care about their work themselves.
So many things happen when we ignore our transitions. As I’ve already pointed out, if you lose energy and presence to prep for your shape you lose all connection with your audience. This doesn’t mean you must look at the audience the entire time (and unless you’re going for creepy, please don’t), it just means that whatever character you’re portraying must be consistent and purposeful through all movement.
Transitions, while serving to set us up for our next move, also act as windows of opportunity to find new shapes, connect with the audience, or portray emotion through your body language. They’re also seen. We seem to forget that everything on stage can be seen, from your facial expression to the tiniest weight shift. Your transitions don’t magically turn invisible until you can get into your next pose. They’re part of the choreography that lands you there. Thus, it’s incredibly important to explore them, take your time, and decide how you want this transition to appear on stage. As you practice, be aware of every time you must adjust your grip to get in and out of your tricks. See if you can find cool and interesting ways to get there. Each time you repeat a move try to discover ways you can reduce the number of hand adjustments. Play with shifting weight as you move from trick to trick to see if you can find a spot to create a new shape or connect with the audience.
Arguably most important, you cannot move as efficiently if you don’t use your transitions properly. The way our muscular system is set up integrates our body from heel to head in a linked chain. You have two main chains - one in the front and one in the back. If your body loses a link in either chain it cannot communicate effectively. Whether dancing on the ground or aerially you must always engage your legs, hip, core, and shoulders to keep these chains working. If you lose that integration, your nervous system must spend extra time getting all parties on board before they can work together. This takes about a fourth of a second, which sounds small but can make all the difference in executing your choreography. With untrained dancers this is especially risky as the body always goes through the easiest path. If the nervous system is late and the easiest path of an unintegrated body involves putting 100% of the load on the hip flexors, you’re much more likely to injure yourself. Thus, losing our energy to awkwardly transition to a new shape can actually be dangerous.
Improving your transitions isn’t difficult, but takes time and lots of repetitions. Practice your tricks over and over and over until it’s so in your body you feel comfortable taking risks. It also takes awareness. Be aware of everything you’re doing from toes to fingertips to ensure your whole body is working together. If you can, take a ballet class. I was never in love with ballet, but I do love the conditioning it gave me to keep my body integrated while moving gracefully through choreography. Any dance class will help, but ballet focuses on training this integration more than any other dance genre I know. Finally, video yourself. Watch and rewatch to see what angles may gift interesting shapes from different body parts. Get creative in your head and see if you can accomplish your vision in the air. If not, find a variation of that vision and make it work.
Remember that it takes time to perfect your vision so be patient with yourself. It’s helpful to go back and watch old videos to see how much you've progressed as well. Keep working and you'll say goodbye to the show-and-tell of tricks and hello to dancing in the air for good!
Good luck and happy flying!
*hand traffic refers to the amount of times an artist must adjust their grip on an apparatus to get into their next pose. For example, someone who has to regrip five times move to their next shape has a lot more hand traffic than someone who can adjust their grip once to get there.
Questions? Let me know in the comments!