How to Show Emotion Through Dance

3:34 PM
Being a good dancer consists of a number of different factors. There are the physical elements – flexibility, movement and co-ordination – combined with the mental elements: creativity, memory and passion. How do you show emotion through dance though? A dancer’s body is her or her instrument, and using body language – often in an abstract manner – can be used to portray many different feelings and emotions on varying scales. Whatever type of dance you practice, it is very easy to overlook the emotional aspect of dance in favour of perfecting physical movement and routines. However, the ability to arouse and convey emotional feelings through movement will take your dancing skills to another level. This article explores some tips to convey emotion through dance.


“Let the movement tell the story.” Antony Tudor (1909-1987)
Your body can tell a story. If you are following a routine to a set story, the danger is to get too focused on getting this right. Upon repeated rehearsals, a dancer might become too focused on the original story, start to know it too well, and get too deeply involved. According to Tudor, this can then lead to a loss of impact. Tudor therefore asked his students to forget the stories’ emotions and to concentrate on the movement. He felt that after many rehearsals, the emotion was already built into the movement.

Make the right shapes
Making curved shapes can be soft, comforting, and warm. Straight and forceful movements can be strong, fear-inducing and angry. A successful way of creating movements that convey certain feelings is to imagine the emotion you are trying to create. Then you need to improvise a natural movement that comes to you when you think about that feeling. You need to then extend that movement to all parts of your body. Think about how each different body part would react to that emotion. Think about your arms, legs, stomach, toes, head, neck and everything in between. Think about each body part separately if that helps. Then try all body parts together.

Listen to the music
Listen carefully to the music you are dancing to, and break down the meaning behind each bar. This may involve more than just learning and understanding lyrics. Think about the qualities and style of the music. Is it in a major or a minor key? Are some notes played softly, and others with force? Are some bars lively and staccato? Others may be slow and flowing. The mood of music can change throughout a piece; make sure your dancing reflects this. Convincingly dancing to a piece of music will involve a thorough understanding of its lyrics, its style, its roots and its story.

React to your audience
You want the audience to understand your dance movements. Therefore, you need to make sure you acknowledge they are there, and react to them. If you want them to feel the sadness you are conveying, look at their expressions and reflect these in your movements. If you were breaking bad news to them, you would expect them to react badly. In turn, you would react back. Try to imagine how they are feeling from watching you dance. Listen to any feedback you receive and break down the reasoning behind this.

Use your hands and fingers
Dance is visible in every part of your body – no matter how small. Being at the tips of your body, your hands need to be an extension of the moves you are making with your body – right through to your fingertips. It’s easy to forget about finger movement – but clenched or limp fingers could leave your moves looking unfinished. You will know when you are feeling true emotion as you will feel it right though your body to your fingers and toes.

Attend acting classes
Acting and dancing are closely intertwined. When performing as a dancer, you are also playing a character. Attending a separate dramatics class will help you to learn to be more expressive – through gestures, body language, speech, noises, movement and facial expressions. Acting classes can vary in cost – amateur dramatics classes are often very cheap, others you may have to save or borrow money to attend, such as this one. Either way, it is worth attending an acting course as it will give you a basic grasp of how to express yourself.
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