Performing: To Look at the Audience or Not?

December 31, 2012 § 3 Comments

I have heard many different theories and many different preferences on where to look when performing.  When first learning to perform, I think it’s hard for most people to look at the audience.  Dealing with stage fright can be a process.  Most people have it at some point, and looking an audience member in the eye does not tend to help the nerves.  My first teacher taught me to look over the heads of the audience members if this was the case.  I know some dancers who have been dancing for years and still prefer this method.

Personally, I like to look at the audience.  I feel more of a connection.  However, I don’t tend to focus on one person for too long (unless their body language and facial expressions invite more interaction) because this can be too intense and make them feel uncomfortable.  Some audience members like to feel more included, but I think a lot of people just want to be spectators.  I like to look at the audience not only because it makes me feel more connected to them, but I also feed off of their energy and feel like my facial expressions are more genuine when I have people to respond to.

Sometimes I still look over the heads of the audience.  I do this if looking at them is too intense, such as when I feel like they are being unresponsive.  Also, it’s nice to alternate between looking over them and at them, especially if some audience members are sitting very close.  Sometimes looking over the audience can be used for effect as well.  This can be used to create an ethereal or dreamy quality, like you are seeing something in your mind. In the case of bright stage lights, I can’t see the audience members anyway, so this is more like looking over the heads of the audience.  Even though I may or may not be since I can’t actually see them.

The big no-no for where to look when performing is down!  Sometimes looking down for effect is appropriate.  It can help to express something in the music, intensify a movement or help direct the audience’s focus.  However, it should only be used for effect!  It is not fun to watch a dancer who stares at the floor the whole time.  Personally, as a spectator, it makes me feel uncomfortable.  I feel like the performer is nervous and therefore I am nervous.  Looking up and out is inviting and shouts confidence.  Even when a performer is experiencing stage fright, looking up is the best camouflage.  This will help the audience relax and enjoy the show.

What do you think?  Where do you like to focus when you perform?

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§ 3 Responses to Performing: To Look at the Audience or Not?

  • Sarah Bolden says:

    I have a hard time looking the audience in the eye while performing because I become so instantly engaged that I forget to dance. I’ve been working on making eye contact without doing that, but there have been many performances where I have just stopped dancing once I look at someone. It’s not stage fright…more like it snaps me out of the dance and I forget the choreography…I hope that makes sense.

    I’m glad to hear you are still dancing! We all miss you at the studio.

  • Jade Walters says:

    Interesting, Sarah. So you find the eye contact distracting?

    For me, it seems to be two separate thought processes. I look at audience members, but it’s not an intense focus. My focus is still on the dance and what I want to project, processing information about the audience members is usually secondary, unless someone is doing something noteworthy (like a small child wondering onto the dance floor when there’s a sword balanced on my head, for example. That definitely gets my attention–and pulls my focus toward caution).

    And I miss you guys, too!

  • Aquashift says:

    Reblogged this on The Philosopher's Blog and commented:
    Jade’s thoughts on performance issues when viewed by an audience.

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