This has only recently become a “thing” for me. After performing on stages over the past 25 years and redefining myself within various dance forms, I have begun to ask myself: What is the difference between a dancer and a performer? Is there a difference? Or do they work together to create an artist as a whole?
I have come to understand that technique is only part of the equation that makes a dancer a true artist. And oddly, I had never considered myself an artist until only recently. I always introduced myself as a dancer or a designer—never an artist.
To me, artists were the ones that painted or sculpted or used other mediums to communicate to their audience.
A lot has changed that mindset over the past 5 years. Burlesque definitely helped shape a new perspective about performing vs. dancing for me. It has become really evident to me that there is a difference between a dancer and a performer. I realized that my medium is my body. I use it to communicate mood in the same way a painter’s strokes can tell a story.
In my post about the fourth wall, I talk about how I personally break through the fourth wall to connect with the audience. To me, this is paramount for all performers to figure out and practice. I have seen some gorgeous ballerinas with flawless technique on TV or YouTube, but I don’t see an artist because they are so caught in their mind about the steps and execution of the steps that they forget that the audience is even watching. The tricks and flips executed by some of today’s contemporary dancers are also amazing, but not moving me in the way a true artist does.
If a person is just executing a series of movements onstage with a big smile and hoping the audience likes it, that to me is a dancer. The dancer that consistently breaks that fourth wall, takes the audience on a journey and moves them to emotion or action, then that is an artist.
I strive for artistry in every act I create, from the tiny details of the costume to the music choice to the steps I string together to create my choreography. Every act I create is a piece of art. I use the elements of art to make this happen.
Color | Shape | Texture | Composition | Authenticity
Color is a very powerful communicator in art and branding. Likewise in the creation of an act. The color you choose for your costume and lighting makes a world of difference in what you are wishing to communicate to the audience. I chose black for my Noir act because black contrasts with my skin nicely, it communicates moodiness and also elegance and drama. The velvet helps too.
This is where technique comes in. I once took a class from Rita Alexander, a burlesque legend. She wasn’t a classically trained dancer, but she was somewhat famous in her time as a performer. She said that her mentor made her practice hand exercises day in and day out for three weeks! And that became her thing. Her articulation of her hands is amazing! Watch video below and see how the shape of her hands is entrancing:
I talked a bit about velvet when I spoke of using color. The same way that 2D and 3D artists use texture to communicate a feeling is how we must as performers use texture. In burlesque, it’s easy. Just add velvet, feathers or patent leather to communicate the mood of your act. With other performing arts, you can use fabric and wind to create movement and a dreamy mood. The possibilities are endless, really.
This is probably one of the toughest parts of the puzzle to execute. For performers, this is where choreography, staging and timing come in. It is also the piece of the puzzle that is really almost the entire puzzle. It combines all those elements above to shape the entire act. Focusing on creating a story, even if there isn’t a storyline, helps lead the audience through the act and not left wondering at the end, “wtf did I just watch?”
This is where I get all woo-ey. If you haven’t read the Fourth Wall Post, read it. This is an extension of that post. You gotta be authentic. You just do. And you gotta share your heart and love with your audience. As an artist, it is important to communicate to the audience what you are trying to say or what you mean by employing all the pieces of the puzzle listed above and to do it with heart. The audience is there to be entertained. They want to see the real authentic YOU! Be vulnerable, be bold, be flirty, be funny, be whatever you want to be, but be true. True to yourself and to your audience. They want to experience what you are experiencing on that stage. They want to be transported. If you can get out of your head and perform with your heart, you will be sharing an artist with that audience.
Understand how to leverage all these elements in your acts, and you will have a piece of art. One that stands the test of time and thematic barriers. One that will be requested again and again. Because as you tap into your inner artist and share that with the world, you will be adding value to you as a performer and that is what the audience is paying for. The performer, the artist, the one that is leading them on a journey.
Enjoy your journey, my friends.
Comment below if this resonates with you and you have any other insights.
Athena, aka Gazella