Wise Eyes

December 4, 2015

What do we focus on when we dance?

The way we direct our focus has a significant impact on the way we move. Do we see the people around us? Do we notice the architecture of the space we are in? Are we aware of what we are seeing while dancing, or do things seem like a blur? Right now, I am focusing on focus.

I have found that visualization in the mind and awareness of both internal and external conditions of the body have enhanced my movement experience. I feel the three-dimensional nature of my body and the negative space around it. I also find more clarity and directness with my intention when my focus is thoughtful, and therefore, more refined.

Being mindful of focus may initially seems like a lot of work for a dancer, but it eventuality makes this easier. When we have strong focus with a flexible state of mind, we are also more resilient. This enables risk taking…the pure, raw decision-making that is real and necessary for a dancer. Bold and daring choices eliminate second-guessing, which is not performance-worthy…unless that is the intention of the choreographer, of course.

Assuming that is not the case, let’s presume that that choice of the choreographer is for the dancer to stand still. Sometimes this is the hardest thing of all. What do we do when we are asked to stand still or just walk on stage? Interestingly, many choreographers will have dancers simply walk across the floor as a preliminary part of their audition process. A lot can be deciphered about a person from the way that they walk. Do they fidget or fix themselves? Do they over-assert their confidence or idea of it by puffing their chest or sticking out their ribs? Do they drift inside of themselves? Do they emanate outward? All of these perceptions can be drawn from such an exercise that strips the dancer of their comfort zone.

Not surprisingly, movement is often a comfort zone for dancers, and it can mask a lot of insecurities or personal feelings. Asking a dancer to not to move may be on par to asking them to stand naked before a crowd. “Just stand and look out,” may be the instructions we are given. We ought to be comfortable in our skin as performers; if we are not, it could be beneficial to come to terms with why we dislike revealing ourselves. This doesn’t have to be a therapy session, but bringing awareness to our state of mind by implementing different kinds of focus can benefit us as performers. We also get to learn more about ourselves since the body is our instrument, and our experience is so visceral.

Lately, I have been experimenting with different ways of focusing my eyes during class. Sometimes I try and see the room and the people around me while dancing. Although it is important to bring awareness to the outside, my previous notions were recently challenged. One of my ballet teachers offered some intriguing insights.

He inquired about my external focus and suggested that it is not possible to be truly in my body if my eyes and intention are directed out. How could I sense and feel the exercise in my body if my attention were diverted to external stimuli?

Sometimes we are not “in our bodies” when we are dancing. We may be going through the motions properly, but we are not truly present. I am finding that balance and moderation are the key…a little bit of everything. The constant back and forth of checking in with my body on the inside and being engaged with the outside world needs to occur, but it should not overwhelm. By truly seeing out, we are awakening the sense of sight. We are charging that very important part of our perception to the world.

How can we relate to others and viewers if we close ourselves off? It is also a good practice to know what it feels like to be invisible and not give any attention or focus to the outside. It is a very different type of condition, usually not the state of mind that we want to be in for a ballet class. However, we are encouraged to know what it is like.

Our focus helps us balance on one leg and do pirouettes. Our focus gives life to our performance. It also changes our personal experience in our bodies, which is the most important thing of all. How we feel and what we believe ourselves to be, influences our sense of self as performers. The audience can and should be able to detect the energy that radiates out of the performers. If we are successful, we will bring the audience into our experience.

Our focus guides the viewer, so not only will we end up changing the way our work feels on our bodies, but we will be better communicators to spectators. We are actually in control. We make the conscious decision to decide. The movement does not just happen to us. Intention has to come across somehow, and the focus is a very good place to start. The eyes say so much.

It has been a challenge to focus on this topic because I am still pondering a lot of these ideas in my mind. It is simple, but simple does not equate to easy. It takes time to synthesize, but articulating my ideas has made them that much more comprehensible. Concentrating on something so tedious can be maddening, but that is where the growth occurs. We must push past our perceived boundaries and limitations. Being responsible for our sense of focus can only deepen our understanding of our craft!

– Nika Antuanette
Former Summer Study NYC 2015 Student

Wise Eyes