Dancing with Your Heart on Your Sleeve

Keeping dancers’ emotions in check and learning to handle feelings in and outside the studio to improve as a dancer, artist and person

I often hear artists being portrayed as very emotional people but I ask myself if we are actually more exaggerated and eccentric when it comes to feelings than the average person? Yes, we care a lot about what we do for a living and we are asked daily to bring all sorts of emotions to the surface, but I wouldn’t say we are more sensitive than non-dancers, it just depends on the person and their own personality. I think we are all emotional when we want to be.

❝I can also bring my own feelings and experiences onto the stage with me to help develop a character❞

Dance is a way of expressing emotion so I think it’s quite normal if once in a while we subconsciously, or maybe even consciously, take those feelings out of the studio and into our daily lives, and vice versa. As for me, I love to get emotional and really into a role. The stage is a place where I am put into many different situations I wouldn’t encounter in my normal life and I can also bring my own experiences onto the stage with me to help develop a character.

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Performing as Anne Frank in the most emotional scene I have ever been a part of in Reginaldo Oliveira’s ‘Anne Frank’ with Pablo Octávio as Kitty (Photo: Jochen Klenk)

Another benefit of emotions in dance can be having the perfect chance in the studio or on stage to forget who we are and the troubles we may have. There have been a handful of times I have come into work with my head full of problems and I have had to push them to the back of my mind and smile my way through a ballet, which can actually be a relief, or I have turned those worries into movement and benefited from it.

❝I always realise how good it is to hear advice from someone with eyes and ears outside of the ballet bubble❞

With all these feelings flying around the theatre we are bound to clash with each other from time to time and situations can become much more difficult than they need to be. I also notice that we all get into this little bubble and tend to all see things the same – our feelings bounce off each other becoming bigger and deeper than they actually are. I am sure this happens in all close-knit communities and it can turn something perfect into something unhealthy for everyone. Instead of encouraging each other, we get stuck in a rut of slowly bringing each other down, even if we don’t mean to.

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Listening intently as The Sylph in Peter Schaufuss’s ‘La Sylphide’ (Photo: Pablo Octávio)

I have learnt over the years to yes, listen to my fellow dancers but also keep an ear to the outside world. I am lucky enough to have a husband and parents who support me no matter what and I take any advice they offer me. My husband is often so good at helping me see the other side of the story which, even though I don’t always like to hear it as it contradicts what I think, it is often very valid and very true. I always realise how good it is to hear advice from someone with eyes and ears outside of the ballet bubble.

There are definite benefits and drawbacks to wearing your heart on your sleeve but as always I suggest focusing on the positives it can bring. We can put those feelings into our dance and work to improve as artists while remembering when pieces ask for feelings of sadness, anger or any negativity to leave those sensations in the studio where they belong. And finally, no dancer should ever be stuck in a rut, so burst that invisible bubble with the help of outside advisers, to enable you to grow and learn as you go.

With love,

Harriet

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