Author: Joey Ortolani
I often tell my students and their parents,
“Some days you have a good dance day. Some days it’s just not in the cards. But there are certain elements to performing, and competing, that don’t require you to be on it, whether as an individual or as a group.”
If so many things are out of your control when you hit the stage, why not control ALL the things you possibly can so you can focus on doing an amazing job on your routine? The element of PRESENTATION is fully in your control, and I’m here to share with you my thoughts on how to put your best foot forward.
As a dance educator, industry professional, and competition judge, I have heard the full array of opinions on stage presentation and what matters, should matter, and doesn’t matter. From, “Well, if the dancers are taught properly and given good choreography, it shouldn’t matter what their costume is,” to, “Rhinestoning costumes is a waste and distraction,” all the way to, “My daughter has a Sweet Sixteen to go to after she dances and I don’t want too much gel in her hair because she has to be in pictures later.” From this judge’s perspective, presentation matters just as much as good technique and interesting choreography. Impeccable presentation shows us that you put thought into how your team will be received and you’ve communicated to your dancers the importance of first impressions.
Now, there is some debate among dance educators and competition judges alike as to what the major do’s and don’t of competition are. However, in general, most agree that the easiest element of presentation to get right is uniformity. Outside the realm of an artistic choice that justifies each dancer having different hair, shoes, makeup, or tights, a uniform look is the best approach to appearing like a polished group before you even move a muscle. But there are many elements beyond color and style for each of these items.
Not only do you want your team’s hair to all be the same style, but the execution of the hairstyle should be the same. It’s very distracting to see a group of dancers with pristine, pulled back, and seemingly glued down hair, only to scan across the formation to see a sloppy ponytail or fly-away hairs. Every dancer is unique with different texture, quantity, length, and manageability of hair. There is no right or wrong hairstyle; however, there is a right or wrong execution of that hairstyle. If your aim is a slicked-back look, make sure there is no risk of ANY hair falling out or fly aways. If you choose a bun or ponytail, make sure the height and style of each ponytail or bun matches.
A note about hair pieces - just when you think you have enough bobby pins in, put in another! Head pieces, wigs, or fake ponytails falling off a dancer’s head are some of the biggest distractions that can occur on stage. For head pieces, you want to make sure there is no physical way your head piece could fall off. You should be able to sleep with it in, and wake up and not have it budge. Don’t be afraid to add chin straps or foam padding to hats if they’re sliding around. Explore other types of hair pins than just standard bobby pins. Wig pins, roller pins, mini pins, and spin pins offer a range of security for different hair styles.
Most judges agree - your shoes should be functional, appropriate for the piece, and match your legs whether you are wearing pants, tights, or bare legs. It is very confusing to see a dancer in black pants and black shoes with skin showing in between. Simply putting on black tights or thin black socks to create a continuous color elongates the line and doesn’t cut it off at the ankle. The same can be said if most of your legs are exposed or you’re wearing tan tights - you should wear tan shoes, or no shoes (and never just one shoe, but that’s another article entirely!). It’s also confusing to see tan, or bare legs, with black shoes. In dance, the elongation of the leg line is crucial to the execution of technique, both in appearance and energy. (Judges don’t say, “Point your feet!” for fun. Often, if you draw attention to the feet by breaking the line of shoe color and leg color, the judges’ eyes are immediately drawn to the feet, and will notice improper technique! As the old adage says, “Fake it til ya make it!” and create the illusion of perfect feet by keeping the line consistent.) Additionally, in group routines, not only should your shoes be the same color, but the same STYLE! This requires good planning from teachers and choreographers. Unless you’re going for an expensive tap shoe, or high heel, most dance shoes used in competitive dancing are roughly the same price from brand to brand. Choose a brand and style for your team and enforce the rule!
The final point on shoes is functionality. Of course, you never want to go on stage in shoes with holes or tears in them. However, as a dance educator and professional, I don’t recommend wearing brand new shoes on the day of competition. Dance shoes are functional items which, over time, form to fit the unique shape of the owner’s foot. Going on stage in shoes that aren’t broken in does not set a dancer up for success. Finding the sweet spot of breaking in a shoe so you know how it functions on your foot while keeping it looking stage presentable is a delicate balance, but not difficult to achieve. All it takes is a little forethought.
Unless you’re doing a character number, most studios have a set style of makeup. Once again, there is no right or wrong style of makeup. It’s important to know, however, that makeup you would wear during the day is not the same as you would wear on stage, at least for older dancers. For eyeshadow, you want something that will brighten the dancers’ eyes, but try to avoid garish colors like bright blues or purples. For blush, you want color in the cheeks but again, nothing that makes the dancer look garish or cartoony. The appropriate blush color may vary per each dancer’s skin tone. Try to avoid bronzer. On stage, it tends to have the appearance of looking like dirt on your cheeks. Finish it off with a matching lipstick color for the group. For the youngest dancers, don’t go overboard - little faces get washed out on stage, so you do need some color, but a sensible light blush, mascara, and lipstick should be enough.
With a little foresight, and no extra cost, it’s a very simple task to purchase the same *color, brand, and style of tights for your team. You want to make sure the tights you select match your shoe selection, and are free of holes or runs. Remember, we want to continue the elongation of the leg line. *In regards to dancers of color, there are several brands of tights that offer multiple skin tone colors - Shades of Dance and Ballet Café Naturals, for example, both carry a full line of colors. Shoes can also be painted or dyed to match accordingly. It is important for all dancers to feel comfortable and proud in their costumes, and choosing to give dancers the option to wear tights that match their skin tone is an easy way to promote inclusivity!
By following some of these simple and cost efficient guidelines, you will set your team up for success. It will also allow the dancers to focus solely on why they truly came to competition - to perform and dance their hearts out! BREAK A LEG!