I’m writing this in the best mood on the plane home from Brisbane where I judged our first Qld Hip Hop Knockout – an event concept that’s been my baby for a few years now, and that I have been SO lucky to see brought to life in both Sydney and Queensland this year by DCE.
This is a hip hop only event, and we have an all-on-the-floor style battle where dancers are encouraged to jump up all at once and freestyle to the same music. I felt like my dream had come alive last night watching everyone on the floor doing their thing. So much energy, passion and talent in the one place! Seeing so many amazing young dancers all freestyling at once, sharing the floor together in front of a cheering crowd was just magic!
So how can we possibly judge something like this?? The answer, is that we judge it ith the same emotional response that we use when judging regular routines – we let ourselves be drawn naturally to the what is often called the “It Factor” or that “special something”. You don’t need to look for the It Factor: a person who has it will grab your attention and pull your eye to them without you even realising.
“It Factor”: A hard to define, mysterious, magnetism that draws you to someone.
It is a presence. Charisma, confidence, energy, electricity.
Judges and audience members alike (including you, probably!) have all sat for countless hours in front of so many incredible dancers, who have solid training, experience, and great choreography.
So think of the most memorable solo performance you have ever seen, quick! What popped into your head first? I bet you didn’t think “Oh I just loved that girl with the really pulled up knees” did you?! You connected with the energy, the vibe, and the ‘wow’ moments. That’s what makes you remember a routine or performer you saw days, weeks, months ago.
Now think of a troupe/crew/team. We have all been guilty of coming to the end of an entire routine and realising we just watched that one girl the entire time! Right!? That person who forced you to keep watching, who didn’t let you look at anyone else. There are technically perfect dancers who can’t hold your eyes like that. These special people are the ones with the “It Factor”
There are plenty of blog posts to come about technique and all your dance teachers are working hard with you, perfecting your technique with every class. Harder to teach though, is performance quality, stage presence, “IT”.
So technique aside, what makes a standout, memorable performance? What are those dancers with the It Factor doing differently? Let’s take a look at just 5 elements.
This is SUCH an important word.
Connect with the music. What is the emotion? What is the vibe/character/feeling/story? A dancer needs to deeply understand their music and concept to really dance as one with it.
Connect with each other. If you are in a team or even a duo, you are in it together. No one wants to see a routine that looks like 10 soloists just doing the same steps in their own bubble. When you are connected it shows in your performance and you will naturally strengthen each other. Don’t be afraid to make eye contact! You have worked on this together, now enjoy it together! Trust me, the audience will feel it.
Connect with THE AUDIENCE. Projection is key. A lot of the time in hip hop or a sad lyrical piece the dancer can keep their emotion too close to them. We can not feel it from your body alone. Eyes out to the audience, face communicating, upper body oozing emotion. You need to exaggerate the emotion so the back row can feel it with you. There is absolutely nothing more valuable than an audience/judges who are feeling drawn in to your dance and connected with you. Let us be part of it.
Freestylers, don’t just go. Dance with the music, dance in it. When you hear sounds and rhythms in music and at the same time you see a body making those sounds physical, the synergy gives you goosebumps. My favourite choreography plays to the subtlety of the music and my favourite performers are those who can reflect that with nuance and flavour.
For dancers who have been given choreography, how does it flow with the music? You need to identify exactly where your light and shade is, and how your vibe and facials can amplify or compliment the choreography. Let your movement and the music fuse together – it won’t just look great, it feels amazing too!
Chase that moment where the audience goes “OHHHH!” and get one for yourself. Innovative choreography does this in amazing ways but so can the actual performer. What are your “moments” in your routine? Where can you really feel the emotion? On what parts should you be really connecting with the audience? As an actor I am all about finding the magic moments in a scene. A dance performance is no different! A light bulb will switch on when you find your routine’s “magic moments”. Find them, live in them, and it will completely transform your next performance.
MORE! You cannot argue with energy. Energy does mean strength, intensity and “going for it” but it also means personality, charisma, vibe, flavour, essence, projection. It can be aggression, it can be joy!
Important to note: Energy is not just present in hard hitting choreography. Energy should radiate from your body when you are standing still! At this weekend’s event our favourite dancer was picked before she had danced a single step. She walked on, took her opening position, and we all went “woah.” There were sparks coming off this girl! Then she did not let us take our eyes off her the entire time, not when she was on the side, or at the back, never! In a team routine it is not necessarily the strongest technique that always draws the eye, it’s the performer with that extra something.
Now team dancers, think of this: that one dancer might be amazing, but when every dancer on that team is magnetic and electric oozing their own special something – those are the truly unforgettable performances.
My BIGGEST tip for any dancer/routine as a judge: ENJOY IT. Live in your moment, commit to it, go hard, and project it out to share it with us. If you are really in it, I promise we will be too. And I might just be more generous with points if I am vibing with you and you’ve put me in a fantastic mood. You wouldn’t believe the amount of minor flaws judges will overlook when you are making them smile, feel excited, and enjoy the moment with you!
At the end of the day, when you walk out there you aren’t in the studio any more. You aren’t in your room dancing around in your undies any more, you are in front of an audience. Entertain them, and don’t stop pushing until there is a smile on every face out there, and on your face for the rest of the night.
That’s what its all about.