Vocal Technique for Musical Theater Dance Breaks: Keeping Up with the Choreography

Vocal Technique for Musical Theater Dance Breaks: Keeping Up with the Choreography

The Struggles of a Serial Dancer

I’ll never forget the recurring dreams I used to have – you know, the ones where I’m in the middle of an audition, completely blanking on the combination, or rehearsing on stage and suddenly forgetting the next move. Even though they were just dreams, that sinking feeling of panic and inadequacy was all too real. As a dancer, I lived through those moments, and let me tell you, they were not fun.

You see, I grew up in the dance world. After four years at an arts high school in Houston, I went on to major in dance at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. I then danced professionally for a couple of years after college. But no matter how much I trained and pushed myself, there was always that nagging insecurity – the fear that I wouldn’t be able to pick up the choreography as quickly as everyone else.

I remember one rehearsal in particular where the choreographer kept singling me out, saying, “Helene is a really wonderful performer with so much personality, but she’s not getting the steps as quickly as everyone else.” I wanted to scream, “I am trying! I don’t know what is wrong with me either!” But I just nodded, tried to slow down, and hoped I would eventually catch up.

It wasn’t until much later in life, when I left the dance world and became a speech therapist, that I started to understand what might have been going on. Through my work with children who have special needs, I began to see similarities between certain brain signals that can affect motor or auditory functioning. And it dawned on me – maybe this was my problem all along.

The Neuroscience of Dance

As it turns out, the process of translating visual information into motor commands is a highly complex, multisensory endeavor. According to research by Steven Brown and Lawrence M. Parsons, signals are sent from the brain to the spinal cord and onto the muscles, with sensory organs in the muscles providing constant feedback to the brain. Dancers, in particular, have a unique ability to visualize movement, time those movements to music, and execute many directional and opposing changes at once.

But what if, somewhere in that process, there’s a breakdown? Perhaps it’s an issue with motor planning, or a timing demand that’s just a bit too much for the system to handle. I know that for me, I was often able to get the gist of the choreography, but never the whole picture. It was like my brain was struggling to piece together all the different elements – the visual cues, the musical timing, the physical execution.

And you know what? I don’t think I was alone in this. According to a recent Reddit thread, many musical theater performers find dancing to be their weakest skill, even if they’ve been training in it for years. It’s almost as if the demands of musical theater choreography, with its intricate footwork and lightning-fast transitions, are on a whole other level.

Strategies for Keeping Up

So, what can dancers do to overcome these challenges and keep up with the choreography, especially in the high-stakes world of musical theater? Well, I’ve got a few suggestions, based on my own experiences and the insights I’ve gained from my work in speech therapy.

First and foremost, embrace the technology at your fingertips. Smartphones, voice memos, and even YouTube can be invaluable tools for aspiring dancers. Don’t be afraid to record the choreography, review it, and practice it over and over again. The more you can engage multiple senses – sight, sound, and touch – the better.

Secondly, advocate for yourself in class. If the teacher asks if you need to see the combination again, say yes! Trust me, you’re probably not the only one who needs that extra repetition. And don’t be shy about asking a more experienced peer to go over the material with you after class.

Writing things down can also be a game-changer. The tactile action of putting pen to paper, combined with saying the steps out loud, can help solidify the choreography in your brain. And when you’re practicing on your own, make sure you’re not just marking the movements – go full out, with your hands and your whole body.

Another tip? Take a wide variety of dance classes. The more exposure you can get to different styles and techniques, the better your muscle memory will become. And who knows, you might even discover a hidden talent or two along the way.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, know that you’re not alone. If you’re struggling to pick up choreography, it doesn’t mean you’re slow or incapable. It just means your brain processes information differently, and that’s okay. Don’t be afraid to explain your learning style to your teachers – you might end up teaching them something valuable in the process.

The Payoff: Nailing Those Dance Breaks

Now, I know what you might be thinking – all this work, just to keep up with the choreography? Is it really worth it? Well, let me tell you, the payoff is more than worth it. Because when you’re standing on that stage, belting out a showstopping number while seamlessly executing those complex dance breaks, there’s nothing quite like it.

Think about it – musical theater is all about the integration of singing, acting, and dancing. And in the grand scheme of things, the dance breaks are what really make the performance come alive. They’re the moments that take the audience’s breath away, that make them jump to their feet and cheer. And as a dancer, you get to be the one who brings that magic to life.

So, whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out, I encourage you to embrace the challenge of musical theater dance breaks. Put in the work, use the strategies I’ve outlined, and watch as your skills and confidence grow. Because trust me, when you nail that final spin and land that big jump, the rush of accomplishment will be more than worth it.

And who knows, maybe one day you’ll be the one inspiring the next generation of dancers, sharing your own hard-won insights and helping them overcome their own struggles. Because at the end of the day, we’re all in this together, working to push the boundaries of what’s possible on the musical theater stage.

So, what are you waiting for? Head over to The Musical Theater Center and start honing those dance skills. The world of musical theater is waiting, and it’s ready to be conquered.

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