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Where do you look?

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Umm... This is a weird question, but I want to know. When watching a performance, where do you look? I mean, in class I'm told that 75% of the time, audience members watch from the waist up. But I find that when I'm watching a dance performance, I concentrate on the line, the feet, and the movement itself. NOT the facial expression. Every now and then I look at the face, but I tend to watch the actual dancing. I think that it's insulting to the dancer(s) or choreographer(s) to watch the face and not what you initially came for. what do y'all think?

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That's a great question, and a topic of conversation I've had with several of my dance buddies. Wouldn't you know we all have different answers. For the most part I watch legs and feet. In doing that the rest of the body is in view but I do concentrate on legs and feet. I think it's because I learned about ballet as a young student and as an observer of ballet classes. At my level of dance (very low!) most of our emphasis was on turnout, arched feet, and.....well.....legs and feet, so that is what I practiced, and that is what I'd concentrate upon as I observed advanced classes.


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I am first attracted to the upper body -- port de bras and epaulement. I see the legs and feet, of course, but not with the kind of detail that many of my friends do.

One friend used to complain about certain dancers' facial expressions, insisting that the face was the dancers' most important feature. My argument was that a dancer spends ten years training the body to be an expressive instrument (one hopes that expression is part of the mix, anyway), and most people are seated too far away to see much more than whether or not the performer is smiling.

Some great dancers have the ability to direct your attention to the features they wish to display. Years ago, an international ballerina, working in less than perfect condition and enduring the disruption of a last-minute substitute partner, had me mesmerized by her supple pointe work, as she seemed to know that other aspects of her dancing -- at least for that performance -- were not up to her usual standard.

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Depends on who is dancing, but usually, I mainly focus on the line, the legs and the feet, while still looking at everything else. Sometimes, with some dancers with a lot of charisma, I tend to forget about line and legs and look at the way they move, in particular the arms and upper body. I also look at faces when I try to recognise each dancer, and somtimes, but rarely, if there are some pretty/handsome dancers (I'm not saying dancers are usually ugly, but their faces have to be really outstanding for them to make me stop looking at their dancing for a moment, so even when I do that, it's not long).

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Great question! For me, it depends on the ballet and whether or not I know how the dancers are trained. If I'm watching a Balanchine ballet at NYCB, I watch feet and legs. If I'm watching Petipa with any company, I tend to look more at the entire body, and at the composition of everyone onstage. During Chopiniana, I watch upper bodies. I think perhaps I watch what the choreographer focuses on most, although with some current choreographers, I don't know where to look (away, perhaps?;)).

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Being a ballet student who is still very focused on the technical aspects of ballet, I tend to watch legs and feet. Although many of my teachers have reiterated that one's port de bras is noticed before one's footwork, I always make sure that there are nice legs and feet befor I glance upward. This is the reasoning behind my comments about Margot Fonteyn. My focus will most likely change when, like Leigh, I perceive technique as a given. Untill then, the dancers had better have good 5th positions.

It's often very difficult for me to chose where I will focus my attention during a ballet. I tend to focus on one dancer at a time and analyze her technique, rather than concentrating on the ensemble as a whole. This means that I tend to miss out on the general pattern of the choreography. I ocassionally remind myself to enjoy the entire "forest" and then zero in on the mushrooms at other times. It definitely helps to see a ballet several times, so you can devote your attention to all the different components of the ballet.


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It's not just where you look on the person, but which area of the stage you focus on. Often, different action is going on in different places.

It's this aspect of dance that makes it so subjective to the viewer. Two people could see the same dance but be looking at completely different dancers and see completely different things.

As a dancer, you must assume that SOMEONE out there sees just about everything you do.

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I have to admit, corps dancing I try to watch it all, but during a variation, although I'm watching the entire package so to speak, if the face is not right I'm disappointed.

I want that dancer to make me feel what she or he is feeling, don't give me Odette without emotion, I want to cry. Don't give me Auroura deadpan, I want to feel her youth and joy. And that Cowboy -- he'd better have a Texan attitude.

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This is an interesting thread because when I watch dance I don't conciously focus on individual things. I try to absorb the whole performance- technique and artistry, at once. However, during Bournonville I tend to watch the feet, with Petipa it's often the upper body, and with Balanchine the arabesque lines and overall extension. If it's a dramatic ballet, then facial expression can become very important, and that's when the opera glasses come out! But overall, I think I sort of drift back and forth from watching formations (corps), lines, feet, port de bras, and facial expression. It really depends on what the chroreogapher and/or dancer is trying to highlight, as well as my own preferences. Sometimes if I'm having trouble with a step, I watch it being performed very carefully. Also, watching a familiar ballet is quite different for me from watching a completely new work. With an old favourite like Swan Lake, I know what's coming, and that may focus my attention to different things- often they are little things which I may not have looked at if I were seeing it for the first time.

As a dancer, I don't usually think about where the audience is looking. However, I often remember my teacher saying that if one has beautiful carriage of the upper body, then the audience won't even look at the feet. But if the upper body is boring, then their attention is directed towards the feet.

But there are also people who look at the feet first, so you can't really win;) I agree with citibob, dancers must always prepare for the "worst"- that someone can see everything you do, because there really isn't anywhere to hide when you're on stage!

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This is an interesting thread!

I like Paquita's point about different needs for different choreographers. For example, I have quite a limited experience of different ballets (I have seen the classics mainly and expect all of the above,) but when I saw Manon last week I was totally all over the place in terms of what I was trying to look at. I started trying to watch the feet, but it wasn't the right thing to do, I tried watching the big picture, but I missed details, and I wasn't quite close enough to decide whether the emotions were good because I felt a bit too far away!

The only scenes I liked were the ones in Manon's bedroom because then there were only two people on stage and it was easier to see what was happening and there was no 'clutter' to distract the dancers from their work!

I must sound like a philistine!:D It must be important to get the experience so you know where to look.:D

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Kate B this is a good thread for me because it's gotten me thinking... and, yet, I can't easily answer the question.

I think as a non dancer, I tend not to dwell upon the feet because unless they're blatantly bad, I might not notice. :)

Generally, it's the big picture that I look at with a number of asides to focus in on the lead dancers and I always do like to check out the corps dancers as well. I admit, I do like to see all of dancer's faces and I do notice and look for their overall line.

And I'm with a number of other posters about "feeling" their emotion where appropriate...

On another thread, "Teasing Apart the Artisitic Elements", I have admitted to my rather basic desire to be immersed in the performance.

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I'm afraid that I am unable to analize the "where I look" to the degree that all of you can. At times I look at the feet or faces or I study the costumes! However my husband and I have talked about when we are watching our young daughter dance in a recital and we have a tendancy to only see her.;) You mean there were other people on the stage too?

As an aside to this thread... how about where you sit to watch a ballet? Do you prefer the orch or balcony? I find if it is a story ballet I like the balcony to see the depth of the work. If it is other ballets I like to be in the orchestra seating.

One time I was able to see the same ballet from both perspectives on two separate nights. I was surprised to note how much I enjoyed the night where I was on an even level with the stage as opposed to seeing it from above!

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BW I agree about being 'immersed in the performance' because then you stop being aware of time, where you are and who you are! And of course, what you're looking out for doesn't matter because everything's working the way it's supposed to and your eye is naturally drawn to what the choreographer wants you to see. Now... How can we bottle this formula and sell it to all the companies?;)

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I have to say, I tend to watch feet and legs mostly, but there have been specific performances where port de bras has caught my eye first. Especially if they tend to be particularly fluid. I find some dancers' facial expressions distracting (i.e. those who dance with their mouth open and eyebrows raised...not as though there's any expression behind it, but more like their face is permanently fixed). However, in some ballets, I agree....facial expressions are critical. Especially in drama. With the corps, I do tend to watch upper body more.

Interesting thread....the more I thought about it, I realized I'm not just a legs and feet girl!!;)

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I watched the whole body, but especially upper bodies, first for years. I've found that when I'm trying to figure out why people I know and trust are raving about a dancer I can't stand, I'll watch the legs and feet and consciously block out the upper body and face. I'll usually find that they're right -- great dancer, in the sense of clear execution of steps. But to me, dancing isn't just feet.

Where do you focus on stage is another good question. It takes a long time to be able to take in the whole stage, I think, and to watch what's going on at the side of the stage, and to focus on the corps, or non-leading dancers, when the leads are on stage. Another good reason for repeated viewings!

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Last night I had the pleasure of attending The School of American Ballet's Workshop performance...and today NYCB's matinee. Both performances were excellent.

Now, where did I look and did I look at the two in different ways?

At the student performance there were two dancers who I "knew" (very loosely speaking!) so I did tend to dwell on them...though it wasn't difficult as they both had leads. I admit to checking out the student dancers' feet on occasion...but generally speaking I was taken in or taken away by the performances as a whole.

Today's matinee, in the New York State Theater, I did, on occasion, use my binoculars to get that close up - to see the dancers faces and their bodies up close. But the real "awakening" for me was having to sit behind a rather "tall in the saddle" audience member :( which was really difficult as I couldn't see the front and center dancers' feet in "Concerto Barocco"! By "feet" I don't mean only their feet but their legs! If you haven't seen this, JRB, it would probably be one you'd enjoy seeing from slightly above... Next came "Sonatas and Interludes" which consisted of only two dancers - Maria Kowroski and Jock Soto..the choreography for these two lent it self to my view of the stage so I was able to watch both of them most of the time. Luckily, I was able to switch seats during intermission with someone...and, yes, I was able then to immerse myself in the rest of the program...which both proved to be very much "big picture" ballets: "In the Night" and "Vienna Waltzes" ... So, to me, I guess much of where one "looks" has to do with what sort of ballet one is watching..and where one is sitting. However, KateB, generally speaking I'll be in in the moment, with you and, probably, most of the audience. ;)

P.S. I missed Sissone's and Alexandra's posts...but want to add that "repeated" viewings do make quite a big difference - if only I were able to do it more often! :D

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It actually depends on what kind of dance I'm watching. If watching a classical performance I tend to look at feet first, then line and the body as a unity, if it's a contemporary performance I just sit back and enjoy the aesthetic value (simply love Mats Ek's 'Lightbeings' because of the aesthetical aspect).

For jazz and funk I tend to look at the whole body, but for Irish I definately only look at the feet.

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