Performance Nerves and How to Deal

elephantStanding in the wings of the stage, your stomach in knots, and adverting your eyes at all cost from the stage of the dancer performing before you.  Performing can be terrifying and exilirating feeling and the nerves can get the better of any dancer.  So how does anyone stay calm among all the pressure?  Just like sport athletes and their obsession with their favorite socks, shorts, or underwear, every performer has weird qwarts such as having objects that need to be with them on performing days or daily and evening routines.  Anytime I performed in my high school and college days I had five life hacks that always brought my blood pressure back down.

1.  A Stuffed Elephant – I got this stuffed animal when I was sixteen years old from my solo instructor Lisa.  She was one of my biggest supporters growing up as a dancer.  Always had my back at every competition and performance even when she was no longer teaching me.  When she gave it to me it said, “break a leg and remember an elephant never forgets.”  I carried this thing everywhere with me and it is a little embarrassing to say that I even had it in my bag at my college dance performances and choreography showings.

2.  During the late 90s and early 00s portable disk players and tape Walkmans were the iPod of the day.  I had my Walkman with me and before I had to perform I would be listening to the music over and over again to the point where I knew every sound in the music and what sound matched the movement.  A little OCD I know, but what performer doesn’t have a type-A personality?

3.  The three minutes before you are suppose to go on is the longest three minutes of your life!  You try not to look at the stage because if you watch the other dancer and he/ she is great you basically sabotage yourself and if he/ she doesn’t have the greatest performance you get cocky and in turn sabotage yourself.  So, I would go to the farthest part of the wing backstage and jump up and down, stretch my feet, shake my arms….basically do anything that kept me moving and focused so I didn’t look at the stage.

4.  BREATH – It sounds simple.  Breathing is a natural part of a human’s life, but sometimes when a sea of lights hit your body on an empty stage, you have three people judging your dancing ability, and their are thousands of other eyes in the audience watching your every move you can be overcome with a feeling of fear that can paralyze you.  The moment I stepped on a stage I would take a deep breath to make my breathing consistent and as the music begin I would release that breath which would send a calming effect through my entire body.

5.  And finally, avoid physically doing the dance before you get on stage.  Sure practice the hard parts such as that double pirouette to an extension or that switch leap.  When I was younger I had an obsession with trying to run the dance over and over again and by the time I got to the stage I would start to get movement phrases confused or forget parts.  As I got older I realized that running it was creating a mental block by the time I hit the stage.  Trust yourself and your muscle memory.

You are not alone in your nerves.  Performing takes practice and continuing to push yourself to the stage is the only way to master it.  As Taylor Swift said, “Being fearless isn’t being a hundred percent not fearful, it’s being terrified but you jump anyways.”

VIP Packages – Are They Really Worth It?

VIP-ticketWhen I was a kid, I would have died if my parents got me VIP tickets to a concert.  Then again, how many of your are embarrassed of what your first concert was as a kid?  Not me, I got to see the Piano Man (Billy Joel) and Sir Elton John.  I can say my first concert was far from embarrassing and we had killer seats on the floor.  Anyway, I’m not talking about concert tickets, I am talking about those little add on VIP packages that are outrageously expensive and personally every time I have purchased one I have been disappointed.  At a VIP package event, the managers herd you like cattle to get in line and get a picture taken, sometimes there are weird rules like you can’t put your arms around the perform for the picture so basically you all look like stiff dolls posing for a promotional toy commercial, they play one acoustic song for the group, and then you get a t-shirt, a laminated ticket, and possibly some other merchandise.  If I wanted merchandise I would just buy it and not spend $200 on a VIP Package.

So are there any benefits to the VIP package?  Only if the people who bought the VIP tickets are insanely entertaining.  First you have the older ladies that think they are still 20 but they are really 40 and have kids.  These ladies are usually plastered before the acoustic song is even played and they usually don’t follow the rules that are enforced by the manager.  The road manager doesn’t even fight it he just allows them to do what they want because how can you really fight with a drunk person?  Second you have those moms that bought their daughter(s) the VIP tickets as a birthday present, but they have no idea what type of music the group plays.  Then when that really inappropriate song comes on their face usually says everything you have been thinking.

With physical and digital album sales plummeting, 360 contract deals becoming the norm in the business, and streaming becoming the more popular way to experience music, artists are starting to have to become more inventive with how they are connecting with their fans.  In my opinion VIP events are the perfect way to do that, but they aren’t utilized properly.  Of course social media is a great way to keep your fans interested in lull time while the artist is recording a new album or prepping for a large national or international tour, but VIP events are a way to connect to your fans on a more personal level.

When Taylor Swift did listening parties for 1989 for her fans and invited her fans to be apart of her “Shake It Off” music video, it showed that her business team and her as an artist were thinking outside to create personal connections with fans as well as make recording breaking sales for 2014.  Robert Schwartzman just did the California Roll Tour where his venue was a giant party bus and gave fans an intimate solo acoustic show to no more then thirty people in cities all over the country.  What a way to hear his new album, as well as have the opportunity to be able to talk with him about his artistry, music, and inspiration!  The Cab is notorious for connecting with their fans and every VIP event that is held.  They take individual pictures and go around talking to every fan answering questions about their music writing process, some of their favorite memories on tours, and what it has been like touring with their current co-headliners and support artist(s).  Recently they had a random viewing of “Space Jam” at a venue out in the Los Angeles where they invited fans via twitter to come.  To all the music executives and artists out there – think outside the box.  Don’t just connect through the virtual world.  Obviously the more popular the band or the artists is the harder it is to be safe and connect with the fans so do it in a small setting.  Use the VIP packages to not just give away merchandise because as a fan myself the stuff doesn’t matter.  Human connection is what everyone craves in this world.

Bringing Dance to Life On the Big Screen

Like every sibling relationship, my younger brother and I have the ability to say something and know exactly what the other person is talking about.  Normally because it is a quote from a movie.  Anytime I watch a movie I always find something new that I didn’t see before whether it is a moment between characters that I missed, a line that is insanely funny that I didn’t connect to before, or a heart stopping quote that makes everything finally tie together.  Dancing in a movie can do that without saying one word.  Usually dancing in movies go hand in hand with it being some type of musical, unless it is specifically about dance like “Center Stage” or “Step Up,” but I am not talking about dance focused movies.  I want to talk about movies that have dance in them that make you feel something so powerful that you can’t help but fall in love with the story, the characters, and the inevitable plot twists that the director takes you on.

Over the last thirty years, dance sequences have popped up in movies periodically, but not consistently, which has to do with cost of the choreographer(s) and the dancers, the ability to find the right type of dancer(s)/ actor(s), and the various types of film shots that need to be taken when capturing a dance sequence so you can record the right type of emotion for the viewer.  Needless to say, you need a talented director and one that knows something about dance.  So what makes a movie a success?  Does dance in movies help to sell the film, or is it an added expense that not only increases the production budget but has a large potential to fail as a blockbuster?

Kenny Ortega is an American choreographer and director most notably known for his work on the ‘High School Musical’ trilogy and the 1992 film, ‘Newsies.’  He has a choreographic style that stands out from his strategic layout of group dances in songs such as ‘We’re All in This Together’ and ‘Seize the Day’ to his ability to choreograph for the camera by utilizing movements that are explosive such as chaînés leaps and pirouette extensions.  Ortega has a way of connecting his choreography with the storyline so it doesn’t seem like the dancing is coming out of no where mixing fantasy with reality through film shots and dance sequences.  For example, in High School Musical 3 during the song ‘Can I Have This Dance’ he blends the asking of a proposal to the prom that has the perfect theme of the waltz and as the two characters sing they waltz and partner throughout the roof of the school.  The director goes from quick feet views to full body circular movement of the camera to a high view of the characters during the partner lifts.  This gives the audience an inside view through each waltz to the emotions that the characters are feeling through a simple touch or a partner lift.  The High School Musical trilogy hit big after the first television release in 2006 so by the time HSM3 came out in 2008 Disney had the budget to do a theatrical production.  The fans pushed the popularity of this made for television story that skyrocketed the careers of the people who worked on these films from the actors such as Zac Eron to the choreographers Ortega, Bonnie Story, and Charles Klapow.  ‘Newsies’ didn’t have the greatest response when it first came out in 1992, but it has some great choreography in it.  For example, the song ‘King of New York’ where not only is there jazz, but also a mix of tap moves such as shuffles, scuffs, and toe hop barrels.  It’s rare to see two different styles mixed within one number.  Having a two drastically different types of dance styles in a number can create difficulty when searching for dancers who are trained in those styles; that is why as a dancer it is always good to be versatile.

I still haven’t figured out what makes a blockbuster hit movie.  I think it’s more like gambling.  Some film productions get a smaller marketing and production budget and then the fans blow up the popularity of it like with High School Musical, where other movies get a larger production budget but not enough marketing is done for it or it doesn’t resinate with the current generation that is being targeted such as ‘Newsies.’  Either way, movie studios bring on the dance because society is ready to be taken on a new ride that doesn’t always have to be capped superheroes and gore.

A Soundtrack for the Boston Transportation from Hell

FeenyMatthewsRollercoasterThis past week has been the most stressful for the city of Boston because of the public transit being in complete disarray, the national guard coming to help clear out the massive amounts of snow (FYI there is no where to put it), and the amount of inhumanity I have seen in a long time; all in one week.  Needless to say, I have been spending an exorbitant amount of time on the public transit where lately it takes me about two and half hours to get work and another two and half hours to get home.  I have learned that my kindle is my godsend and my iPod is my savor; they have both gotten a workout trying to keep me sane.  For those of you who don’t live in Boston, the commute is comparable to the reaction of George Feeny and Corey Matthews in “Boy Meets World” after they ride a death defying roller coaster.  Basically an entire city speechless and wanting to scream…a lot.

On my lovely commute, I have had a lot of time to spend in my head.  Have you ever had the music you are listening to become the soundtrack of your life, and you create this giant story line in your head from the people you meet throughout the day, then base everything on the lyrics and music on your playlist?  Fall Out Boy’s new album “American Beauty/ American Psycho” has done just that.  Fall Out Boy’s catalog has been in my music selection since their first album in 2003 “Take This to Your Grave.”  Patrick Stump has a voice that you can get lost in and the band has become inventive with playing with voice pitches during choruses and harmonies as well as connecting with the digital synth technology and combining that with their rock sound makes for an edge to their new album.

The trumpet type sound that comes in on “Irresistible” creates a powerhouse introduction on what to expect is going to be big, and in Boston’s case it’s a transportation war.  Stump sings, “Too many war wounds and not enough wars, Too few rounds in the ring and not enough settled scores.”  As a city drowns in snow the day must go on even though it has been a constant struggle to get to work or home, but this city is full of fighters and as this thought rolls through my head “Immortal” begins to play.  Stump says “Sometimes the only payoff for having any faith, Is when it’s tested again and again everyday” and with this line I see an old women get pushed over at a shuttle stop.  As I helped her up it brought me to a realization that you can be someone’s superhero by having compassion and even for a moment you can be immortal.  As my shuttle commute came to an end “Favorite Record” began to play, and as the guitar came in it reminded me of dancing with my friends at home this past Christmas to old school hip-hop and rock ‘n’ roll, which made my frustration subside for a moment.  The thought of a simple moment in time can make you laugh no matter how bad your day has been and bring you to a moment of peace.

Fall Out Boy, you showed me that music can bring you out of the dark, gave me a soundtrack that brought me back from the edge of this horrible transportation week, and are continuing to push the boundaries of your music through new technologies, power brass instruments, and lyrics that brought me back to a place of humanity. “You were the song stuck in my head.  Every song I’ver ever loved, played again and again.”

Click Here for American Beauty/ American Psycho!

I Wanna Take You To….Funkytown!

For the past two weeks I have been non-stop singing “Uptown Funk” and yes I am in love with the groove of this song.  Mark Ronson is a fantastic producer and writer (as are Jeff Bhaskar and Philip Lawrence who assisted writing this classic hit); and Bruno Mars has taken over the pop music world with his sweet dance moves and his hypnotizing voice.  Just like Doo-Wop, Funk has taken over the billboard charts for a new generation.  According to Billboard Magazine, “Uptown Funk” has been number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks in a row, had five million track sales, and has hit an all time Spotify weekly record of fifteen million streams.

Funk originated in the 1960s when James Brown developed his signature groove that emphasized the downbeats as well as included a funky bass line, drum patterns, hit guitar riffs, and those brass horns.   Funk music is like a wet dream for dancers with an explicit downbeat for each four count measure and wiggle sound that brings you into rhythmic and danceable world.  Not to mention the various instruments and counts that you can change movement, direction, and double time while choreographing a routine, as well as playing to the strengthens of the song as the horns come in with power, or the snare drum becomes the core holder of the lyrics.  Let’s take “I Got You (I Feel Good)” by James Brown.  The layers of Brown’s song from the solid downbeat of the snare, the smooth salutary feel of the brass section and part way through you start to hear the light tap of the cymbal as a simple guitar riff breaks through you can’t help but get your groove on.

Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” gives me that same feeling and connects right with your soul and brings you back in time.  It has an old time feel like you are back during the original funky days of 60s strolling down the street with your crew.  The song starts in slow bringing each instrument sound in under its own spotlight.  The background singers breaking through the chorus at just the right moments interjecting simple lines such as “hot damn,” “ooh!!,” and “uptown funk gonna give it to you.”  The horns and drums in “Uptown Funk” are the backbone of the song and really give it that funk feel that James Brown created over fifty years ago.  The chorus is simple, but there are some simple lines that stick out within the verses such as “Got Chucks on with Saint Laurent Gotta kiss myself I’m so pretty” or “I’m too hot (hot damn) Make a dragon wanna retire, man;”  each one is total genius.

Ronson took collaboration to a whole new level with “Uptown Special” by bringing in some of the best and really highlighting what each musician does well.  On “Uptown’s First Finale” the harmonica playing is unmistakeable, and is the blues and soul man Stevie Wonder, while on “Feel Right” it still has that funk feel, but with a little bit of hip hop as the 90s rapper Mystikal creates an edge to this funky album.  So is funk back?  Will other artists start to bring in brass into their music?  Time will tell, but I think it is safe to say that the upcoming generation wants to get their boogie shoes on and take a ride to funky town.