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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Dear Shira


Dear Shira:

Why Do I Have to Attend Rehearsals?



The Question

Dear Shira:

My teacher recently told me I can't perform in an upcoming show because I skipped too many rehearsals. It seems very unfair, because all the choreographies they're performing are ones I have known for several years, and performed many times in the past. I know the dances, and I can practice at home between rehearsals, so why did she cut me from the show?

— Left Out



Shira Responds

Dear Left Out:

I understand your frustration. I too have been cut from shows when drama in my non-dance life caused me to miss rehearsals, and I agree, it can feel like rejection. The key for you now to accept the decision gracefully and try to learn from it.

Maybe it can help to understand things from the troupe director's point of view. Most experienced troupe directors expect members to attend rehearsals regularly. They expect this because they have seen what problems can result when people skip too many rehearsals. Often, for a given show, directors will expect attendance of 80% or higher.


Why It Matters

Let's look at why the troupe director feels it is important for you to attend rehearsals even when you already feel you know the choreography. Here are the reasons I expect my students to show up, and they're probably not so different from your troupe director's reasons:

  • Relationships. Attending rehearsal builds stronger relationships between you and the other dancers. These relationships enable your group to look like a cohesive ensemble of people who enjoy being together instead looking like a bunch of soloists who all happened to learn the same choreography.
  • Changes. Sometimes the troupe director changes a choreography, and if you don't attend the rehearsal, you won't know about the change.
  • Formations. It's important for you, as well as the other dancers, to become familiar with how the formations and rows feel with the exact number of dancers who be dancing together in the show. When someone is missing from rehearsal, it's difficult for the others to allow for the missing person in formations. Consequently, when the time comes to perform and everybody finally is present, spacing between people will be uneven, rows won't be straight, circles won't come out as expected, and people will feel unsure of where to position themselves.
  • Transitions. Each performance will involve different transitions from one song to the next. Such transitions can involve moving dancers on and off the stage. Entrances and exits can vary depending on stage size, how many people will be performing that piece, which side you enter and exit from, and whether there are stairs involved. When props are used, that can add complexity to handling transitions from one song to another. You might know each individual choreography, but you need rehearsal time to learn how to make all necessary transitions with confidence.
  • You Might Not Be as Good As You Think. Even if you have performed a given dance many times, perhaps you made mistakes every time. Perhaps you turned the wrong direction, raised the wrong arm, or forgot what came next. Or, perhaps you perfected the choreography sequence, but your technique needs much more drilling and polishing to reach the same level as the other dancers. Could your stage presence perhaps need work? Maybe your troupe director thinks you need just as much rehearsal as everybody else.
  • Stylizations. Perhaps your subtle stylizations of moves don't match everybody else? Maybe you know all the arm positions to use, but maybe the bend of your elbow or the height of your hand is somewhat different from everybody else? The same analogy could apply to the angle of your body, and other nuances. Rehearsals allow troupe directors to see whose stylizations don't match everybody else's, and to provide corrections to those who need it.
  • Resentment. Other troupe members will certainly notice your absences, and they may resent you for it. If the troupe director lets you skip rehearsal without consequences, the others may think she's giving you privileges that she doesn't give them. They may think you are an arrogant-know-it-all who believes herself to be above everybody else. The more "entitled" your behavior, the more other troupe members will dislike you for it. Is that how you want others to perceive you?
  • Stress for the Troupe Director. When you repeatedly skip rehearsals, you create a high level of stress for your troupe director. You force her to struggle with the decision of whether to cut you from the show or not. She may be concerned about the outcome of that decision — regardless of which direction she takes, will it cause turmoil with the other troupe members? Will they try to defend you and become angry at her, or will they accuse her of playing favorites by letting you dance at the event despite your poor rehearsal record? She may question your commitment to the show — if you skip a large number of rehearsals, how can she be sure you'll even come to the performance itself? If she lets you skip rehearsals without consequences, will that make other troupe members feel empowered to do so as well? It can be extremely stressful for a troupe director to wrestle with these questions, especially if she really hates dealing with potential conflict.
  • Respecting the Stage, Respecting the Audience. Performing is not a right that you are entitled to. It is a privilege that you earn by respecting the stage. What does "respecting the stage" mean, exactly? It means that you understand the difference between dancing for personal gratification versus dancing for an audience. It means that, when you choose to perform for others, you make it a priority to provide a satisfying experience for the audience, and you focus on making the group as a whole worthy of their attention. It means that your audiences expect you to care enough to present something worth watching. When you skip rehearsals, you are clearly not making your priority that of making the group look great, or giving the audience a great show.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Jeff Halpin.


Additional Considerations

People don't like to involve difficult dancers in their projects. If you treat rehearsals as being beneath you because (in your mind) you already know the material, you may earn a reputation as being difficult. This could damage not only your current relationship with today's troupe colleagues, but also your future in your local community. Imagine a future in which the people you dance with today go on to plan projects of their own. You don't want them to say, "I used to be in a troupe with her, and there's no way I'd invite her to be in this show. She thinks the rules don't apply to her."

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.


What if You Can't Meet the Attendance Goals?

I realize that sometimes life gets in the way of dancing. It happens to all of us. I've had students need to skip rehearsals due to illness, major projects at their jobs, lack of a babysitter, and other issues. If you are going through a phase where non-dance problems are making you repeatedly miss rehearsals, maybe it's time to discuss the situation with your troupe director. Perhaps you can mutually agree that you won't dance in the next show, but you can still stay connected by coming to the rehearsals that do fit your schedule.

You might explore some of these ideas with the troupe director on how you might be able to play a role in rehearsals even though you won't be dancing in the show:

  • Take the troupe director's spot in the lineup so she can sit out to see how the overall dance looks and determine what polishing or formation changes may be required.
  • Serve as an "audience member" that the rest of the group can use for practicing their stage presence skills.
  • Learn how to critique by watching the others dance, seeing what your troupe director corrects, and analyzing how she makes corrections without hurting feelings. [However, don't offer critiques of your own unless the troupe director invites you to.]
  • Take a turn substituting for someone else in a run-through. This will enable the troupe director to have dancers take turns sitting out. My own students have found that the choreography, as well as my corrections, make much more sense to them if they can sit out and watch the dance at least once from the sidelines.
  • Learn how this particular show is coming together, just in case one of the others needs to drop out of the show at the last minute due to illness or other emergency. If you attend all possible rehearsals, you may be able to step in as the understudy.
  • Continue building positive relationships with other troupe members.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision, Glendale, California.

If your schedule permits, you can still accompany the others to the actual performance. Backstage, you can help them pin their costumes into place, fix their hair, make sure their jewelry is centered, and say encouraging things. During the performance, you can videotape, take photos, or guard their purses for them. In doing this, you can serve as a positive role model for other troupe members and stay connected to the joy of spending time with them.

— Shira




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About this Column

Shira has received many questions from readers over the years related to various aspects of the dance. In this column, she picks some of the more interesting ones to answer publicly. Details contained in the questions are sometimes removed or disguised to protect the anonymity of the person who asked the question.



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