The point of dancing isn’t always to be clean, but clean execution helps the audience (and judges!) read your choreography and staging much better.
So how do you clean your dance team?
Whether you’re a director prepping for a huge competition or getting a few homies together for your flashmob wedding proposal, here are some tips that’ll help your performance look cleaner, clearer, and just… cool.
1. Teach the movements thoroughly to begin with
Invest more time and attention in the first time the team learns the piece.
If the team doesn’t learn the piece thoroughly, then they will have to re-learn the piece come cleaning time.
“Oh, we can just clean it later” turns into “Dang, we don’t have time to clean because we just have to teach it all again…”
Explain every move, pathway, and intention to your team. Make sure each dancer understands how to do the piece.
It’s important that they first “get” how to execute the piece mentally, even if they need to practice to be performance-ready. (That’s what cleaning is for!)
Cleaning will be a lot easier and quicker if you teach your dance time clearly and thoroughly the first time.
2. Clean section by section, not picture by picture
It might feel like the most microscopic, nit-picky approach would be the most effective to clean your dance team.
Several directors have their dancers hold poses, adjusting inch by inch to memorize how the right position feels.
But it’s actually more helpful to clean section by section, rather than picture by picture. It’s unnatural for your body to think in terms of pictures while you’re on stage.
You’re going to be dancing, so practice how the moves feel when they are danced, not held. Try running a piece 4 or 8 counts at a time.
Notice where the angles or levels look off, correct the dancers that need adjustments, then run it again. Do this until the section is clean, then move on to the next.
Chunk all the sections together as you go.
This way, you’re not losing any of the cleaning you did earlier, but practicing it more times along with the more newly cleaned sections. On that note…
3. Clean FULL OUT
As you clean your dance team section by section, make sure to go over the section full out each time.
Remember, the point is to practice the piece as closely as it will be performed on stage. Cleaning a mark will only result in a clean mark.
Cleaning a full-out performance will result in a clean full-out performance.
1. Clean first 8 count, do it full out.
2. Clean second 8 count, try first and second 8 counts together, full out.
3. Clean third 8 count, try first, second, and third 8 counts together, full out.
The only way the dancers will get a full out feeling into their body is if they're cleaning and practicing full out.
4. Separate the team into smaller groups
Instead of running the set with the entire team, try splitting the team up into smaller groups of 5 or 6. Then have that group perform the entire set on their own!
My old dance team used to do this, and each time I went up with my group, I was forced to go full out – facials, getting to my spots, committing to transitions – because I knew I had no one to hide behind or blend in with.
(Sometimes, I’d be the only one in a piece for my group. Solo time~)
With all those eyeballs on each dancer, they will feel accountable for their own cleanliness and performance.
In fact, it’s probably even more nerve-wracking to perform for your own teammates than a crowd of strangers.
And watching 5 or 6 people at a time (rather than 30+) makes it a lot easier for directors to catch mistakes.
You can go an extra step by pairing each dancer with another teammate, and having them watch only their partner during the run-through.
Afterwards, give them time to critique each other. Not only will your team be able to correct each other, they’ll also get inspired by each other!
5. Focus on timing
Instead of getting the dancers to match each other, get all of them to match the music, first.
Yes, arm angles and feet placement can be corrected for a cleaner performance, but it’s no use having all your toes lined up to the exact 37 degree angle if they’re not lined up at the same time.
Sit in a circle around the speakers and just listen to the music together.
Mark certain sections that you want to highlight – this will show the sound in the back that the dancers all seem to be missing, or clarify if a move is on a lyric or a beat.
Let the music guide the dancers’ timing. Once they’re all on the same page with the timing, it will be much easier to tell who is off and where.
6. Get it in your body
Repetition is key to getting something perfect. A lot of directors will stop when they see a section clean once.
Jeffrey makes his team keep doing it until it’s perfect 5 times in a row. Don't practice until you get it right, practice until it's impossible to do it wrong.
7. Review everything at the end of EVERY rehearsal
It’s not just about repetition during one rehearsal. It’s about consistent repetition at every rehearsal until it’s time to bring the set to the stage.
Keep the cleaning by dedicating the last 10 minutes of every rehearsal to do the set twice – 1 mark, 1 full out.
Not only will it help your muscle memory, it will end the night with a feeling of accomplishment. Ready to put these tactics to practice at your next rehearsal?
Can’t wait to see your team’s super clean performance at the next show! Huge thank you to Jeffrey Calimbas for the help!
Jeffrey is the director of Diamond Bar High School All Male and Future Shock LA.
What tips & tricks do you use to clean your dance team? Comment below and share with us!