Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Side Stepping - Clicker Dog Training

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Use PLAY to meet people & kids - Part 3

Introduce your dog to visitors - Part 2

Hand touch for meeting people - PART 1

Cartwheel Dog Trick - Clicker Dog Training

No Reward Markers (IMO) - Clicker Dog Training Tip of the Day

A Dog's Prayer

Treat me kindly, my beloved master, for no heart in all the world is more grateful for kindness than the loving heart of me.

Do not break my spirit with a stick, for though I should lick your hand between the blows, your patience and understanding will more quickly teach me the things you would have me do.

Speak to me often, for your voice is the world's sweetest music, as you must know by the fierce wagging of my tail when your footstep falls upon my waiting ear.

When it is cold and wet, please take me inside... for I am now a domesticated animal, no longer used to bitter elements... and I ask no greater glory than the privilege of sitting at your feet beside the hearth... though had you no home, I would rather follow you through ice and snow than rest upon the softest pillow in the warmest home in all the land... for you are my god... and I am your devoted worshiper.

Keep my pan filled with fresh water, for although I should not reproach you were it dry, I cannot tell you when I suffer thirst. Feed me clean food, that I may stay well, to romp and play and do your bidding, to walk by your side, and stand ready, willing and able to protect you with my life, should your life be in danger.

And, beloved master, should the Great Master see fit to deprive me of my health or sight, do not turn me away from you. Rather hold me gently in your arms as skilled hands grant me the merciful boon of eternal rest...and I will leave you knowing with the last breath I drew, my fate was ever safest in your hands.

--Beth Norman Harris

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Performance Guidelines

Tips for bringing dances to life onstage

Project your dancing, posture and your personality a little more than you think is necessary, to bridge the distance to your audience.

Strive for greater technical control of your footwork than you think is necessary.  Casual execution can look sloppier than it feels.

The most effective technique for strengthening dance gestures is Focused Placement: When you make a gesture, place it in position and freeze it there, even if only for a split second, rather than throwing it in place.  Remember, the audience may be sitting at floor level.

Appear to dance with ease.  Don't let any muscular tension generated in controlling dance gestures add visible tenseness to your face or movements.

In order to achieve the opposing ideals of precision and ease, visualize that you are separating your body at your midsection, maintaining precise placements and powerful gestures of your legs while keeping your upper body, shoulders, neck, face and hands completely relaxed, yet animated with fluidity, showing no evidence of effort.

This important combination creates the illusion that you were born with the gift of effortless dance perfection.

Make every motion with self-directed conviction, leading decisively with your head and especially with your eyes as you step out.  You want to give the impression that each movement is your idea, not the director's.  The effect is that you're creating each dance phrase spontaneously.  The total effect of a stage filled with individuals who are each self-motivated creates a convincing authenticity.

At all times truly see what or whom you are looking at, to help avoid the blank stare of self consciousness — the kind that little kids have when they are aware they are being watched.  Also avoid your eyes rolling up in recalling steps.  Catch the eyes of others you interact with and respond to them.  Focusing your eyes also makes you seem more intelligent than does a blank gaze, if that matters to you.

It's a mistake to think the audience is too far away to see your eye movements, or that they are watching someone other than yourself.  Your facial expressions and eye focus are clear to the last row of the balcony, and you should assume that least one person is watching you closely at every moment, even if you are in the rear of the stage.

Take special care to commence dance phrases clearly, and conclude them with decision.  Execute the first step of a dance, and the first step of each internal section, with the full thrust of the phrase, not starting tentatively then ramping up.  At the end of a movement or dance, strike a stable concluding stance, without wobbling or adjusting.

The last step of a phrase in mid-sequence tends to be especially weak, as the mind has moved on to remember the next step.  Don't abandon the step in progress.

The purpose of this start/stop clarity is not just to impress the audience with your precise technique but to make the form of a dance easier for your audience to perceive.

While dancing, strive to develop internal contrast and variety of execution between the different sections.  Similarly, make each dance as different as possible from the others.  The qualities of each dance may seem unique to you because of your experience with their subtle nuances, but to the uninitiated audience who may never have seen your kind of dancing, all of the dances tend to look alike unless we make a special effort to broaden their unique qualities.

If dancing in a line-of-direction circle, always be aware of the spacing between couples onstage.  Continually check the space behind you as well as in front of you.

Memory aid:  Just before the final performance of each dance, pause to recall any parts which you are prone to misstep or forget.  This last-minute reminder often prevents a chronic error from recurring.  Also recall the unique quality of each dance before beginning.

If performance adrenaline makes the music seem too slow, don't let your face register that you find the tempo draggy.  Instead, use the extra time to add more full-body flair.

Avoid turning your back to the audience.  If a choreography places you in such a position, shade your body slightly to one side and turn your head to present a profile of your face rather than the back of your head.  When finishing a dance or clearing a space for actors, beware of the great inclination to turn your back to the audience and head upstage.  It's preferable to lead your partner in a graceful sweep toward the audience first, then proceed laterally across the stage.

Don't stand frozen in place before a dance, impatiently waiting for the music to signal your first step.  Relate to your partner or companions in a lively, natural and authentic manner.  Keep the stage alive with motion.

But don't rush to and from places.  Rushing is the mark of a novice who fears that if they are not dancing, they must be terribly uninteresting to watch.  Take your time.  If you stay in character, the audience will take an interest in your manner, your costume and the way you relate to others.

When entering and exiting, the accumulated rumbles and scrapes of dozens of feet walking to places builds up.  Make an extra effort to walk silently.

Don't strive to merely be adequate, or to survive the show without screwing up.  Instead, your mindset is that you are the best.  Add personal style and flair in any and every way possible, from beginning to end, including the fluid grace of your free arms and hands.

Try to become the dancers you're portraying as completely as possible, taking true pleasure in your dancing and in the company of your partner and fellow dancers.  Audiences love to feel that the dancers are having a great time, and can always tell the difference between false smiles and genuine delight.  Find ways to spontaneously enjoy yourself.

© 2002, 2009 Richard Powers

Suggestions for Choreographing a Dance

The big picture

Choreography is not just stringing together steps and figures. That's boring.
First, ask yourself why the audience is there. What do they want to see? What would interest them? Why should they like your piece? Or even if they don't like it, how will it impact them? (Art doesn't have to please.) What will hold their attention at each moment? Keep your audience in mind during every step of your design.
Why? This helps prevent one of the most common mistakes in choreography — self-indulgence. Many beginning choreographers approach their choreography as simply "I love to do this!," assuming that viewers will enjoy watching, as much as dancers enjoy dancing. That's assuming too much, and your audience may quickly lose interest unless you know how to hold their attention and make it meaningful for them. 
Another form of self-indulgence is a choreographer who thinks, "This work has meaning for me. Too bad the audience doesn't understand it, but at least I'm satisfied." The choreographer just wasted the audience's time. But I'm sure this isn't you, or else you wouldn't be reading a page on how to be a more effective choreographer, so let's move on. 

Think big. You may have to settle on some compromises down the road, but begin your creative process with the highest ideals. Even plan on revolutionizing the field. Make history. If you don't succeed in revolutionizing the field, that's fine, but your piece will be better for aiming high.
Avoid the opposite attitude: "Yikes, I have only a month until the show! I hope I come up with something decent before then." That's a self-pressured attitude of avoiding failure, which is the opposite of an optimistic attitude of making history. Either attitude will be apparent in your final work.
None of these suggestions are necessarily true, and neither are the following specifics. All arts are highly individual, so every suggestion on this page will have exceptions. The guidelines on this page are not rules, but merely suggestions to help you design a more engaging, entertaining, artistic and/or meaningful choreography.

The specifics

A good place to start is by asking yourself what's the unique character of the dance form you're choreographing. Which qualities distinguish it from other dance forms? Highlight and expand those qualities.

Utilize contrast to keep the audience interested. Otherwise they tend to acclimate and zone out soon. 
You will want to develop contrast within the piece and also contrast between the different dances. Contrasting elements include angular vs. curvilinear, gentle vs. strong, slow vs. fast, consonance vs. dissonance, order vs. chaos. If you're doing a partnered dance, vary dance positions — waltz, skaters, open, akimbo, solo, etc. Contrast the numbers of dancers onstage. Use tension/resolution dynamics. Use space, silence, freeze-frames and voids for contrast.
That's just the short list. You can think of many other qualities to contrast.
If your piece is more than three minutes long, follow the Golden Mean suggestion: Create a major change of level (an especially noticeable contrast) 60 to 70 percent through your piece.
Give special consideration to floor patterns. Break up line-of-direction. Use the entire stage. Design visual patterns formed by dancers. Use contrast in arranging different patterns.
However don't let the quest for contrast destroy the unique character of a dance. Novice choreographers often make the mistake of throwing every trick they know into a piece, resulting in a choppy mess which is hard for an audience to follow. As mentioned above, it's important to select one characteristic motif for a dance and develop it fully, so that the audience comes to understand and appreciate the quality which differentiates this dance from the others in your concert.
Don't neglect the less interesting passages of a dance form. Simple choruses between fancier figures provide a useful contrast. Choreographers often make the mistake of editing out the slow parts of a traditional dance form until all they have left is the shouting. The pacing of dances often breathes... don't forget to inhale before shouting.
Janice Garrett, a Stanford Dance Division guest choreographer, was asked for the secret of her success. She replied that she closely listens to the music so many times that she becomes intimately familiar with every phrase and nuance, before she begins choreographing. Then it's just a matter of expressing in motion what the music is saying at each moment. Of course her genius with arranging bodies in motion is more than that, but it's significant that she places the music first in her process, and the musicality of her work is indeed striking.
On the larger macro scale, match musical breaks, accents, lyrics and crescendos / diminuendos with physical versions of the same. On the more subtle micro scale, see if instrumental changes, melodic lines and counterpoint can be expressed in motion. I'm not saying that a choreography needs to be programmatic, but audiences find it satisfying to feel correlations with the music as they're watching your piece. This is primal and universal.
Of course once something is identified as primal and universal, there will be minds that rebel against the "obvious." When Walt Disney created the ultimate visual expression of music for its time, Fantasia in 1940, some choreographers decided it was more sophisticated to go in the opposite direction, divorcing their movement from the emotional impulses of the music. But that backlash was in the 1950s. We've gotten over that by now.  There is nothing unsophisticated about acknowledging universal responses to music, and it may even be a key to your success.

Dance, as any art form, can be used to express emotions.  What emotions do you want to convey with your piece?  Keep these in mind as you're designing your work.  Revisit the emotional aspect as you develop your piece.

Do you want to develop any relationships and interpersonal dynamics?  A simple romance?  Competition or one-upmanship?  Cat and mouse game?  Jealousy?  Manage à trois?  Relationship to someone in the past?  Fatal relationship?  Someone wanting to belong or feeling left out?  Other group dynamics?

Have all motion evoke a natural motivation, if you can.  Make it clear that the dancer went there, and did that, for some reason, rather than merely being directed by the choreographer.  For instance, they respond to the movements of another dancer, or a space opens up and they go for it, or the music suggests the movement, or their momentum carries them there, etc.

You want your dancers to appear to move in a natural, musical, artless manner so that every motion moves naturally or logically from the previous one, unselfconsciously, but still executed with great precision and confidence.  The art of choreographing is concealing the artifice of choreography.

Our life, or rather our memory of our life, is composed of moments.  Many of these moments are as brief as snapshots.  Similarly, a choreography may likely be remembered for its notable moments.  Achieving a mood for an hour is good, but will likely not be noticed or remembered as much as vivid moments are.
Choreograph for the moments you want — a few startling, strong or memorable moments.  Work hard to make those few focused moments spectacular, even if they're difficult and take a lot of time to perfect.  Spend more of your time on the most memorable moments.  Then surround them with phrases to highlight those key moments/movements, using contrast and continuity, pacing, etc. 
Good stage scenic design puts the work where it's noticed, highlighted, not hidden in a dark corner.  It's the same with choreography.  Highlight the most significant moments, placing them where they can be clearly seen, not obscured in a flurry of busy movement.  Be aware that the rest of the material is used wisely to set up these key moments, so make the other material efficient, easy for your dancers to memorize and master quickly.
Similarly, keep in mind that a well-designed dance will never hide its best features.  Make sure the audience has the clearest view and the best viewing angle of your more important steps and figures.

If you have different dancers doing different things at the same time, draw the audience's eye to the part you want to highlight.  A stage is large, and viewers hate it when they miss something good because they're looking at someone on the opposite side of the stage.  Therefore have the soloists (or whoever you want the audience to watch) do something to draw attention to themselves before their highlight.  Or have the key dance movement dive into an "active area" which the audience is already watching.

This is choreographing "filmically", knowing who you want the "camera" focused on, for each moment.  Then once you've chosen your key moments, do what you can to draw the audience's eye to that person or couple before they're "on camera".  Large movements or lateral travel always work, or making a noise.  Or quieting down everyone else.

Don't bore your audience.
Re-think your decisions, in order to spot clichés, old habits and standard conventions to avoid.
Think of your choreographic process as your participation in a conversation:
Imagine you're at a quiet party... just you and your friends sitting around talking.
A thought occurs to you.  You consider speaking, but then you think better of it when you realize that this particular thought probably wouldn't very interesting to your friends, especially if it's just a "me too" story about yourself.
So you hold off saying anything for now, until you have something sufficiently interesting to contribute.  Right?  Intelligent people self-edit their conversation.
But you probably know people who can't self-edit.  They blurt out every thought which pops into their mind.  They're boring and annoying.
Choreography is the same.  If you have something which your friends in the audience will benefit from, then contribute it.  But if it's no more interesting than "look at me!" then hold off on wasting their time.

In addition to your responsibilities to your audience, you also have responsibilities to your dancers.
Be efficient with your dancers' rehearsal time.  This includes running efficient rehearsals, of course, but there are also choreographic considerations.  Try to get the maximum theatrical effect from the minimum of difficulties for your dancers.
Only have your dancers learn something difficult if they will be seen or featured doing it.  I've seen many new choreographers make the mistake of choreographing difficult-to-execute footwork and figures, resulting in overly long rehearsals and frustrated dancers, only to have the footwork lost in a swirl of motion.  Or belaboring a difficult figure that is no more effective than an easy one.

An unnecessarily difficult choreography not only creates stressful and fatiguing rehearsals, but it impairs the final performance as well, as your performers' faces show concentration and concern.  If your choreography is a little easier, your dancers can focus on performance flair, with a confident air, instead of hoping that they can get through it without screwing up.
Design especially logical phrases and timing patterns which will be easier for your dancers to remember than random steps and timings.
Use the individual talents of your dancers.  Ask them what special skills and talents they have.
Ideally your dance should be physically and musically enjoyable (or in some other way rewarding) for your dancers to perform.
These suggestions are especially important if working with amateur dancers, or professional actors who are new to dance.  Seasoned professional dancers probably won't mind a few (but not too many) of the above-mentioned difficulties.

How to arrange the dances in your concert: 
When arranging a suite of dances into a concert, consider placing your best one last, as the finale, and your second-best first.  Or maybe vice-versa, first and last.  First impressions are important.  You don't want to spend the rest of the concert trying to change your audience's mind from a weak first impression.  Beyond that, the dance order up to you.  Maybe you want to place your next best in the middle, or as your second dance, to reinforce your audience's impression that they like your work.
If a single choreography is long, ten minutes or more, you can use this same guideline within one piece, starting and finishing with your most impressive material.

This concerns a specific niche:  You'll have a special challenge staging 19th century social dances.  The problem is that 19th social demeanor was intended to be modest, not drawing any attention to the dancer.  Stage performances are the opposite.
19th century dance masters suggested that "on entering an assembly-room, all thought of self should be forgotten. The petty ambition of endeavoring to create a sensation either by dress, loud talking or unusual behavior is to be condemned."  In terms of dancing style, "dance with modesty, neither affect to make a parade of your knowledge; refrain from great leaps and ridiculous jumps, which would attract attention toward yourself."  150 years ago the ideal social dancer was almost invisible.  The obvious problem in staging these dances is that historically accurate humble, understated dancing tends to bore audiences, who have acclimated to broad theatrical movements and virtuoso footwork.
So there is a spectrum between exact authenticity and theatrical effect.  Modern audiences are not the same as period audiences, so if you want to convey the effect that a dance had 150 years ago, you may have to exaggerate some aspects of the dance to achieve that effect.  The film "Moulon Rouge" is effectively impressionistic, not focusing on the details of how it looked and sounded, but how it felt to be living then.
You have to make your own choices on this broad spectrum between understated authenticity and theatricality.  There are no right or wrong choices — your choices are yours.  Everyone is different in this balance.
Or keep the original understated style and find other ways to be interesting onstage.

Other considerations:
Give thought to your entrances... anything except standing onstage waiting for the music to begin.  Perhaps use a different kind of entrance for each dance.
Consider the many ways in which specific costuming might enhance your piece.  Integrate costume colors into the color palette of the stage.  Use costume colors to enhance the emotions you want to express.  Consider how the flow of fabrics can enhance the movements you're creating. 
Ask yourself whether special lighting is necessary, or how lighting will help highlight the important aspects of your work.  Use lighting colors to enhance emotions.  When looking for ways to add contrast to your work, consider the role lighting can play.
These are not minor considerations tacked on to the bottom of this page.  Entire books have been written about the costuming and lighting of stage productions.  
Consider noises or sounds made by your dancers, ranging from small exhalations of effort or surprise, stamps/slaps/etc., to speaking or singing.
Consider how you might use props.
Consider integrating other media, projections and effects.

Enjoy the process of making a piece.  You'll be tempted to focus only on the final result, so don't miss the satisfaction of the creative process, and the joy of dance, along the way.

© 2002, 2011 Richard Powers