Advanced Concepts For Improving Expression (Douglas Webster)

Professional choreographer Douglas Webster continues his step sequence lesson with a skater. In the first part of the lesson, Doug focused on the mechanics of the step sequence itself, and in this part, he shares insights about performing and improving expression.

In the initial discussion, it’s clear that Doug has “developed a story” for this skater’s program. A story alone can be very powerful, as it gives a skater something to focus on throughout the performance, which gives meaning to the skater. This internalized meaning helps skaters bring the necessary emotion to the performance. But Doug talks about many other important concepts as well. He asks the skater, “What’s the action in your footwork? The action is a verb.” (In this case, it’s spreading magic, throwing energy out into the Universe, and celebrating the change of seasons.) The actions if done correction should share an emotion. (In this case, joy.) Doug continues by noting that skaters don’t need to get overwhelmed by their own story, but by picking very specific key actions at specific moments, the skater can dig deeper for expression.

Doug notes that the story and performance may have nothing to do with the actual skating audience. The on-ice performance may be for other imaginary characters on and around the ice. He says the skating “audience isn’t in your scene… they’re watching your movie. Who’s in your movie?” In this manner, expression can be developed and emotion can be shared with these imaginary characters, and it is completely independent of the actual audience in the skating arena (some days there’s no audience to draw from or perform to).

Doug continues, “Use your imagination when you’re performing. Use your imagination when you tell stories. And that’s what creates expression.” He defines expression as conveying your thoughts and feelings to the audience, showing them how you feel. You do that by finding character, telling story, choosing actions, having an objective.” (In this case, the objective is to “turn winter to spring. And that makes everybody feel really happy. So the real objective is to make people feel joyful and happy.”)

As a final part of the discussion, Doug shares a secret that few coaches and even fewer skaters know and use. He explains that when a skater walks into a new rink or arena or competitive situation, the skater can draw upon their imagination (if trained properly) to transform an arena into the world of their story. He says, “You don’t see the judges. You don’t see the audience. You see your world you created and that’s a safe place for you to live in as a performer, and a very safe place to live in as a competitor.”


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