Dana Wilson, Megan Lawson, and Jillian Meyers are the three artists that make up the iconic Seaweed Sisters! They’re committed to honest, vibrant storytelling and sharing their treasure trove of accumulated experience and wisdom with dancers everywhere.
We recently sat down with The Seaweed Sisters to talk about stage presence, performance, and imagination. They had many great ideas to share with us, so we decided to not only share the full interview but to distill their conversation down into the best tips for you to improve your stage presence and performance quality.
Tip 1: How Interested Are You In What You’re Doing?
Dana Wilson has an acting teacher, Gary Imhoff, who says that stage presence is “how interested you are in what you’re doing.” More than “interest,” even, Dana says it involves a level of enjoyment too—this is especially true if you are performing a more upbeat dance, but you can translate it to more serious performances as well.
One of the easiest ways to stay engaged and interested mentally and physically in a more serious performance is to keep track of your focus. If you are intent on telling a specific story, you might naturally have a clear and strong focus. When dancers start to think about the steps too much, their eyes tend to wander. This can make you seem unengaged with your body language when in reality you are just thinking hard about your performance!
Tip 2: Listening
Megan Lawson learned from actor Julia Garner that stage presence is primarily about listening. Garner says that you are often reacting to the audience or another dancer, or even the mistakes you make when onstage and that if you “can hear yourself speak,” you’re not listening enough. To translate it into dance terms, a dancer who is “hearing themselves speak” might have their eyes glued to the mirror in class, and be focused solely on how they look. There’s nothing wrong with using the mirror to your advantage, but when you are called upon to perform, you have to tune into a different frequency!
A dancer who is “listening” to the moment might also seem more ‘at ease.’ They are less likely to rush timing, they might be using their breath more, their eyes are engaged and they often look more grounded. Basically, a dancer who is engaged with what they are doing in this way will be more present.
Tip 3: Stage Presence is Being Present!
Imagine an actor who recites their lines and executes their blocking “perfectly,” but who seems to be thinking about their next line. How would you be able to tell? They might not be making eye contact, their movement might seem unnatural, and you might not fully believe the scene!
Jilllian Meyers suggests that being present in a performance is easier when you’ve rehearsed enough to let your mind and body focus on something other than the steps. When you do that, you welcome the audience into your performance and begin to share your own style with them.
Tip 4: Sharing vs. Showing
The Seaweed Sisters value their relationship with the audience. If they’re dancing on film, they like to imagine who their audience behind the camera might be, and dance as if they are physically there with them. If they’re onstage, they’ll be so performative and present that they might as well be having an actual conversation with the audience.
Jillian credits much of their performance quality to the idea of sharing vs. showing. She says that when you share with the audience, you invite them into an exchange with you. It might just be two different words, but we challenge you to think about what the difference between those two words means to you. Whatever feelings, ideas, and associations you have with “sharing,” try and conjure them before your next show!
Tip 5: Confidence is the Willingness to Feel Any Feeling
In our full-length interview with the Seaweed Sisters, Dana said that before she takes the stage, the most important thing she reminds herself of is that she has “already felt embarrassed, stupid, humiliated, amateur,” and that those feelings aren’t even as bad as “feeling really dizzy.” If you are willing to feel and look silly or embarrassed, oftentimes you end up projecting confidence instead, because your willingness to feel any feeling is where your true confidence lies. Dana says that if you are open to the idea that you might nail the choreography, or you might totally flub it, the audience will be able to feel that security and openness.
Megan mentions that she once had a ballet solo that she did not feel very confident in, dance-wise. To make up for that, she says she leaned into her performance quality and committed to selling herself even if she didn’t feel as confident in her ballet technique as she did in other styles! This is what Dana calls “self-confidence” versus “task-based confidence.” True confidence does not come from how confidently you know you can land a triple pirouette, or how perfect you know your tilt is. True confidence comes from fully embracing every possible human feeling that could occur in your dance performance.
Put it Into Practice!
“Move It” – Dance On Camera with Brian Friedman:
Brian Friedman teaches this class based on dancing for the camera, leading you through a classic combo with many opportunities to play with the movement and pretend you’re the only star on screen.
Story Telling Through Dance with Al Blackstone:
In this 4 part course, Al takes you beyond dance technique and introduces you to the importance of characterization and acting while performing on stage perfect to putting your newfound stage presence tips to the test!
Dancing with a Steadicam featuring The Seaweed Sisters:
We can’t get enough of The Seaweed Sisters! Get a look inside their choreographic process and collaborations and see how the sisters work with dancer and steadicam operator Devin Jamieson to create movement specifically tailored to the camera.
Storytelling on Stage with Ricky Ubeda:
Use your storytelling and stage presence abilities to go beyond the steps and connect with your audience throughout this 4 part course with SYTYCD Season 11 Winner, Ricky Ubeda!