What’s the role of facial expression in dance?
Tap dancers seem to smile automatically. No question that they’re having fun and they want you to know it!
Belly dancers smile seductively .
Indian dancers smile mysteriously. Do they know something we haven’t figured out?
Children who dance are encouraged to smile, no matter the inner terror being onstage is likely to provoke. The mandate to smile is the sine qua non of children’s dance performances. Many remain stubbornly oblivious to this, but they will not win the hearts of the audience. They’re just not AS adorable as the smilers.
When I was a child performing in recitals, the same message was drummed into me, Smile! I still remember the discomfort and sense of weirdness that came with having an artificial smile plastered on my face that I had to maintain as I performed. I was assured that audiences loved it. Now when I watch other people’s children dance, if they are looking remotely unhappy, I have to restrain myself from hollering, “Smile!”
When I was performing in graduate school, the department chair, who had choreographed the solo I was doing, was apparently bothered by my facial expression as I danced. I was firmly instructed not to show any emotion. That was as unnatural for me as holding a smile on my face for minutes at a time. I have one of those faces that people can “read,” knowing my feelings often before I verbalize them. But wanting to please her, I tried to make my face a blank canvas. That non-face was the influence of post-modernism.
At the other end of the facial possibility spectrum lies giving attitude. I imagine this is supposed to reflect the ferocity and intense passion of the performer, but from my point of view it looks ridiculous and exaggerated and is distracting. I wonder if they make faces at themselves in the mirror. To bolster my point, I have a few splendid examples taken recently of ice dancing at the Vancouver Olympics!