Now I am going to be a bit provocative. What I am going to say is the following: “No, you cannot fail in my class!” It has become almost trendy to assure students that they are allowed to fail, however, I would like to challenge this a bit. What if we twist this worn-out statement into “In this class you can only excel
Over the past years I have seen many students conquer their stage-fright and turn into excellent public speakers. The first step is learning to take possession of the space. Leaving the safe corner and stepping into the open needs to become a reflex. As mime artist and dancer Adam Darius wrote in his book The Adam Darius Method: A technical and practical handbook for all performing artists (1984):
Why move like Prometheus chained to his rock or Petrouchka
confined to his cell when the space around us begs to be taken
over and conquered? Move spaciously through space. Manipulate
it, cut through it, sweep across it, gather it in all embracing arms,
cut patterns through it with scissor sharp legs and melting arms,
be master of the air.
In the passage above there are many interesting elements for movement improvisation exercises we do in my Business Ballet method, summing everything up into sweeping into space and filling it with your three-dimensional body. The second step is to learn to deliver a Pecha Kucha presentation. On Porvoo Campus we start with a mini version with ten slides only. What I tell students is that if they start panicking, they can stay quiet for those 3 minutes 20 seconds. It’s not that long! The slides will keep changing every 20 seconds and you don’t need to talk non-stop. You can just stand there and relax and breathe until its over. Note, breathing is essential! Usually, people manage to get in a word every now and then and many are amazingly fluent from the very beginning. However, I am particularly interested in helping the shy people who don’t possess an in-born love for performing on stage. With Pecha Kucha the point is not having text on the slides but pictures only, then you will have to focus on the story line instead of reading notes from the screen in a monotonous voice. Our talented student Linh Duong recently shared a blog post with her Pecha Kucha presentation she had performed in my Cultural Contacts course.
Finally, once you dare to fill up the space with your entire body, speaking will become very easy and natural. Even in a foreign language. Suddenly you find yourself alone on stage, talking to an attentive audience. And it feels great! However, there are no short-cuts to this state and the practice has to start from body language, not from delivering facts and figures only. With enough practice you will eventually understand the necessity of open space as fuel for your performance. Huddling like a little mouse in the corner will not take you anywhere. Start getting rid of that harmful reflex today!
Now I am going to be provocative again, I believe that it is easier for Finns to say “I am allowed to fail” than “I am allowed to excel”. That’s why I cringe every time I hear the phrase “we are allowed to fail here” – then failing turns into a collective act of failing miserably. No, let’s start excelling collectively. It’s a bit as with Harvard-Professor Amy Cuddy’s “Power Posing”: when feeling insecure you need to Power Pose with open gestures and your body will change your mind into feeling more powerful. “Fake it until you make it!”
Notably, my back-ground is in Classical Ballet, the most severe of all disciplines. There it is absolutely fatal to fail. How would it look in the Valtz in Act 1 of Giselle if one corps de ballet member stepped into the wrong direction? It would spoil the effect of beauty and harmony. So I learned early my lesson of the importance of being diligent and learning your steps very well before entering the stage. Back to my student on Porvoo Campus, this year I have seen so many people excel and flourish and I am very proud of the accomplishments of my students. No, we definitely are not here to fail – we are the masters of the air!
Below: My own Pas des Trois choreography for myself, Annukka and Maria performed many years ago – in a different millennium!