Remember to utilize your eyes while on stage! Try to avoid looking at the leader the entire time and avoiding the audience altogether. Look around and use a mix of gazes. Invite people in to your experience!
Use your peripheral vision to watch the leader for cues. You don’t want to look like you are burning a hole in the leader’s spine waiting for that next move. This is key to starting being able to make connection with the audience.
Even if you can’t see your audience from the stage - you’ve got to visualize and perform for that one, ideal person. Sometimes it's difficult to make eye contact at all, with the house lights turned off and the stage lights shining brightly into your eyes. But the more time you spend on stage, the easier it will become.
Think about looking into the audience like you are looking into the lens of a camera (see the attached photos for reference). This gives us a ring-shaped area around the camera that respects the taboo of not looking directly at the audience but in which the eyes – the windows to the soul – remain accessible. I call this area ‘the doughnut’ and working within it is the key to powerful performance.
You have three working areas in the “donut”:
- Looking down the lens or breaking the fourth wall. This is making direct eye contact with an audience member. This is saved more for the leader or for soloists.
- Within the donut or window to the soul open. This is widening your gaze to extend across the audience. This will allow you to use your peripheral vision to keep tabs on the leader, but still be seen as actively connecting with your audience.
- Outside the donut or window to the soul closed. This is averting your eyes to the ceiling, the floor, the far sides of the audience or while you have your back to the audience.
It’s impossible to be precise about how large the doughnut is. It will depend on the lighting, the depth of your eye sockets, the prominence of your brow and several other factors that you cannot control. It’s also not a straightforward question of being in or out. Rather, as you look further away from the audience, your eyes become less accessible until, eventually, we cannot see anything meaningful of them.
Rather than working within the doughnut as a purely mechanical technique, the best way to think about it is to couple it with the desire to share your dance experience with the audience and look into its’ vicinity
If you are too shy to start off with the “Doughnut,” then at least look directly into the audience, finding a point on the horizon slightly above people’s heads, to make your focal point.
Balancing connection via your eyes with your leader, your sister dancers and the audience ultimately will enrich your performance and give you more confidence on stage.