Warm Up Your Audience

 
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5 things your introduction needs to accomplish.

About a year ago I released the very first episode of More Than Steps, Get the Hell Off the Stage. In that episode, we talked about the need to make the last few moments in your show count.
But your introduction is just as important!

Just like you need to warm up before dancing, your audience needs a mental warm up before they can appreciate and enjoy what you’re doing.
So let’s look at 5 things you need to do in the first minute of your show…

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This was professionally transcribed, but it probably still has some errors. If you catch any, drop me a line at nadira@nadirajamal.com. I’d love to hear from you!

About a year ago I released the very first episode of More Than Steps. It was called Get the Hell Off the Stage, and it talked about the need to make the last few moments in your show count, and I shared a piece of advice that I’ve gotten from every single performing arts teacher I’ve ever had in any genre, dance, music, theater, you name it. They all agree that what the audience remembers after your show is how you started, how you ended, and vague impressions about how they felt in the meantime, and so how you start and end your show are the areas where you have the greatest impact on the overall effect.

And in my last episode I talked about finales, so today let’s talk about introductions. But before we do that, let’s take a very big step back. Why do we need an introduction?

Well, an intro does a lot of things, but they all boil down to one concept. They are a warmup for your audience. They get the audience into a head space where they’re ready to appreciate and enjoy what you’re doing, and there are five main tasks that we need to accomplish to make that happen. We need to establish our relationship with the audience, set the tone for the show, build excitement, get the audience over the glitter shock, and take control of the show. Let’s look at those in a little more detail.

When it comes to building a relationship, we want to actually introduce ourselves. We need to greet the audience, make them feel welcome, and introduce them to you as a person and performer, and until you do those things, the audience won’t open up to you fully.

Our next task is to set the tone. Now, any show is going to have a lot of emotional variation. Highs, lows, different feelings, but they also tend to have a general tone. This can be any mix of just your general personal style and artistic choices that you make for that specific show, but if you look at different shows and different dancers, you’ll find a lot of variety. Some are more fierce, more elegant, more innocent and sweet, or more down to earth, and that tone is a piece of what we need to establish in the introduction so the audience knows what to expect.

Third, we need to build excitement. Regardless of what tone you choose, you need to animate your audience and build excitement. So just like a warmup for you gets the blood flowing to your muscles, the audience needs to build that excitement so that their emotions can flow, and this makes a huge difference. It can really make the difference between dancing for a passive audience and an engaged one, and that is a very different experience both for them and for you.

Fourth, we need to get them over the glitter shock. Keep in mind that when you step on the stage, you are a glitter bomb. There are sequins, swirling chiffon, finger cymbals, mirrors, coins, your bright smile, fancy makeup, exciting dancing, unusual music, and that is a lot to take in. Even when you’re dancing for other dancers, at a bare minimum, they’re going to be eyeing your costume for the first few moments. So you need to give your audience time to get over that glitter shock.

And fifth, you need to take charge of the show. Now, in the very first episode of my other podcast, the Belly Dance Geek Clubhouse, my guest Yasmin Henkesh described the role of the dancer as being the MC of the show. So remember that you’re not just performing. You are also managing the audience’s experience, and you don’t get that MC role just because you’re standing on the stage. You have to seize it. You need to establish that you are the pack leader and the audience needs to pay attention. They should look where you look, clap where you clap, and allow their emotions to follow where you lead. You need to give them the message, “Hey, you’re in good hands.”

So how do you do all that? Well, this is a really big topic, but today I’m going to share two tips.

One is KISS. Keep it simple, but sparkle. One of the dilemmas of the introduction is that we need to make an impression, but the audience is not ready to process our more complicated stuff. So we need to stick with things that are simpler, but still make an impact. So think big, bold, confident, and splashy. These are things that will help the audience get excited and set that tone without overwhelming them with detail. Remember, when they’re overwhelmed, you’re going to lose them.

The second tip is to prioritize connection. Now, this dance is all about interpersonal relationships. It’s about the relationship between you and the musicians and the audience. But even so, in the introduction, we need to really emphasize that. So make sure that you use plenty of eye contact, whether that’s real or simulated. Make sure that your expression is open and engaged, and maybe even do a little outright schmoozing. Actually single out some people and make them feel welcome and special. This can help create that relationship and also establish that you’re in charge.

Now, how long should your introduction period be? Well, if you’re doing a traditional full routine, you have the luxury of an entire song to just focus on those goals, but if these days you may often be doing a mini-set, or even a single song, in that situation I recommend devoting the first 60 to 90 seconds of your set. That’s not as much time as it seems, but sometimes it feels like an eternity onstage, but that is time well spent. And the barest, barest minimum, I would say is about 30 seconds spent on introduction tasks. Anything less than that and you run the risk of not getting them properly warmed up and losing them for the rest of your show.

Now the exception that proves the rule is competition. A competition is different from a regular performance. Remember that in a competition, your goal is to impress the judges, not just entertain. And often, what wins you a competition and what makes you a great entertainer are at odds with each other. But the most extreme example that I know still proves why it’s worth doing an introduction, even in a tiny high-judgment situation.

Several years ago I trained a beauty pageant contestant, and she had 90 seconds to demonstrate her skill and artistry and win the judges over. That is nothing. In a full length set, I would probably still be parading around the stage 90 seconds in. But even with that tight time limit and that need to impress right out of the gate, we still spent the first two rifts of her drum solo, which was her only song, on combinations that were simple but splashy before we started building up the complexity. Because if we just hit them with everything, they wouldn’t understand what they were seeing. They wouldn’t be ready for her. And it worked. She won both the talent competition and the Miss Boston crown.

So let’s summarize what we learned. An introduction is a warmup for your audience. Use it to get them ready to appreciate and enjoy your show. The five tasks that we need to accomplish during the warmup are to establish our relationship, set the tone, build excitement, get the audience past the glitter shock, and take control of the show. And two tools that we have for that are to keep it simple, but sparkle, focusing on simpler but high-impact moves and choices, and also to prioritize connection. And above all, don’t skip this step. Even in the shortest shows, the audience needs their warmup, or all your hard work can go to waste.


Your Turn

What challenges you when it comes to introductions?

Do you have any tips on intros that you’d like to share?

Got a question or topic that you’d like me to talk about on the show?

I would love to hear from you.

Leave a comment below, or better yet, leave me a short voice message. Maybe I’ll even play it on the air!

Want More?

If you’d like to dig deeper into the routine, geek out with me this summer with Rock the Routine.
We’ll do a deep dive into how to dance a traditional 6-part routine step-by-step.

And this is the last time that Nadira will be leading a live offering of this course, so don’t miss out!

Learn more

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