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What Do Irish Dance Judges Look For? #18—Facial Expression

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 1.59.04 PM Ariel Bennett, ADCRG, is a teacher and judge who has been Irish dancing for 30 years.

In Irish dancing, we spend so much time working on our feet that it’s easy to forget that other parts of our bodies are important, too. We almost never think about what our faces are doing, for example, but facial expression is an important part of a performance. You need to make sure that your facial expression is creating a positive impression on the judge.

Here are five things to think about when working on your facial expression:

1. Keep your eyes straight ahead.

When you’re concentrating really hard on your feet, sometimes your eyes will unconsciously look down at the ground or up at the ceiling. Either way, the judge is going to think that you’re not sure what you’re doing.

To look more confident, work on keeping your eyes straight ahead. Pick a point on the wall in front of you that’s just above eye level, and keep your eyes focused on that point as you dance.

2. Keep your chin up.

If your chin drops while you’re dancing, your eyes will usually drop, too, and sometimes your shoulders will end up slumping forward.

Lifting your chin up a little higher than you normally would will help keep your eyes up, and it will make you look more confident.

3. Think about your mouth.

When all your attention is focused on your footwork, it’s easy for the muscles of your face to go slack. If that happens, your mouth will hang open, and you’ll end up with a vacant expression on your face. That will make you look like you don’t know what you’re doing.

You need to make a purposeful expression with your mouth so that it doesn’t hang open. You can smile, or you can keep your lips together so that you look calm or determined. Whatever expression you pick, be sure to think about breathing through your nose instead of your mouth.

4. Practice your expression in a mirror.

Like all the parts of your dancing, keeping a confident expression takes practice. Start by standing in front of a mirror, lifting your chin, and trying out different expressions. It helps to think about an emotion with each expression. Think about smiling and being happy, for instance, or keeping your lips together and being calm. Some people even think about being angry—whatever works for you. Find out which expression you like the best (and which you find easiest to do).

5. Concentrate on your facial expression while you dance.

Once you’ve decided on an expression, try it out in practice. Do one of your steps and think about nothing but your facial expression. If the look that you chose is difficult to keep on your face when you’re dancing, try something else. Then, every time you practice, do at least one time where all you think about is your facial expression.

Be sure to take a video of yourself from time to time so that you can make sure that your expression looks confident. Sometimes the way you feel and the way you look are different, so it’s a good idea to look at a video and see yourself from the judge’s perspective.

As a judge, I personally like to see dancers smiling. It’s hard to dance and smile at the same time, so when dancers smile, they look more confident to me—plus, they look like they’re having fun. However, some judges prefer a serious expression. So try out different expressions and see which one works best for you. Think of it as playing a character on stage, a character who is calm, confident, and ready to win. If you walk out with a confident expression and keep it up through your whole dance, you’re sure to make a positive connection with the judge.
Photo credit: Bill Bennett, 2012

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