Oct 05, 2016
One of my favorite qualities in a performer is stillness. Stillness is not “doing nothing.” Stillness is not passive or static. Stillness can be present even when the singer/actor is scampering about the stage. Stillness is simplicity personified. To help our students achieve it, we can follow Albert Einstein’s advice:
Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.
Many young singers and actors demonstrate a lot of nervous energy as they perform. Sometimes I see their teachers, conductors, or directors command them to JUST STAND STILL! I get it. We are exasperated because we see their fidgeting dilute their strength, power, and dramatic connection. The solution is, as Einstein suggests, simple. However, it’s not quite as simple as telling them to “just stand still.”
Our goal is to have a stable instrument: body and voice. This is most completely achieved by using the core muscles to support the sound, which will provide the stability that leads to true stillness. When we do not have that core strength, we are forced to hold on in the periphery just to be upright, and we must hold on even more tightly to find the power for our singing and speaking. It is the lack of connection to core strength (and the resulting misplaced tension in the periphery) that leads to the fidgeting. Simply clamping down on that peripheral movement may stop the fidgeting, but it will not connect them to the core, so it will not create true stillness.
When I have a fidgety performer, I often have them do a standing yoga pose, like Mountain Pose (Tadasana), Tree Pose (Vrksasana), or Chair Pose (Utkatasana) as they are speaking and singing. This is a great way to bring their attention to their core, which will provide the stability that leads to true stillness. To see these poses, use the link below: http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/finder/browse_categories/standing
For many performers, that simple action and awareness is enough. However, sometimes they are unable to attain the stillness in the yoga pose even without speaking and singing. They lack the strength and connection to the core to do the pose. When that is the case, I back up a step and use movement to create stillness. That might seem counterintuitive--the way to stillness is through movement? But, think of it this way. If you are unstable, and someone tells you to stand still, you cannot achieve stillness--you don’t have the strength and coordination for stillness--you can only HOLD. But, there is no such thing in the body as static stillness. It’s not possible, especially if you’re singing and/or acting. You can’t be static and singing at the same time. You can be still and singing, but that’s the point I’m making--the difference between static, which is holding; and stillness, which is still allowing flow.
With an extremely fidgety performer, I will suggest that they deliberately move as they sing and speak. I create for them specific movements that are designed to create and enable the flow they are looking for in the first place. These movements usually involve graceful, curving movements in the arms (and these movements are generally big enough to release tension in the shoulder girdle at the same time). Many times I will ask them to lift one leg (directing them to hang on to a chair to keep their balance), which forces them to align the pelvis and connect to the pelvic floor. If they can gracefully move the leg around, that’s even better. Or, I might have them stand on a BOSU ball (with the flat side down), which forces them to balance rather than to fidget in order to keep reconnecting to the core and stay upright on the device.
An old trick to release peripheral tension is to have them march backwards as they sing, lifting their knees high in front of them and swinging their arms back and forth in wide arcs. What we’re trying to create is a stable framework, so that we can sing and speak from the center rather than from the periphery. In the short run, a teacher, director, or conductor might feel that just standing still is better than fidgeting. However, when we understand that fidgeting is a symptom of misplaced tension--of using the peripheral muscles rather than the core--then we can see that imposing artificial stillness from the outside is actually creating more misplaced tension and encouraging them to hold the muscles in place. In the long run, we serve our students much better by teaching them the difference between “holding” the muscles and true stillness.