How to Improve Stage Presence for Ballet Dancers

From playing Odette in Swan Lake, to being Dancer #4 in your director’s latest abstract piece, stage presence is what can make or break a role. If you find yourself on stage and not sure of how to make the audience feel your energy, check out these tips on improving your stage presence — regardless of the role you’re dancing.

Use Your Eyes

The most important part of your face is your eyes, especially from the stage. It may seem obvious, but make sure that they’re open and active when you’re on stage. Don’t just let them wander here and there, unfocused because your mind is on the choreography. Start using them in rehearsal, focusing your gaze with deliberation rather than apathy. When your gaze has direction, your entire face has direction. This will give your dancing a sense of intent and conviction.


Épaulment means “shouldering,” and is the tilt of the upper body to create interesting angles in ballet. It is the center of all the beautiful faces and expressive framing you see. Squeeze every body-facing for all that it’s worth, as utilizing the proper positions will give dimension to the choreography.

If you’re wondering just what an impact épaulment has on a ballet’s character, try imagining Swan Lake danced entirely en face, with every dancer facing dead ahead at every point in time. Seem boring? That’s because the shouldering used by even the most minor characters allows the scene to feel more realistic and natural. A dead set, face-forward angle often seems unnatural and awkward.

Dance Big

Remember that your average stage is two to three times larger than your average studio. You may be used to only dancing across a twelve foot room, but the stage is enormous, and it’s your job to fill it to the brim. Make the absolute most of every step and transition. Let your movement to take up as much of the stage as possible. Exaggerate your movements, making them visible to even the last person sitting in the back row of the balcony section. Dance for that person and that person alone.

The further away you project, the bigger your presence, and the more everyone will notice you. Of course, always keep in mind character considerations, and be sure not to bump off another ballerina in your quest for artistic projection.

Give Life to Stillness

At some point in their dancing life, most ballerinas will dance a role which has at least one period of absolute posed stillness. Don’t let yourself become passive just because you aren’t dancing. The great artistic dancers can make the audience feel a whole range of emotions without lifting a port de bras. The next time you’re in a stationary pose, use your face and the position to keep projecting — even harder than you were when you were dancing. Open your eyes, use your épaulment, and make that pose the most beautiful thing the audience has ever seen.

Make the Most of Your Makeup

Stage makeup seems like the most superficial of aspects when it comes to a show, but it can make the difference when it comes to giving you the right look. Make sure that your makeup is on heavy enough, and fake any features that you may not naturally possess. Small eyes? Line them outside your natural edges to make them appear larger and more expressive. Super fair skin? Build contrast and contour by utilizing a beautiful blush.

Play up features that make you look like yourself. If you have especially lovely lips, don’t be afraid to play them up and make them bright and beautiful. By emphasizing your features, you draw attention to your face. Then when you emote, you can portray the entire range of emotions.

Hot Tip: Mouth Off

When you’re holding a stationary pose, use the time to relax your mouth. Tension can build easily, so drop the smile and reset it while you have the chance. Otherwise you may find the smile glued on after the last bows! 

Exude Confidence

It won’t be easy becoming the next great Fonteyn, but always be aware of your expression on stage. Even if you forget a step or slip on the tape, if you keep the right expression and carry on, chances are that the audience won’t notice a thing!

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