What is "Upstaging" and Why is it a Big Deal?

Upstaging is both rude and dangerous for performing artists. What is upstaging, and why is it such a big deal? "Upstaging" is basically where you're supposed to be the center of attention, but you're not. When someone "upstages" you, they draw attention to themselves and away from you.

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On the Stage

Imagine you're on the stage with 5 other dancers. You're all doing exactly the same thing at the same time. One person misses a cue and falls behind. It's very noticeable when this happens! Every eye in the room will be on the one dancer who is behind until they catch back up.

Now this isn't a huge deal, but it does distract from the audience's enjoyment. Things that are out of place or out of sync irritate us on a subconscious level.

Dancer on the far right is a bit behind - and you noticed right away

It's also unfair. And I don't mean this to be petty or entitled, but if you're doing a pas de trois and it's supposed to be synchronized and everyone is looking at your classmate instead of the trois as a whole, you'd feel a little bit like you didn't get the attention you deserved.

In the Studio

There are a few situations where upstaging happens in the classroom, and it can be both irritating, and dangerous, depending on the situation.

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Example - Students are going one at a time across the floor, working hard to improve their technique. Students in the corner are doing tricks, talking, or causing trouble. Any classmate or teacher who looks over at the trouble maker is no longer looking at the dancers. The dancers have been "upstaged" by the trouble.



Example - Student is at the barre wearing leg warmers, a skirt, hair in a ponytail instead of a bun, or dangling earrings. The teacher is checking her pirouette to see what is causing her to fall. Her hair whips around or her earring catches the light and the teacher's eye is drawn there instead of to the foot that isn't touching her knee. The accessory has upstaged the foot.

(in the photos below, it would be much easier to pick out a sickled foot or a bent knee in the first photo than in the second)

Photo credit: gabrielsaldana on Visualhunt.com /CC BY-SA

(By the way, this is why dance teachers make you wear nothing but a leotard and tights. Their eyes are trained to find the "out of place" thing. If everything is messy and distracting, you can't pinpoint the issue as quickly.)

Upstaging can be used to your advantage at times, for instance if you need to get to a different part of the stage, doing so when other people are moving about a bit, and nobody is frozen in place while a main character dances is the best option to do so. From a choreographically standpoint, it can be used to draw attention to something you do want the audience to see, so they don't see something subtle, like picking up or handing off a prop.

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The point is simply to be aware of your surroundings, and to think of others instead of just yourself... who knows, you might see or hear a correction that could change your dancing!

Follow up with this! Dance Class Etiquette is a printable book to hand out (or keep available) in your studio that helps dancers understand what is expected of them. Our Dress Code is a brochure that breaks down why it's important to follow dress code!

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