We’ve enjoyed watching the Figure Skating competitions of the Sochi Winter Olympics SO MUCH over the past couple weeks! It’s our favorite sport of the Olympics, because while it is indeed a sport which requires great physical strength and agility, it is also a very artistic endeavor. Sensitivity to the music and artistry in the choreography, grace in the motions and athletic strength are all prized in this sport.
So it occurred to us while watching these skaters that their performances are wonderful examples of the same good performance techniques that we teach our students! Even though the actual performances will contain techniques that are different from one art form to another – and even from one musical instrument to another – many of the main qualities that make a good performer are the same.
Gracie Gold is a shining example of a great performer. As she shows during her Olympic debut, being a great performer does not require being a “perfect” performer. Sure, we all strive toward our own personal versions of perfection, and it’s that goal that keeps us motivated to work toward higher and higher levels of skill – and the fun that comes with it! But that doesn’t mean we have to be perfect in order to be proud of our musical accomplishments.
We think the following video of Gracie Gold’s free-skate demonstrates most of the “elements of a good performance” that we talk about in our Performance Classes with our students. These elements are:
1. Enter the stage with confidence, even if you don’t feel so confident inside. You are performing from the moment you hit the stage until the moment you leave it.
2. Take a moment to focus and prepare before you start the “playing” part of your performance.
3. While playing/performing, stay focused on what you are doing right now. If a mistake happens, use your memory techniques to find your way again, move on, and keep going. Don’t focus on the mistake; instead, focus on expressing your music as beautifully as you can in each moment!
4. End your piece well. Stay focused on the mood of your piece until a couple seconds after the last note has ended.
5. Acknowledge and thank your audience by smiling and bowing.
In this skate, the commentators note that Gracie had just texted her twin to say she was “afraid” about her upcoming performance. But even so, when she stepped onto the ice, she exuded such confidence that no-one could have guessed that she was nervous! That is good performance. Plus, when you show confidence on your face and in your body language, it actually can start to make you FEEL more confident too! She remains focused while waiting for the music to start, and she begins her skate well. In the middle, she falls to the floor after a jump. That had to hurt! But instead of looking angry or disappointed in herself, she just picks herself right up and continues her excellent, expressive performance as if the fall never happened. THAT is good performance. And through the very end of her performance, she showed confidence and enjoyment of her performance even though she fell once. She smiled and thanked her audience for their applause by staying on stage to bow to them, without rushing. She did not diminish her performance quality by showing disappointment on her face. She was proud of all that went well in her performance, as she should be! That is good performance!
It was very refreshing to hear the commentators, who are professional skaters themselves, praise her performance as a “beautiful skate” from beginning to end. Since this was a competition rather than a recital, of course they did also acknowledge that she lost points because of the fall, and that the skate wasn’t “perfect”. But that lack of perfection did not diminish the high quality of her skills and her performance. Her coach also told her, as we would with our students, that he “liked how she kept it going” – because in performance, if you don’t focus on your mistake, the audience won’t focus on it either!
So here’s the short edited version of her skate, just showing her confident beginning, then how she picks herself up and moves on so well after her fall, and then her confident ending. The whole performance is so beautiful, we have also included the whole performance below it for anyone who wants to see the whole thing.
And remember, if Olympic skaters can survive literally falling to the ground during their performances and still be great performers, then we can survive playing a wrong note here and there and still be great performers! Enjoy!