Professional dance, in any genre, manages to speak to the primal and the emotional all at once. Even after thousands and thousands of years, dancers and choreographers are finding new ways to communicate with the help of carefully choreographed movement.
But what is it like to dance for a living? How long does it take to get to that level of skill and expertise? What about the professional dancers who spend their careers traveling all over the planet to share their work?
Joanne Liebenberg can answer all of these questions for us.
A serious dancer from a very early age, Liebenberg has made herself an in-demand dancer for everything from formal theatre performances to music videos to television shows to illustrious cruise line entertainment.
Liebenberg has also won gold, silver, and bronze medals for her home country of South Africa at international dance competitions.
In other words, dancing is her life, and she’s just the person to share some insights into a life spent in the world of dance.
So come along with us as we talk about dance today, international performance, and how dancers keep their skills up in between tours and performances.
A deeper understanding of dance
Artvoice has talked to all kinds of different artists and experts, and something we’ve found to be a trend is that, no matter the discipline, the expert slowly comes to have a different understanding of it over time.
This isn’t about disillusionment at all. It’s not that the more a person learns about their line of work the more they dislike it. In fact, we could say it’s the exact opposite.
When someone spends their career focusing on an art form, they learn more and more about it, even after comprehensive training in an academic environment.
This is exactly what happened with Liebenberg as she put years and years into her dance career.
“Dance was always something I loved, but as I grew older, my appreciation for and understanding of this incredible art form grew. I trained at an advanced level in many genres of dance, as well as moving into singing and acting. By exploring all of these, it has given me a greater understanding of dance, and it’s what I love most in the world.”
It’s kind of like hanging a picture on your wall and spending some time with it every day. At first, you’ll probably only take it at face value, taking in the details and remembering when and where that photo was taken.
But when you keep spending time with it, looking over it more closely, not only will you start to notice smaller and more intimate details in the photograph, but you’ll also feel differently about it based on how you’ve changed since you first put it up there.
In any art form, there are always more nuances to be found, and for artists like Liebenberg, each new discovery just ends up adding to the motivation to continue and improve even more.
Taking this show on the road
One of the ways that Liebenberg pushes her career forward and keeps her skills sharp is to participate in all kinds of international performances.
Some of those performances have been high-level competitions. But performances purely for the sake of art and entertainment are some of Liebenberg’s favorites.
It’s been said before, but music and dance can certainly operate as a form of communication that doesn’t rely on language at all, and that just adds to the excitement.
“I am extremely blessed that my career has taken me around the world. Travel has allowed me to perform for audiences across the globe, and although we don’t all speak the same language, we communicate through the universal language of dance.”
While globalization has made all kinds of art more accessible to audiences in different countries, there will always be that issue of translation, which, unfortunately, will never be an exact science.
Music and dance, on the other hand, get to offer the same experience to every audience. It’s more immediate and can be understood just by being there for a performance, even if that audience is only seeing the performance on televisions or computer screens.
The thrills of performance
But what about the performance itself? What does it feel like to actually be on stage rather than just sitting out in the audience?
This is the side of dance and performance that non-performers rarely get to see, making it that much more difficult to understand.
Sure, there have been many different documentaries and movies alike that try to give the average person a glimpse into this world, but it’s tough to really get across the feeling of sharing that kind of experience with a live audience.
Still, Liebenberg did her best to explain why performing, and especially performing in New York, has been such a consistent thrill for her.
“There is no better feeling in the world than the feeling of being on stage. I feel empowered, confident, raw, the best version of myself. Dancing on the Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theatre stage in New York City for Broadway Dance Center has been a highlight of my career as this was the most rewarding and exhilarating performance I have ever experienced.”
Whether the audience is generally unfamiliar with modern dance or well-versed in the form, there’s just a kind of connection that forms during the performance.
It’s part of what we were talking about earlier, that universal language. That kind of communication isn’t something that happens every day, so it makes sense that dancers enjoy sending these emotional messages with other people, all without using words.
Dancing for music videos and television
So what happens when you take a group of performers and put them in an environment where they don’t have that live audience element?
When dancers get signed on for music videos and television shows, there’s either a studio audience or no audience at all. So how does that affect the performance?
Liebenberg mentioned that dancing in these scenarios definitely has its own advantages, and for her, there’s one very significant advantage, and that’s the consistent drive toward perfectionism.
“Usually, you have a confined space and have to do exactly what the director requests. I enjoy the retakes of making the video exactly how the director would like it to be because my personality strives for the best, although this can also be very tiring.”
Liebenberg shares this motivation to always be the best, no matter how many tries it takes to get there.
But unlike other artists who have the advantage of practicing simply by taking some time to hone their craft, chasing perfection in dance means challenging your body as well as your mind.
You can’t just be willing to keep going, you also need to have the energy to go for another round.
But since Liebenberg has always had that sense of perfectionism, as do many of the best dancers today, the process is nothing but an enjoyable challenge.
Filling in the gaps
As a way of closing out this look at the life and routines of a professional dancer, let’s talk about what happens in between the performances.
There’s a lot of practice, of course, but what do dancers like Liebenberg do to keep their skills sharp when they’re not actively touring.
This year in particular, the question is even more relevant since a global pandemic has drastically limited performances of any kind.
Liebenberg told us that she does a lot of guest choreography work and even gives virtual lessons to students from other parts of the world.
She has also been offered multiple roles here in the U.S. with prestigious dance academies.
“Due to the global pandemic, it’s been a struggle for artists. I love to make the most of my time, and actually, I have just become a certified and registered Yoga Instructor and a certified Nutritionist which both enhance my dance for me and open up more of what I am able to offer as an artist.”
Artists like Liebenberg all over the world are finding ways to adapt to the situation, and even after things return to normal in the near future, these changes and innovations could alter performance as we know it.
Liebenberg has found ways to complement her dance career with other elements, and those improvements will stay with her and inform her work.
This is a great example of how other artists out there, including the many who read our site, can help their different art forms evolve.
It’s not about leaving behind what has always made dance and performance special. It’s about finding new ways to bring back that feeling of connection and communication.
The art is still the same, and it still has the power to affect others, but professional dancers and musicians and so many others have had to find new ways to share that work with others.
But for dedicated artists, Liebenberg included, this is just another challenge to take on.