Discovering the Egg: An Investigation
Into the Art of Solo Performance in Dance.
Faculty Mentor: Pat Debenham, Modern Dance
The elements of choreography and performance are vital to the craft of a dancer. All dancers in a
University setting invest a majority of their time studying both disciplines. Choreography is an
outlet of expression, a journey, a process, that dancers use to explore the world around them, and
the people, places, emotions, and ideas in it. Performance is the culmination and fruition of the time,
energy, and effort put into choreography. It is the presentation of a refined idea in motion.
In my department, much emphasis is placed on developing choreographic skills and seeing work
come to life in concerts. There are also two companies to give students opportunities to perform.
As wonderful as these opportunities are, they only provide the venue to perform, not an outlet for
analyzing self-performance. They also generally work in the ensemble form; therefore I devised a
plan whereby I could develop my skills as a solo performer.
In this performance project, I investigated essential coaching and self-coaching approaches that
make solo performance effective. With the help of my faculty mentor, Pat Debenham, I identified a
solo that would present a significant performance challenge, and allow me the opportunity to
investigate the art of solo performance coaching, from the outside (what was said to me) and from
the inside (what I did for myself). This also allowed me to synthesize, apply, and enhance the
technical and performance learning I experienced as a whole during my undergraduate education.
This solo entitled “Egg Solo II,” choreographed by Rhode Island professional dancer/choreographer,
Heidi Henderson, was performed in March 2003 in the Senior Project Concert at BYU.
I flew to Rhode Island in December 2002 to learn, “Egg Solo II,” and spent five days working with
Heidi to learn the choreography. I filmed the process so that upon my return I could watch it to
analyze the dialogue and exchange that occurred between Heidi and myself during the
teaching/learning process. In the months between learning the choreography and the public
performance I rehearsed by myself and with my faculty mentor, Pat Debenham. To keep myself
close to the original intent of the piece I often referred to the video to study Heidi’s coaching
techniques, I was then able to take what I learned from watching Heidi into my own self-coaching
Working with Heidi was a wonderful experience and analyzing her coaching style was informative
as to what constitutes good and effective performance coaching. The first element of good
coaching that I discovered was to create a positive and comfortable learning environment. This is
extremely in the art of dance because somehow our insecurities seem to be heightened because we
are the actual art itself; we leave ourselves exposed to the world when we dance because our bodies
are our instruments. Heidi created a comfortable learning environment by allowing the process to
happen as a process. She didn’t expect perfection on the first try; she allowed me to take the
information, process it, try it out, and then she watched for areas where more specific clarification
or imagery would help me access the movement more correctly. She was very specific, and
detailed as she explained each section of movement. She broke the movement down into,
“digestible” chunks, and once I had the movement down pretty well, she would watch and take
notes so that she could give me the most helpful and significant imagery and body coaching that she
I identified other ways Heidi created a comfortable learning environment, one, she gave corrections
in an informative and non-threatening way, and she encouraged the small victories. Heidi always
encouraged the parts where I did well, and then instead of saying, “You are doing this part
wrong…” she would say something more like, “I don’t think that you are quite getting this part…”
or “I don’t think that you are fulfilling this part as much as you could…” and then she would
explain and demonstrate how to complete or fulfill the movement better. As I attempted to do as
she explained she would reinforce very encouragingly when I did embody what she was wanting
out of me. As a student I really appreciated her encouragement for the small victories.
I found Heidi’s usage of imagery crucial in the coaching process in order to fulfill the movement
physically and emotionally to the fullest. Heidi once said that as I danced I should be reacting to
something, not making it happen, that I should find a reason for each action. This is why imagery is
so helpful and so crucial, even if the movement is not “about” something in particular; it becomes
meaningful when you give each small section of movement a “mini story.” If you give it something
to be about then you have a reason for doing it. Some examples of imagery that Heidi gave me that
really helped were, “throwing the buds in May” to help me feel light, flingy, and flitty, and the
image of “The North Wind” blowing me forcefully down the diagonal, overwhelming me and
forcing me out of control.
The last element of good performance coaching that I observed from Heidi is that she taught me to
make the movement my own. Even though this was her choreography, she allowed it to become a
part of me and my body. She said, “be the thing, don’t pretend,” not “be as I would be.” She also
said, “Find the places where you let go, and it speaks to you, and apply it to other places where it
doesn’t speak to you.” Through the use of imagery I was able to make the connections necessary to
make the dance my own.
The most important coaching that I received from my faculty mentor reinforced what Heidi had
been coaching me to do all along. Heidi’s words didn’t have the full impact until Professor
Debenham said “have a dialogue running through your head, talk yourself through every
movement.” In this way I was able to connect the imagery, and make a through-line that made the
movement more than I could have imagined on my own.
As a result of Heidi’s coaching methods, her ability to create a non-threatening learning
environment and the use of imagery, I was able to let go of many fears I had previously clung to as
a dancer. The outcome of Heidi’s coaching, coupled with my mentors support was that I was able
to discover a key element to good performance, self-confidence. Believing in yourself and your
abilities allows you to perform better, and in turn you will actually look better as you perform. As I
worked on developing this piece my confidence grew and what was at first intimidating and
uncomfortable became comfortable and natural. Because Heidi allowed me to be myself, and
become a new self as an “Egg Solo” dancer, I was able to transcend the mental and physical barriers
that were hindering me to be a confident and competent performer.
Additionally, the project has become an inspiration and a model to expand the potential and scope
of senior projects done by students in the department.