View from the back of the stage A line of dancers

What To Do If Your Dancer is Always in the Back Row?

By Lesley Mealor / Edited by Samantha Bellerose, B.Ed, Dip.Dance(Performing Arts)

There may come a time in your dancer’s journey that they are consistently being placed in the back row of their dance routine.  For many young dancers and their caregivers, this can be confusing and hurtful, especially if you don’t understand why. Many times teachers do not solely consider ability when placing dancers, and you may be wondering what the criteria for front row placement includes.

If your dancer is being given a back-row spot in their dance routines, first, consider their ability to remember choreography. Then, think about their performance quality and showmanship. Finally, determine if your dancer lacks confidence in herself.

View from the back of the stage A line of dancers

When a teacher or choreographer is thinking about where to place dancers in a formation, there are a variety of valid reasons they may have for placing them in the front, center, side or back of the formation. For more details on stage placements and their pros and cons, check out our article Is The Back Row Bad? A Dance Teacher’s Perspective On Stage Placement

For many dancers, being front and center is a big goal and something to work towards. Achieving that goal takes introspection and hard work, however, so if your dancer struggles with retention, showmanship or confidence, here are some tips to help them make it off the back row and into the spotlight!

Your Dancer Is In the Back Row Because they Forget the Dance

Front row dancers know their routines inside and out, forwards and backwards, and up and down. If your dancer is consistently in the back row, he may have a hard time remembering sequences of steps. Teachers are less likely to place a forgetful dancer in the front, because the weaker dancers need someone to watch. Here are some easy tips to help your dancer retain information better!

  • Keep a dance notebook to write down new choreography each week
  • Download a copy of the song, and practice at home
  • When you can’t physically practice, listen to the song and visualise doing the steps in your head.
  • When practicing, say the steps out loud. Eventually, only say them in your head
  • Ask the teacher if you can record the dance, and use the video to practice
  • Chunk the information – dance routines are usually taught in chunks of 8-counts. Start with the first chunk, and once you’ve memorized that, move on to the next
  • Begin practicing using a mirror, but as soon as you can, start rehearsing without a mirror to mimic what it will feel like on a stage without anyone to watch

Your Dancer Is In the Back Row Because they Lack Showmanship

Almost equally important to good technique is good showmanship. Front row dancers are exciting and engaging to watch and show that they are having fun by using appropriate facial expressions for the dance. Oftentimes, if a dancer is doing well technically but has a blank expression, they will be relegated to the back row. If your dancer needs more pizazz, try the following exercises!

  • Practice the dance away from the mirror – some dancers feel embarrassed when they see themselves doing the exaggerated facial expressions that are sometimes required of high energy dancing
  • Pick an emotion that is opposite to the emotion of the song (if you’re dancing to “Happy” by Pharell, choose “sadness”). Dance the routine with the opposite emotion than the correct one, and then immediately dance the routine with the correct emotion. By feeling the contrast between the emotions, you will see just how far you have to go to convey the correct one.
  • Turn the lights out, sit down, and play the song. Without moving, just use facial expressions to convey the story. 
  • Perform the routine at 200% energy level – if you don’t feel incredibly silly, you’re doing it wrong. Dancers who lack showmanship often think they’re giving it 100% when really their 100% is more like 50%. By over exaggerating their energy, they will end up landing right where they should be.

Your Dancer Is In the Back Row Because they Lack Confidence

When a dancer lacks confidence in themselves, it can present in several ways. Lack of confidence in dance can include difficulty retaining information, fear of looking silly when performing full out, giving up quickly when presented with a challenge, or being afraid to try new things due to fear of failure. Dancers who end up in the back row due to lack of confidence need encouragement from parents, friends, and teachers. These tips are more for parents and caregivers rather than the dancers themselves.

  • When you see your dancer succeed in class or rehearsal, speak up! Even if it’s a small victory, a word of praise means the world to an unconfident dancer.
  • Encourage your dancer to take chances, and model that behavior for them. Cooking a new dish and unsure if the family will like it? Engage your dancer in the process and be sure they know that failure is a part of life and the world won’t end if the pasta is overcooked. 
  • Many dancers who lack confidence feel attacked when given corrections by a teacher in class. Encourage your dancer to look at corrections as love – teachers give corrections because they care and see your potential.
  • Help your dancer develop a strong sense of self. Confident dancers use positive self-talk, understand that their failures are opportunities to get better, and that they are more than just their dance ability. By modeling these qualities as a caregiver yourself, your dancer will follow suit.
  • Work with your dancer to set attainable dance goals, and stay active in helping her pursue them. Check out our article on Smart Goals For Dancers And How To Achieve Them

If your dancer is being consistently placed in the back row, it’s time to investigate the reasons why. By determining whether it’s due to a retention issue, a lack of showmanship, or general low confidence, you can then help your dancer work on these challenges and move forward…literally! But as always, let them know you’re proud of them regardless of their stage placement.

About the Author

Lesley Mealor

Lesley Mealor is a dance industry professional, with over 15 years of experience in all facets of the dance world, from dance education and adjudication, to dance retail and product development, to on-stage experience. A graduate of Oklahoma City University with a degree in Dance Performance, Lesley serves as the co-host of Making the Impact - A Dance Competition Podcast, and is a director of events for Spirit of Dance Awards. She resides in New York City with her plants and her cat, Charlotte.