6.2 The Setup
Like any other task in this course, we’re going to focus on preparation first. When it comes to stage sets, this means setting yourself up for success before you ever get up there. Here are some simple tips to make them run smoothly.
Practice. Stage sets are their own beast, and the way you dance for a customer may not be the same way you move when you’re up there. Mastering stage sets can have many elements, but if the only tip you get out of this section is to practice controlled, fluid movement then you’ll be ahead of the game.
However, just hearing “slow and controlled movement” is not the same thing as actually doing it. Especially if you are looking to get better quickly, it’s important to take the time to establish the muscle memory of stage movement. Some ways to improve on this:
Study others: instead of sitting around the locker room or chatting it up between customer interactions, see if you can’t learn from dancers at your club. Taking the time to pay attention to how more seasoned dancers use the stage can give you plenty of specific moves and positions to try out. And thanks to the internet, you’re not limited to dancers at your club. Put social media to use: no matter what style of dancing is preferred at your club, there is someone out there monetizing on showing off or teaching that style of dance. Find them, watch their youtube videos, peek on their snapchat stories, and look at their Instagram posts. Dancer see, dancer do.
Get up there: if you show up early to shifts, or even ask the DJ to use you to cover stage sets when he’s short you can get lots of time on the stage, and may incur some good graces at your club. How much/often you feel like doing this is up to you, but know that it’s an option and the most streamlined way to improve your stage skills.
Record yourself: all you need to see what stage skills you’re working with is your phone camera and a small area of clear floor to rock your moves on. It may feel silly, but recording yourself and making corrections to your movement can drastically improve your body-awareness and your confidence when you get up on stage at the club. Bonus points if you practice to songs you dance to on stage at the club, and extra bonus points if you choreograph your coolest moves when the beat drops, the tempo changes, or the chorus is bumping. On the music note…
Focus on the Sound. Whether you dance to metal, country, Lana Del Rey ballads, or the electronic equivalent of two robots doing jazzercise (AKA EDM), your music sets the tone for your performance. While many dancers will decide on their stage set music based on the music they’re into at the moment, your music choice should depend on:
Your customers- you’re not dancing for yourself; you’re dancing for an audience. If your club attracts older gentlemen, maybe Migos isn’t going to be the best suited music. If you’re dancing at a party club in Miami, is Tom Petty really the right move? Think about who you’re performing for, what they’re looking for out of the club experience, and what will bring the reaction you want. That said, your music isn’t all about them, it’s also about…
Your stage presence- if you are an energetic performer, then upbeat and live music may let you showcase your skillset. If you thrive on slow and sultry, then a slower tempo might suit the mood. Slow or fast faced music is available in almost all genres, so specifying preference on music should include an element of this too. Just know that at many clubs there may be rules concerning the tempo of music, especially on busy nights.
Your club- the last element is your club because they are the ultimate decisionmaker on what you get to play. Even if you have the most beautiful stage set to Elliott Smith’s self-titled album, most clubs will not let you perform it because they have preset standards of what music is in and what is out. Learn about the standards of your club, and don’t take it too personally if the DJ doesn’t want to play you that one song you heard that one time and liked. The club is a shared experience, and part of stage sets is mastering the ability to dance to different music, tempo, and crowds.
Let’s Talk About The DJ. At every club you work there will be a DJ that plays music, makes announcements, and brings you up to stage. On your first day you’ll be asked about your music preferences and get introduced to the man behind the curtain. It helps to have an idea of what you want to hear before you walk up, and to give the DJ some artistic control. After all, they’ve likely been at this club for a long time and probably have a clear sense of what customers and management prefer. Be clear, concise, and polite. Wording is important. For example:
“Play me Nice for What and Side to Side. Put me on stage next”
Is a command, hyper specific, and if the DJ doesn’t know you may come off as rude and disrespectful. Don’t be surprised if he puts you up right before you’re about to do a VIP room and then plays you death metal to boot.
“I like top 40 music with upbeat tempo, and my favorites are usually Drake or Ariana Grande songs. But whatever you feel works best at this club works best for me!”
Is polite, respectful, and clearly expresses your preference. As you build and develop a relationship with the DJ, you may be able to ask to go on stage at specific times (or to not go at all) but don’t assume that just because you showed up you are in charge. DJs can be wildly helpful, or wildly unhelpful: but that largely depends on you. For more information on dealing with the DJ, click here.
Establish a purpose. Going on stage doesn’t have the same purpose for everyone. Of course, the fundamental reason for going on stage is to maximize your income; but how? For some dancers, stage may be the moneymaker. At stage centered clubs, putting on a great show can rake in the cash and set you up with customers that want to get dance after dance. However, this isn’t the only reason to go on stage. You may have a few potential customers in mind that you want to make eye contact with, bring towards the stage, and even invite to come watch you dance. You may have a regular that you know loves to show off on stage tips and you may be putting on moves he likes. You may see a crowd building up at the stage and want to get the most out of them by doing lots of crowd work. All of those stage sets may look different from each other, but deciding what you’re getting up there to accomplish will help you get all of them done.
Alright. Those last few categories got pretty heady, but now let’s cover some heels-on-the-ground tactics to put in place while setting up:
Practical Stage Tips
Proper footwear matters. On stage, on the floor, on the stairs, I don’t care where you are. A proper pair of dancer shoes will give you support, improved balance, and grip when you’re moving around. Especially when you’re on stage, having proper grip at the bottom of your shoes can make the difference between twirling and slipping; don’t underestimate it. Make sure your shoes fit, they make you happy, and they keep you comfortable.
Keep it clean. Stages are shared spaces. And no matter how much you love your co-workers, the stage is functionally a shiny workout space. You wouldn’t put your bare butt on the floor of your gym, so don’t do it on the pole. If you’re going to use the pole, start every stage set by disinfecting it. Clubs will provide you with a cleaning rag and a spray bottle of alcohol; if they don’t, ask for one or bring it yourself. If you’re going to be very heavy on floor work, just be aware that another pair of lovely dancer heels has been on that stage minutes earlier; and that minutes before that those heels were walking all around the club.
I like to wear stockings if I’ll be doing a lot of floor work (although that can get difficult if you’re doing a lot of pole work, since stockings and grip on the pole don’t mix well), and do most of my floor work while my full outfit is still on to avoid full on floor contact.
Overall, it’s not the end of the world to roll around on the floor; although I’m sure one day someone will do a study on dancer immune systems and discover they’re wildly strong. However, I do try to wash my hands after stage sets, and to keep my hands away from my face and mouth while I’m at work. I’ll also never get in my bed or on my couch without taking a good shower; you may be more or less concerned about it, but it doesn't hurt to be aware.
Keep it Tidy. Clean is about sanitation, tidy is about presentation. Keeping stage tidy means placing your outfit, your clutch or purse, and any other components you take on and off in an organized area of the stage so you can grab them efficiently after your stage set is over. Don’t have your clutch in one area, your top in a corner and your bottoms under the pole.
Know the rules. Every club is different, but they all have stage rules. Some of these could be:
keep your top on until you get $5
no floor work
no touching customers
no hanging off the stage
keep your bottoms on
take your top/bottoms off by the _____ song
three songs per stage
two songs per stage
stay on stage until the next dancer shows up
Whatever the rules are at your club, make sure that you know them and you know how they’re enforced. You don’t want to get in trouble for something that was OK at your last club but very not-OK at a new one. Just pay attention and you’ll be good.
Remember the basics. It may be a lot to think about, but stage doesn’t have to be an anxiety producing affair. When in doubt, just remember the moves that you’re good at, to interact with the crowd, and to smile. It doesn’t matter if you do the same three moves over and over- if you do them well, happily, and you interact with customers no one is going to yell at your for your performance. If you get nervous on stage, you can always let customers know that and use it to your advantage “it’s my second time on stage, and I’m a bit nervous. Promise you’ll be nice!” or “stage sets make me a bit nervous, want to switch places?” has often turned a mean-mugging customer into a supportive cheerleader.
Look at them, not at You. Many clubs have mirrors. While if your wig is ¾ off your head or the remnants of a ketchup stain are still on your gown the mirrors by the stage can be of great assistance, you are dancing for customers- not yourself. Yes, you look super hot. Your contour came out bomb. But if you want customers to pay you, you have to interact with them, not with your reflection. This one is here in honor of all the mega hot dancers I’ve seen ignoring a customer that’s trying to tip them while making selfie faces at themselves in the mirror. Focus on your stage performance at work, and use the tips to buy yourself a vanity later down the road :P
Alright. We’ve gone over the importance of stage, and the basics of getting ready to perform. Now let’s get into it. What are some moves you can try on stage?