The Power of Pause

written by: Tom Goldhand

A pause is not a break in the dance, it is THE dance itself.

Pauses create more space and allows both the space on stage and the audience to breath. It opens up and sharpens not only the awareness of the dancers to the space, but also space itself becomes in a way brighter and more vivid. When a pause is used as seasoning to the movement it gives it the correct taste, and washes away the vision for something new to emerge on stage.

In many improvisation scores and pieces, some performers (dancers in particularly) feels the urge to move all the time, this is especially noticeable when they do not actually know what they are doing on stage. Instead of taking  a breath or a pause to look at their surrounding, they keep on moving and losing by that any chance of getting back and connect to the dance and to other performers.

In the art of instant composition that comprises space and time, a pause literally stops time, and make the dynamic of the piece and equilibrium shift into the second element which is space (whether on stage, or the space inside the dancer, which is their own presence).

This pause allows the dancers/performers to join into the piece and either start to contribute new movement material of their own, or to join other in their movement. stopping the motion (usually when it becomes chaotic) of a performer that is not in sufficient awareness of himself and others, helps the piece in another way – it takes the audience gaze from him and moves it to the other performers. By stopping and standing still a performer that is not align with the piece being presented on stage, can transform himself into a spot light that shines onto his fellow dancers/performers. He is not disappearing from the stage but rather changes the focus of the audience from his movement to the  one of his partners.

Pauses are also a legitimate and powerful element that can be used by performers that are in complete awareness of their own movement and surrounding. When a strong performer decide to stop and pause on stage he becomes even stronger in his presence. Instead of a spot light to other, he becomes a beacon of light on stage that draws the attention of everybody, on stage and in the audience, to himself.

This pause generates an enormous amount of dramatic tension that is being waited to be broken and release by the next move or series of motion of the performer that chose, with full awareness, to freeze.

This tension can be augmented and enhance if the pause that was chosen is in muscular and physical tension by the mover/performer. If that is the case the tension that is felt by the body of the performer will be felt as well by the audience. In this form the performer creates a physical tension in himself, followed by the same feeling in the audience. This feeling of tension is then transformed into psychological tension. Another way of reaching a high elevation in tension levels is by choosing to pause during a set of motion and leave it incomplete – an abrupt pause before the end of a well-known (either repeated, or familiar) set of movement. In this case the feeling of tension will begin for the audience as a psychological tension (caused by the innate will to see the completion of that movement) that will then affect the body and change the muscular tension into a stronger tone.

There is a very big distinction between pauses that are used and presented in set choreographed pieces and in improvised instant composition pieces. While the choreographer knows the important of his/her decision to choose a pause in a specific moment the dancers need to understand that as well and see it as a continuation of the dance itself and not a break until the next cue. 

Talking from my own early experience as a performer in set pieces, I admit that sometimes during a “pause” while I had nothing to do on stage but to wait for a minute or two until my part will start again, I was not presenting/performing the actual pause. My mind was on the next move that I needed to perform and I was not supporting the other performers or augmenting my own presence on stage but rather catching my breath until the next set of movement. It is very easy for dancers to fall into those pits of relaxing on stage during a pause from the physical dance. These situation needs to be addressed by the choreographer and understood by the dancers mind and body.

By contrast these situations almost never happens while improvising, the pauses in an instant composition piece create the tension and uncertainty that the performers must address, the easy way out is by breaking it through movement, but for the advanced improvisers a pause is a wonderful chance to create a dance without movement and just by his or her presence.

Pauses and movement are opposite components in any dance/improvisation pieces, yet much of their meaning comes from the use of their counter-partner. A pause will get much of its meaning from the movement that came before it and in return, it will shine back at that same sequences of movement and on the following set of movements that is to come when the pause has finished its natural course.