When you applaud the dancers, it’s not only for tonight’s performance. It is for the years of blind tenacity and incidental luck, of classes, rehearsals and auditions. It is for their parents and teachers who have nurtured them unconditionally in this fickle career.
It shows your admiration that they’ve challenged the limits of their body and sanity for the sake of dance, demanding more of themselves than what you would ever ask of yourself.
Your applause is for the countless times they’ve rehearsed this same piece perfectly, to the praise of only their own heaving breath. It drowns out the corrections from their coaches and rehearsal directors, and lets them know that tonight, they did everything right. It is for the nights they didn’t leave the studio until they got it right, staying so late that the timer switched off the lights to the studio. Even in the darkness they continued to rehearse; they knew in their bodies how it should feel.
Your applause affirms that they have produced something more meaningful than a sequence of steps, turns and jumps. It tells them that you shared in the artistic expression and completes the conversation by saying: ‘I heard you’.
At the end of the performance, don’t rush out of your seat when the house lights are still down. Don’t try to beat the crowd to the coat check, or worry about getting your car out of the parking garage. Stay and let the dancers see a theater full of standing silhouettes awaiting their bows. Applaud and let them know that finally, well past ten in the evening, their day is over. Hoot, holler and ‘bravo’ fervently, and command them to come back out from their dressing rooms. Don’t let them escape for the showers and change, not yet. Make them linger in their sweat-soaked costumes, the wetness cooling their bodies. Clap until your hands tingle; that is only a fraction of the sensations they feel in their bodies at this moment. Give them one more chance to join hands with the ensemble onstage, it could be the last time they perform this piece together and they will miss it so much. Let them know that you came to tears during the show, held your breath in awe or even laughed out loud. Tell them they’ve tapped into something visceral.
Applaud the dancers, and move them with your applause as much as they have moved you.