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Help! This conductor has "happy feet"!!!

Seasoned Conductors: 
 
My prof recently called me down about to much movement below the waste. He said it is distracting, and after watching myself, I would have to agree. I can't help it if my feet and legs want to join my hand in all the fun!? :-) 

What would you seasoned pros suggest I do to nip this in the bud?  It really does look about obnoxious and unprofessional. Are there some exercises and train techniques that would help me keep my lower body still? Thanks! 
on January 5, 2016 2:53am
Well, there's always the mirror (my ideal choir rehearsal space would be a ballet studio). I was recently astounded at the energy that Dudamel conveys while completely relaxed from the shoulders down.
on January 5, 2016 4:05am
When my similarly happy feet were diagnosed at one ACCET conductors summer school, the tutor's solution was to place sandbags on my feet. (And of course the official photographer happened to turn up at that moment - guess what photo was on the brochure the following year?)
 
I still have happy feet sometimes
on January 5, 2016 6:58am
Happy feet aren't necessarily bad all the time. If we use the concept that music starts from the toes and works its way up, then we need to involve the  whole body. This is, of course, dependent on the music that you are directing. I decided a long time ago that my whole being, including my feet, were involved in the music and sending the message to the audience. It does become distracting if it is over the top, but if you watch some of our choirs, they naturally mimic the director--face and body. In reality, much of what we learned in years past that the body is not to be involved in the emotional impact of the music has, or in my opinion, should be gone. AS I've told my choirs for years, "If your heart has found the message, please notify your face and body!"
Applauded by an audience of 7
on January 5, 2016 12:53pm
Sometimes you can dislodge a bad habit by changing something else. For instance, change your stance (i.e. put one foot in front of the other instead of parallel) or change your posture (i.e. Chest high instead of crouching.) These could affect the bouncing knee-bending which so easily becomes a bad habit.
 
Another psychological trick: instead of trying  to 'stop' the unwanted leg motions, trying 'transfering' that vitality to your hands and arms, where it should be.
 
Good luck with it...
 
Jon Washburn
Vancouver
 
Applauded by an audience of 2
on January 5, 2016 1:09pm
Take a good singer's breath and you will most likely solve the challenge. There is a good chance you might not be connected to your breath as you conduct, but I could be wrong.
on January 6, 2016 2:39am
1. Locate the part of your body where the lower-body movement stems from (either by watching a video of yourself or by someone's help)
2. Ask someone to point it out every time (an immediately) you start moving from there
3. Once you start noticing the movement yourself, you'll be able to get rid of it (as someone points out, it is not always a cardinal sin to move the feet, but you do need to be able to conduct without that movement any time you want to)
4. If this does not help, try putting two squeeky toys under your heels. They'll keep you informed any time your heels start moving up and down:)
 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 6, 2016 4:54am
I often tell my students to get rid of the performance nerves to wiggle their toes inside of their shoes. Therefore, releasing that energy, but no one knows about it! It works!
on January 6, 2016 11:18am
I finally became able to stop walking around when I conduct when Josh Habermann had me do some lessons standing in a standard size file box. (Thanks Josh!)
 
As wth any physical habit, it is the unconsciousness of it that is the biggest issue. We need to be intentional about what our body is doing while singing, playing, or conducting. Additional things that helped were grasping the floor like a cat with my toes and deciding not to sing or conduct or teach in light athletic shoes, Since my feet wanted to be airborne and wandering, wearing thick-soled dress shoes has helped me stay connected to planet earth (this great suggestion came from voice teacher extraordinaire Timothy Morningstar). I still have to conduct in organ shoes a lot which are very thin soled, but the habit of wearing more durable shoes makes me notice whether I'm stable down there.
 
Now that I sing with bigger groups more often, and that I accompany more, I am exposed to conductors who wander more, and it is really unhelpful. And bands and orchestras HATE IT. Instrumentalists have fewer practices and a lot on their minds, and they need to actually know where you will be when they look for your help. If more of us conducted as if we had instrumentalists following us rather than only ever singers, we would probably have less of a reputation for flowery but unclear conducting.
 
Hope this is useful!
 
Bob
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 7, 2016 8:08am
One could say the same about, say, Simon Rattle but I doubt anyone does!
on January 8, 2016 4:49pm
.....This is a problem!?!?   I would much rather be/see/sing with a "happy feet" conductor, than some I have seen.  Most conductors are fairly energetic these days, but the ones I refer to have lethargic stances and listless energy.
Unfortunately, that can transfer to the singers, causing poor posture, saggy/over-covered mouth positions [which, in turn, can cause flatting, saggy, muffled resonance, boredom with the music/rendition, and suchlike.]
Truly, energetic conducting, even with feet involved, can produce unique and delightful energy in the sound.
Unless you and your baton are doing grand battlements  (large ballet leaps) across the room, and your singers wish to end the game of "find the beat" [ one of choral music's most respected conductors was infamous for this], I  would simply watch yourself a few times, and  get various singers to respond to you.  
If you are conducting for a grade for this prof, obviously you will have to [at least temporarily] tone your movement to his satisfaction.
it behooves us all, before we assume that a movement is "distracting", to realize that a significant percentage of our singers may be "kinesthetic learners".  
Your conducting may be the answer to a dream for middle-schoolers, seniors who need a little "pick-me-up", or any choir with lackadaisical moments.  Even slow, somber pieces need an underlying energy to be truly expressive.
Best Wishes, and I say, "Keep dancing as if no one if watching!" (Smile)
Lucy (conductor-singer, somewhat-trained amateur dancer, somewhat kinesthetic learner)
 
on January 9, 2016 6:17am
I recall reading a response to a reader's letter to a music critic criticized a well-known conductor for extravagant gestures. The critic replied that we should be fairly tolerant in such cases, because those movements are a conductor's only physical contact with the music. It's been a long time, and I don't remember which conductor, critic, or publication were involved. I don't think it was Leonard Bernstein -- that would have stuck in my mind -- though he would fit the description. 
 
That said, you might try setting a positive goal of using economical gestures, focusing more on your hand or baton movements by redirecting your physical energy there. I got corected early on about over-conducting and I still need to check myself occasionally. This would also benefit any choir you conduct, as it would train them to concentrate on your specific conducting gestures and become more resonsive to them.. 
on January 9, 2016 7:48am
I love this thread! I have a slightly different approach... perhaps it is helpful.
  • Don't think about your feet. If you do, you'll just have happy knees, or happy waist.
  • Think about where you want your energy spent and what your singers need. If we spend time limiting our actions, that energy will resonate and limit singers.
  • Conduct from a chair (in practice, or in my case, when your back is out of whack and it's the only way you can hold a rehearsal!).
Just as we want singing to be a full body activity, so should conducting involve the whole. I've had singers who "over emote" and move all around. It's not bad, it's just a little too much good. :-) Being intentional in what we do is paramount. Not limiting, but liberating movement in us as conductors and in our singers.
 
It's good that you are seeking input this early, and able to see your own growth areas. This is something that will carry you far. None of us are ever done learning!
 
All the best!
Garrett
on January 9, 2016 11:46am
Running through the responses remains a question of value vs cost of the conductor's body movement.  From what I read and experienced with many conductors over the years, at least for me, the bottom line is that the job of the conductor is to 'conduct' those who are watch and not to "perform."  While recognizing that their IS a certain degree of entertainment for the audience, the purpose and value of conducting is what comes out through the voices and instruments of those who watch the conductor.  Generally, his hands, arms, face and head communicate his intentions to the musicians while everything 'south' of those tend to distract.  The 'southern' activity is the conductor's own response to what he's heard a split second ago whereas the 'northern' communicates what he WANTS to hear in the NEXT split second.  The former "distracts" whereas the latter "directs."  I would deem it a worthwhile endeavor to transfer that 'southern' energy to the 'north' as much as possible without overconducting.    
on January 10, 2016 8:45am
Conductors -- don't upstage your choir with your distracting movements!
                             t
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