You are the next dancer in a show—large or small, it doesn’t matter. Your palms get sweaty. Your mouth goes dry. You feel sick to your stomach. Your knees feel wobbly. You have a sudden urge to go to the bathroom (and perhaps not come out!). Stage fright is a common ailment for performers new and seasoned. But it doesn’t have to cripple your performance or ruin the joy you derive from dancing. Here are a few techniques I’ve learned over the years to alleviate stage fright.
BE PREPARED Whether you’re improvising or performing a choreography, if you are confident in what you are presenting, you’ll be less inclined to panic beforehand. This means knowing your music inside and out. A good way to train your ear to recognize every nuance in the music is to start it in random places and try to decipher where in the song you are. If you’ve choreographed your dance, this will also help you learn to match your moves to the music rather than remembering the choreography as one long string. Decide what you want the audience to feel when they see your dance and concentrate on that while you’re backstage instead of thinking of your teacher sitting in the front row.
PRACTICE IN YOUR COSTUME This is one of my performance-prep mantras which I drill into all my students because dancing in a costume is completely different than dancing in leggings and a t-shirt! You don’t need to have the stress of worrying if your costume will stay put (or on!) while you’re waiting to dance. Your costume should give you power, not make you worry.
SMILE! Did you know some telemarketers are trained to smile while they talk on the phone? That’s because its nearly impossible to project negative feelings when you have a genuine smile on your face! Start smiling backstage. Dancing is FUN! The more you remind yourself of it, the happier you’ll feel and the happier you feel, the more relaxed you’ll be. Even if you haven’t convinced yourself backstage that you’re having a great time and are completely relaxed, you’re audience will never know the difference if you are smiling brilliantly at them.
PERFORM OFTEN…AND THEN SOME MORE I guess this advice is rather like “the hair of the dog that bit you…” Granted, there are some professional performers (dancers, actors, singers) who still freak out before their shows. However, for most people, familiarity with backstage nerves reduces their impact. Once your first performance is out of the way, sign up to dance again right away! Take every opportunity to dance—ask your teacher if your class can perform for each other. For me, the most intimidating audience is when I perform for my fellow troupe members!
ANALYZE THIS If you’re still nervous despite being prepared, well costumed, smiling brilliantly, and being on your 34th performance, its time to analyze why you’re still suffering from stage fright. The most common reason people get so nervous is fear of failure and being embarrassed by that failure. This is a valid concern. No one wants to fail in front of a group of people, be they friends or strangers. And certainly no one wants to look foolish, especially when they’re wearing a sparkly costume that reveals more than your average street clothes do! But you have to remind yourself that only by taking a risk—be it performing, starting a new job, or getting married—only then will you grow!
ADRENALINE So this leads me to the best advice I can give you. There is no physiological difference between excitement and fear. The same adrenaline courses through your veins whether you love roller coasters or hate them. So instead of viewing those butterflies in your stomach as fear, tell yourself, “Wow! Am I excited to perform!” It won’t take long for you to convince yourself and then you will welcome that adrenaline rush as proof that you are ready to go out and wow your audience!