Anxiety and self-doubt are common before a performance. Even your most seasoned performers continue to experience it, especially presenting a piece for the first time. Why? It means we care. It means that the performance has significance to us. These are all good things.
So how can we parlay our anxiety and doubt into something useful that will help us on stage? It’s about mindset. We have to use these things to help us get that slight edge to get to the finish line at our best. This is eustress which is a good kind of stress. Use it to help motivate you to get a better grip on your choreography. The more you practice the more you can just dance and not think about the counts. The more you practice, the more you can just feel the rhythms and story.
Most of us, when we practice, spend a lot of time counting – especially for group performances. Counting helps us to be on the same page so we can create synchronicity and clarity in the piece. As you are playing the music and counting, you are also training your brain at the same time to hear the rhythm in the music so that when you stop counting, your body will dance on time.
It can be hard to let go of the drive to count and to do a piece perfectly. Once you do, a lot of the anxiety will dissipate. Know that mistakes may happen. This is part of the live performance. Give yourself a break, a little love and forgiveness as well. You are going to do your best. Get out there and perform your ass off and let the cards fall as they may.
Children are little sponges for information. Have you watched a young child regularly acquiring information? It is crazy to see what they are able to take in over small periods of time.
When children start dancing at a young age, the really young just do as they are told and think nothing of it. There isn’t the self-awareness to realize that others may be judging. They were put in a program and told to do something and that is exactly what they do.
I was at a competition recently and observed children from previous years who had reached a turning point of self-awareness. Some who had been blissfully unaware of everyone else on the floor and full of joy when they had walked on the floor were now fearfully eyeing others on the floor, aware that they were competing and being observed. There was self-conscious mannerisms that had newly developed. It was interesting to see this brain maturation in motion while sad to see that maturing meant increased fear.
Fear does not have to be a debilitating thing. In fact that stress can become a eustress (beneficial stress) that propels greatness. If not groomed the right way, that stress can breakdown into distress which will halt growth in the activity. That distress may become debilitating and force a dancer to retire from the activity as the anxiety becomes too overwhelming to gain any outweighing benefit.
We have to be so careful with the children once they reach self-awareness and make sure they are still doing things for positive reasons. This applies to the parents as well. Often the competitive parent becomes competitive on their child’s behalf and can take the fun out of the dance for the child. The distress may not develop into full blown anxiety until a later stage, but the seed is planted in the young, so be mindful what you want to sow.