Performing Butterflies

What happens when you are weeks away from going on stage? I have witnessed many reactions to this critical period. I see people lose confidence in their ability to dance. I see people crying in rehearsals. I see others get cocky that they are going to rock it. I see others become quiet and you can see them falling apart in silence.

Why do we get these reactions? It is not as though we didn’t see this moment coming. Most of us have been on stage many times before. Most of us know that the weeks before are going to be critical. During that critical time, maintaining a positive attitude and good relationship with those around us seems like common sense.

However, I see the opposite happen too often. I have seen directors pull a Jekyll and Hyde more often than you realize. Up until the weeks before, they were on board with your performance, encouraging you, trying to draw the best out of you. Then, the critical weeks hit and they are ready to behead everyone in their path. As a result, feelings get hurt, relationships get broken, and some people exit companies after the performance.

Part of the problem is ego. We start off preparing for a performance in a congratulatory manner. “Wow, I pick up the choreography so quickly”, “wow, my lines are amazing”, “wow, we all are so hot when we dance together.” It is good to acknowledge our strengths to build confidence early. It does not help our physicality though. We need to build stamina and strength early. What usually happens is we are congratulatory until the critical point before a performance and then all the negatives we have kept to ourself creep to the surface and change the flavour of the rehearsals. Then the stress begins.

If you have been through preparing for a performance, you know we should be critical from the beginning. We should be giving our all from day one. The reason is that we can do better by performance time if this is in place. Starting off strong means we will be stronger by the time we hit the stage. Starting to put in extra rehearsal hours once the critical point hits is helpful to a degree. It can also be fatiguing. If we put in the same or more hours at the beginning and maintain or reduce that towards the critical point when we are running our choreography over and over again, we will be stronger and better able to handle the stress when it hits. Our bodies will be in better shape and our minds will be better at picking up corrections because the choreography will already be in our bodies rather than just our minds still trying to remember and puppeteer our bodies.

The funny thing is, this happens every season in many companies. They have the track record to know better than to start off easy then ramp up at the end. It is natural to take the path of least resistance. As dancers though, we need the discipline to make it to the next level. This means disciplining ourselves to do it the hard way. Put in the hours to build stamina from day one. Run the choreography full out from the beginning even though there are only small sections to run. Dance it like you are performing it. If we all did this, by the time we hit the stage, we would in a better mental and physical space to rock it. Maybe this time around, we will remember to be disciplined all the way through. Maybe?

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