The time has come! Your name has been called and you’re about to embark on the stage and perform your routine in front of hundreds of spectators (and judges!). A routine that you have been practicing for months – but suddenly, you feel butterflies in your stomach, your mouth goes dry, your palms get sweaty, you feel like you have to go to the bathroom, and that you’ve forgotten your entire choreography! No doubt about it – you’re experiencing stage fright!
We have all experienced stage fright to some degree – new and seasoned performers – and it is totally normal. But for some of us, stage fright can be extremely limiting, if not debilitating. If you suffer from any form of stage fright there is great news for you: you can train yourself to overcome it! The secret is not to deny these feelings, but to instead focus on transforming the feeling of anxiety into positive energy and adrenaline that will give you the impetus to give your best on stage.
Let’s start by taking a quick look at the stress response. Unlike other mammals, humans have the ability to anticipate stressful events that are far in the future. Other animals generally feel stress when faced with danger, then the stress response goes away once they are safe again. Humans can have a stress response when there is no physical danger at all, which is exactly what happens when you are experiencing stage fright. Performing is not a life or death struggle, but physiologically speaking, your nervous system is reacting in exactly the same way that a gazelle would react if being chased by a lion.
To help you channel your energy and to enjoy a successful performance, I have listed below some tips for coping with stage fright, helping you take back control of your body and your performance.
Whether you’re improvising or performing 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 performance and concentrate on that while you’re backstage instead of thinking of your friends sitting in the front row.
Rehearse and practice as much as you can. Being familiar with the movements and the routine is the only way to really gain confidence. Practice in front of friends, family, and peers. If you can, try to perform a full run through in costume in front of an audience before your event to get more comfortable with the experience before the big day. Don’t forget to 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 shorts and a tank top! 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.
Mental practice and visualization is often very useful. In between practices, you can always go through the routine in your own mind by imagining it whenever you have the time, maybe listening to the music you will be dancing to. You need to relax your whole body by breathing (you can find several books on relaxation on Amazon to guide you on this) and then visualize yourself on stage performing. Imagine that you’re giving a great performance, with no fear, and that the audience is supportive and enjoying seeing you. When you visualize, try to imagine the whole situation as if it were real in as many details as possible, such as your own breath, the feeling of your feet touching the floor, your body moving, the sounds surrounding you, and the lights of the stage.
Breathing is important. It may seem obvious, but the old yoga breathing techniques really help relax your body and mind. Inhale deeply into your belly and your lungs. Exhale slowly. Feel the breath wash over your body like a wave, from toe to head and head to toe. Repeat.
TRUST THE PROCESS
Remind yourself of all the work you have done to get here. All the hours of rehearsal, learning and fine-tuning the choreography in your body. Yes, one could always do more. But, it’s show time. Trust that you are as prepared as you are supposed to be at this moment in time.
FOCUS YOUR ENERGY
Channel all the energy that the stage fright gives you into something positive. Create positive energy from all that adrenaline. See the signals that your body is sending you as signs of excitement rather than fear. Some adrenaline is actually good as it will help you focus and give your best on stage. If you are too relaxed you will be in a careless state of mind, which is not good. So, channel your energy positively towards the task at hand. Think that you are privileged to be able to perform in front of an audience and also see your performance as a gift to them. Think that you will dance well and both you and the audience will enjoy it!
Did you know some telemarketers are trained to smile while they talk on the phone? That’s because it’s nearly impossible to project negative feelings when you have a genuine smile on your face! Start smiling backstage. Pole 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, your audience will never know the difference if you are smiling brilliantly at them. 🙂
Decide beforehand to be proud of yourself afterwards, for just going out there and dancing the heck out of your performance – regardless of how it goes.
POST COMPETITION PLANS
Plan something you look forward to after the competition is over. A nice meal, a hot bath, watching your favorite movie… Something concrete and tangible that will help to remind you that this is just a show. It is one piece of fabric, out of the entire quilt of your pole dancing life.
If you’re still nervous despite being prepared, well costumed, smiling brilliantly, and being on your 25th 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, whether it’s 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!
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!
When you make the goal of the performance be to have fun and enjoy yourself, rather than to hit that one trick or spin “perfectly,” you instantly set yourself up for success. Then, you can relax. And when you relax and have fun, things usually go a lot better. And, if they still don’t go so well? Well, at least you had a good time in the process, and that is what performing is all about.
There are a number of things that you can do to physically and mentally prepare while you are back stage. Here are a few suggestions, but I encourage you to add to the list so that you can find what is just right for you:
- Listen to your iPod. You can either listen to the music you are about to perform to, or something totally different.
- Run through your routine… but not too much. You don’t want to freak yourself out. If dancing through your routine makes you nervous, just dance around to get your body moving.
- Watch videos of your practice routines. This helps with visualization.
- Close your eyes and do a quick meditation. Visualize yourself succeeding and feeling good on stage can help a lot.
- Do yoga or Pilates to get limber. Even push-ups, jumping jacks and leg lifts can help your body prepare.
- Give yourself space and time to prepare. Don’t feel the need to be sucked into conversations just before you perform. Simply tell everyone that you need a quiet moment to prepare and that you would love to talk to them after the show.
- Forgive yourself. You might make a mistake so just accept that as part of performing. It isn’t a big deal.
- Remember that your audience wants you to succeed and that they are on your side.
- Say affirmations such as “I dance from the heart and I am beautiful” or “The audience loves me and I feed off of their energy”… whatever resonates with you.