Dance competition season is here! Right now across North America, thousands of young dancers are hastily sewing on last minute rhinestones, finalizing rehearsal details and buying enough hairspray to freeze an elephant stiffly into place. All before heading out on the road with their parents -- each weekend, for the next six months!
I remember my days as a young competitor -- the tingling excitement and the adrenaline! The never ending worry about what the judges were thinking. My uncertainty about the audience reaction. Being freezing cold backstage. Feeling ants-in-my-pants nervous, then the soaring joy of being on stage. Having been a dance judge for many years now, here are some tips for a successful performance that I love sharing with my young dancers:
"I'm An Expert." Specifically, you are an expert at being you, and putting your own artistic stamp on whatever you are doing. You are a pro at what makes you special, and this is really what people are dying to see and get excited about. When a performer really enjoys what they are doing, the audience leans in and wants more. Whatever classwork and coaching you have already done and will continue to do in the future will only expand all that is fantastic about you.
"My Judges Are My Biggest Fans." Dealing with performance anxiety is not fun. Worrying about what other people think of you can really rock you off your center. The bare-bones truth: as judges, we want you to do well and rock it! We know all too well what it feels like to be in your shoes. We are hopeful for you to DO and BE your best. When we watch a performer begin a new piece, we are excited and curious about what is going to unfold. You make my day wonderful when you own your awesomeness.
"I Got This." You can't control everything. Sometimes there will be instances where you just have to make the best of it and move on. In performance I personally have had shoes and costumes malfunction onstage; I've also tripped and then slid 10 feet across the stage; I've forgotten the choreography, the music or scenery or stage parts stopped working and on and on and on! And yet -- these have often been my favorite and most memorable performances, because when something unexpected happens, my creative problem solver hat goes on. I get to truly live in the moment and be a smart performer. You will ALWAYS win the affection and support of a crowd when you acknowledge and surrender to the circumstance and then rise to meet it. Be smart and own it. (Insider Tip: People will come up to you later and tell you how brilliant you were.)
"My Performance GPS." When dealing with nervous energy right before you perform, it is super helpful to have worked out in practice "an energy map" for your performance. Knowing how much energy it takes to hit a step or note with sharp energy here; how much it takes to create smooth, soft energy there. Mapping this out ahead of time can help refocus your nervous attention and energy to specific and measurable parts of your performance that you have control over. Every performance will be a little different, and having this "map" will help you to find moments in your piece to ground and control your energy consistently.
"Revving Up." Sometimes before a performance you need pepping up, other times you need to get calm. It is helpful to create a few easy pre-performance practices that you can do anywhere so you can get present and really go for it. Running on the spot, a couple min of quiet breathing and meditation, cheering on a fellow performer, listening to your favorite "Go get 'em!" theme song will do wonders for your "I Got This" attitude.
"Let It Go!" You've put in your practice time, now forget about the work! There were so many times as a young dancer I would finish my solo, and THEN be ready to immediately do it all over again because finally the nerves over "getting things right" were gone and the excitement to be creative was back. Trust that your body has the cues it needs to perform the task!
When I need reminding that I can handle whatever is in front of me, I think about one of my favorite quotes, which is actually from the very first Jurassic Park movie:
"Creation is an act of sheer will."
It reminds me that I'm in the driver's seat and I have the tools to make magic happen. You have what it takes. Go and be brilliant!