Overcoming Performance Anxiety as We Get Back on Stage

I can imagine the same thing is happening to lots of dancers across the world at the moment. You’ve been at home for over a year, doing tendus at your kitchen bench, and you’re dying to get back into the studio and then on stage. Shows have been cancelled time and time again, and now, finally, you have a date when it looks like your city won’t be in lockdown. But then, as the day draws nearer, you start to feel nervous in a way you haven’t felt before. Your heart beats faster when you think about being on stage. Your mind races with all the things that could go wrong and are out of your control. It’s been so long since you’ve been on stage, and even though you want to perform, you can’t help but wonder – what if you’re not up to the task?

Performance anxiety is something I see all the time in dancers, and the extended break we’ve taken from the stage due to COVID-19 lockdowns adds to the anxiety, even if we love being on stage!

Performance anxiety is usually more serious than butterflies backstage. Rather, it can be linked to intense fear, catastrophic thinking, irritability, procrastination and self-sabotage. Letting it go unchecked can hurt not only our performance but our relationships with people around us, our training, our long-term aspirations and even our health and wellbeing.

  1. Control what you can – be prepared backstage, have extra bobby pins, a needle and thread, check your shoes the night before. In short, do everything you need to do to feel prepared in the moments BEFORE you step on stage.
  2. Practise your relaxation before you get backstage – trying to convince yourself to breathe deeply once you’re already panicking is unlikely to work. Instead, why not commit to five minutes a day practising mindfulness and deep breathing? Then you will have those tools in place next time you’re on stage. Smiling Mind is a great place to start.
  3. Ask yourself – what’s the worst thing I’m afraid of? – Is it being embarrassed? Injuring yourself? Forgetting the choreography? And what’s the worst outcome if these fears come true? Chasing down these questions can help you address the catastrophic thinking that comes with our fears, and have a more realistic outlook.
    For example, you might be afraid of forgetting the choreography and embarrassing yourself, but what’s the worst that could happen? Your classmates might talk about it for a day or two then forget about it or, they might rally behind you because they know how it feels!
  4. Visualise your performance beforehand, focusing on how you will exhibit your most unique gifts. Play your music and close your eyes, visualise each step, including the quality and facial expression you will do them with, and your personal strengths shining through. This will help your brain to believe that you really can use those gifts when you get on stage!

Performance Anxiety is no small thing, which is why I’m going to be taking students further into how they can overcome it in my Mindset Masterclass. It is so important to support ourselves and the dancers in our care as they return to the stage and studio. If you think this would benefit your studio, get in touch today for more information!

“After attending your masterclass, I now have a much better perspective on what matters most when I am dancing, and I find that I can actually enjoy it even more because I am learning to let go of the negative thoughts that often get in the way.”
- Pre-professional ballet student, Sydney
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