Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dealing with Anxiety - First Competition

A while ago I did a post called Dealing with Anxiety - Performing Nerves, about how to calm stage fright both on stage and in the classroom. A reader asked about tips for preparing mentally and emotionally for her first competition. Great question, I hope I can help!

Let me say first of all that I am not from the competition world. I can probably count the number of competitions I've done on my ten fingers. The competitions I did do were small regional ones and NYCDA on the regional and national levels - so if anyone is interested about Star Systems or Showstopper...you can probably stop here. I also used to be a figure skater and competed solo from ages 5-13 (and then quit due to money, lack of commitment, and fear of falling on the ice).

In my last post, I wrote this concerning competions:
Competitions - Don't worry so much about "ruining" it for the group. The more you worry, the more likely you are to mess up. Also, don't overthink the piece right before you go on stage. Take a few deep breaths instead of doing one last triple pirouette. Worry less, concentrate more on what you're about to do, and clear your mind of all other thought. Maybe run in place, do some cardio to warm yourself up and get yourself focused on your body.
The same holds true, but let me be more specific.

You've been practicing for at least a few months if you're thinking about competition. You know your stuff (if not, make sure you practice it at least in your head so that you do). The biggest thing in competition is unexpected accidents/surprises - not as much is at stake in a performance, so everyone is more likely to freak out in a competition setting. Ask your instructor to run a series of tests on the group and to prepare information that you'll need. For example:
  1. do the piece facing another direction or in another room.
  2. do it in a smaller space and in a bigger space
  3. ask your teacher to (without telling you) shut off the music at a random time sometime during the next few runs (don't tell the rest of the group). See how people respond. Make sure you keep going or find a graceful way to exit.
  4. practice walking on, bowing, and walking off
  5. simulate a dancer being hurt. Ask someone to sit out and make the group fill the gap.
  6. practice in full costume and hair to test for malfunctions, or simulate a costume malfunction.
  7. find out what kind of floor is used on the stage and the dimensions of the stage. Tape it out on the floor of the studio (if possible).
Make sure your group dynamics are good. The last thing you want is a group full of cliques where every person is not only competing against the other groups in the competition, but each other as well. Don't bring the competition inside the group, it'll only make the entire group fall flat on its face. If you're competing solo, make sure you have good support in the audience or backstage. Dance like you're only dancing to them, not to the judges. The last step is to forget you're competing. Entirely. When it comes to showtime, treat it just like that - another show. There's nothing different, they're not out to get you, they don't hate you.

Like I said before, it's best if you create some kind of warm up routine for competitions. Compile the best warm ups for your body into a 3-5 minute phrase, and make sure that you don't take up too much space (it's usually pretty small backstage). Always wear your favorite jacket (those hotel ballrooms can become freezing), bring a jump rope, drink tea, listen to music, remember to go to the bathroom. That way, you don't have to think about what you're doing right before and freak out about not being warm or focused. Take that time while you're warming up to relax, go through the dance maybe (not if you get nervous doing so), think about the style and flair that you can add to the piece. Do not ever think about the judges or your final score/placement. It's useless to think about it before and will make you more nervous. On the flip side, don't let yourself relax too much - not being nervous before you dance prevent you from being at your optimum level of performance. A few butterflies will give you a sharper edge.

Don't worry. There's no use in worrying about what could happen. What if you fall? You'll find the most graceful way to improvise your way back up. Even if you don't, it's no big deal. This competition is not the end of the world. It does not decide who you will be in the future (unless you're Miss America), it does not reflect on who you are as a person.

Remember to stay positive and have fun. Dance isn't about beating other people down, so don't trash talk other teams before the performance, because it'll put you in a negative mood. Don't think about your own glory if you win or your disappointment if you lose though, because dance isn't about winning either. This is just another performance, the scores are just one judges' set of opinions.

Love who you are and what you're doing. You're a dancer because you love dance (if you don't, you're in the wrong business), so get out there and dance. Don't dance like no one's watching, because it's a silly phrase and it means that you'll be crazy and fall all over the place. Dance like everyone's watching, like you want to share your voice with the world.


  1. DANCE IS MY LIFEJune 2, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    Thanks for the tips! I officially decided two days ago to compete. These tips are really helpful. Out of the other three girls I will be competeing with, I think only one has actually competed before. I will probably print this article out and share it with the two who haven't competed yet. We are starting learning choreography this summer and will compete next Feburary and April. One of in Vancouver, Washington and the other is in Eugene, Oregon (which is only one hour north of my home town). I cannot wait!!
    P.S. This blog rocks!! :)

    1. Glad to help! Like I said, I'm not the most experienced in the competition world. I forgot to mention not to get intimidated by people at the competitions who seem stuck up, more experienced, or better. Don't expect anything going in, and you'll have nothing to lose and everything to gain! Break a leg/merde in your future performances and competitions! Send me videos :) And thank you so much, I'm glad you enjoy reading my blog and find it useful. You have no idea how much that means to me :)

    2. DANCE IS MY LIFEJune 4, 2012 at 2:27 PM

      I would love to send videos. My dance teacher will be posting at least our choreography on You Tube this summer for those who will be out of town and miss classes so we can practice choreography. You could watch those, and I could send you videos of us performing. Where would I send them too?

    3. That'd be great! You can contact me at dancer.4.life.2.life@gmail.com (don't ask about the name...it's from middle school) anytime. Thanks :)