Tips for Ballet Performance Anxiety
As a dancer, performing can be one of the most exciting activities of your life. Months of rehearsing will always help you feel confident when you finally step onto the stage, but any amount of pressure can lead to anxiety before and even during show time.
Adequate preparation is essential to stay cool, calm, and collected for your performance. This guide will offer advice to help keep your nerves at bay so you can focus on what really matters — the dancing.
No matter how long your rehearsal period may be leading up to a show, it is never too early to start thinking about the performance aspect of a ballet. From the moment you begin learning the choreography, approach your steps differently than you might with classroom work. Although you want retain all of the precision you have gained during technique classes, rehearsals are the time to polish your dancing.
Much of your choreography might be based on classical steps, but there will be subtle details that alter their look. Take special note of any stylized movements the choreographer is demonstrating and try to pick up on them right away. Putting your mind and body into “performance mode” will ease your transition from studio to stage.
Most ballets are performed in a concert setting that features a proscenium stage with wings and a backdrop. With that, it’s important to build an awareness of all things relating to that setting. You will know ahead of time where the audience will be sitting, so pretend the spectators are in the studio while you’re practicing. Know when you will look at them and what your facial expressions will be during the performance. Without altering the set choreography, decide how you want your body to be viewed by the audience. A theatre is more expansive than a square studio. The position of your head, hips, and arms will have a broader look if you keep the theatre in mind. If you rehearse with this awareness, your transition to the stage will be all the more seamless.
Former dance director, Julliard School
As you rehearse, begin to think about your entrances and exits. Visualize the wings backstage and make sure you know ahead of time which wing(s) you will be using during the show. This will help when you are in the theatre for rehearsals, as you won’t be so overwhelmed by the change of scenery.
Once you are comfortable with your steps, try to ignore the mirror. It will not be there to guide you on stage. The sooner you can work without seeing your reflection, the better off you’ll be come performance time.
One thing that can really let anxiety affect your performance is spending the preceding weeks thinking about all of the disastrous things that can occur on stage. It’s important to not fall into that trap and instead use positive visualization as a preparation tool.
There are many ideal times and places to close your eyes and imagine yourself performing exactly the way you want. Try to do this if you get time during or before rehearsals. Close your eyes as you stretch and go over your choreography. Also make it a point to review your entire dance in your head while laying in bed at night or in the morning. If you have the music, put some headphones in and let it guide your visions.
These are not times to be hard on yourself. They are times to build your confidence. Picture the joy and freedom you can experience on stage.
Taking care of your body the day(s) preceding your performance is essential for a positive mindset. Here are some simple things you can do before a show:
- Take a bath: Warm water is not only beneficial for your muscles; it is beneficial for your mind, too. Baths can be taken at nighttime if you are having trouble sleeping due to performance anxiety.
- Get plenty of rest: The week of a show is not the time to pull all-nighters. If you have other responsibilities in your life, try to take care of them before a performance week.
- Eat breakfast: Get your body going with some food in the morning — especially on the day of a performance. Even if you feel like your stomach is in knots, your energy levels will be higher come show time.
- Go easy on the coffee: If you drink caffeinated beverages, try not to overdo it. You will have so much natural adrenaline pumping and you don’t want to be jittery.
Having a backstage ritual can be very comforting before a performance. Through trial and error, you can come up with an individual game plan for your pre-show preparation. You may want to get your hair and make-up finished before you warm up. Think about reviewing your choreography on stage before you put your costume on. Maybe bring your headphones and listen to some calming or inspiring music while you get ready. Perhaps you would like to wear your favorite warm-ups before every show. Whatever you decide, ensure that you have enough time to get everything accomplished. You do not want to feel rushed!
Ten long deep breaths can go a long way before you step onto the stage. If you are feeling anxious, go to a quiet place and close your eyes. Place one hand on your heart and one hand on your stomach, and then breathe in and out ten times. Regulating your breath can ease your thoughts. You can do this in the wings, in the bathroom, in your dressing room — anywhere you feel comfortable.
It is likely you are not performing a one-person show. No matter what your role might be, try and connect with your fellow dancers before a show. A smile, a hug, or a pleasant conversation may be just what you need to feel grounded. Once you are on stage, you can re-connect with your peers or colleagues and know that you are not alone out there.
Ballet is a performance art. The audience, your directors, and your peers are all there for support. Remember that you have that support as you dance. Everyone wants the show to be a success. Let the communal experience buoy your desire to have a great show. There is always the element of surprise during a performance that will add a level of excitement. Once you are dancing on stage, let go and do your very best. You might just be pleasantly surprised!