What is stress and performance anxiety?
To understand performance anxiety, better, we need to accept that stress is NATURAL. It is is the body’s self-defense against outside stimuli that makes us feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Our nervous system reacts to those stimuli by flooding the bloodstream with hormones. This process prepares our systems to escape or confront the outside attack. People commonly refer to this as the fight-or-flight mechanism.
In ballroom dance, just like everyday life, we encounter stressors that can trigger this reaction. Performance anxiety is another name for stress used in the field of Performance Аrts. Sometimes also called stage fright.
Feeling stressed is often not related to dancing itself, but a hardship that we face in our regular lives that you bring into dancing whether you are a social dancer or a competitor, that applies to us all.
In my experience, there are two main groups of stressors- things that we CANNOT control and things that we CAN control. To tackle the stress during a ballroom dance competition, we need to find the right strategy. Things outside of our control are just that stressors that we have no input on, but there are the things that we CAN influence, and those are what we should spend our energy on.
How to recognize Performance Anxiety?
Stress has a lot of different faces. Some of the most common I'm sure some of you have experienced, and I noticed in myself and my students are:
- racing pulse and rapid breathing
- stiff body; your body is not responsive to what your mind wants to do. excessive sweating
- dry mouth
- shaking hands, legs
- nausea and feeling uneasy
- feeling of not being hungry
- forgetting steps and patterns
- low patience levels and irritability
The list is not exhaustive, and it might be completely different for you. It is important to observe yourself and look for "out of the ordinary" red flags.
How to overcome performance anxiety?
Now that we know how to recognize stress, we can take the next step towards dealing with it. Drawing a distinctive line between stressors that we CAN and CANNOT control is a crucial step in solving our stress puzzle.
We are going to look at the situations that fall outside of our control. Some of them can be related to the ballroom- too big/ too small; to the dance floor- too slippery/ too sticky; to the music- too loud/ not characteristic enough; your partner’s mood; the judges; the audience. To master and improve our performance and experience on the dance floor, we will use stress-controlling techniques that will allow us to overcome performance anxiety influenced by factors we cannot control.
1. Eat and Hydrate
Very often, under stress, we forget to eat and drink. The rush of stress hormones tells our body that we are not hungry or thirsty, when, in fact, our bodies are starving for nutrition to keep performing.
Eat something easily digestible like a simple carbohydrate and amino acid sports gel or bananas. Don't drink too much water or energy drinks. Drink mindfully, in a thoughtful manner. Try to feel the water hydrating your mouth and throat, observe, and this will help quiet your mind while delivering highly needed minerals to your body.
2. Breathing techniques
My favorite remedy for stress is breathing. It helps me reduce my heart rate and feel my body more connected. I will give you two of my preferred methods for breathing. Try them out and see which one is better for you. I find that the 4-7-8 method works out great for me before going on the floor, and the 4-4 method is excellent in between dances.
THE 4-7-8 METHOD
Sit comfortably and close your eyes.
1.Inhale through the nose for 4 seconds and observe the air touching your nostrils.
2.Hold your breath for 7 seconds and think about your lungs expanding.
3.Exhale slowly for 8 seconds.
Repeat 1-3 as many times as it takes to feel more relaxed.
THE 4-4 METHOD
Try to perform this method while moving and under pressure
1.Inhale deeply through the nose for 4 seconds. 2.Exhale strongly through the mouth for 4 seconds.
Repeat as needed.
3. Brush your shoes
That sounds like a silly thing to do, but it is proven that rituals help a lot with concentration and reducing anxiety. Brushing my shoes is not a necessity in a practical sense. Even though it can help if the floor is slippery, it is more of a means to enter a meditative, caring state of mind.
Brush them thoroughly and take your time. Observe how the dirt is falling off the sole, and they start to look brand new. Don't do it automatically, focus on the moment, on every brush stroke.
4. Mark your choreography
One of my favorite strategies is to mark my routine. Going through your routine without focusing much on the technique or performance but just the sequence of the steps. You can do this in a very small space by just "walking" through your routine.
Do it to the music or your own tempo. You can decide to include your partner or do it yourself.
Those are some of the strategies I find helpful. Of course, we are all different, and I am sure that some will not work for you. You have to find the best thing that suits your character.
Wrapping it up
Hey, we know stress is not fun, and it can impact your performance greatly, leaving you unsatisfied with how it went. One thing that we can all apply is a shift in our attitude. Instead of calling this mental blockage stress, I suggest that you rename it to excitement. It is scientifically proven that your body's response to stress and excitement is the same physiologically. Make the shift and reap the benefits.
By following the simple plan - find the trigger, find a solution, enjoy a stress-free performance, we can all enter and leave the floor with more excitement, and beautiful, enjoyable performances.