Many of my friends know I suffer from anxiety when it comes to solo performances. My body freezes, I worry about every possible thing that could go wrong and then my heart races and I can’t fully breath for about an hour before I perform. Group performances are totally different, but solos…eeek!
Even though I can’t full shake the anxiety and anxiousness, I have found ways to control it and allow myself to look and feel more relaxed in a performance and avoid the “deer in the headlights” look when the music starts.
If you suffer from performance anxiety, you might want to add a different kind of exercise into your rehearsals. BREATHING. As dancers, we can’t help dancing in our heads when we are driving, working, grocery shopping or any other activity where you can’t actually get up a dance. Um…scratch grocery shopping from that list because I’ve been known embarrass my husband in the coffee aisle.
We have to work much harder to stay relaxed and grounded in a performance. If you’ve taken any of my workshops that include breathing, then you know the huge difference something that seems so simple and intuitive can impact your dance and well, life in general. Here are some additional exercises to help ease performance anxiety and panic.
1. Remember to breathe through your nose. This calms the parasympathetic nervous system and is a way for your mind and body to connect and tell each other everything is OK, you are calm and in charge. No need to transition into “fight or flight” mode.
2. Practice sitting and breathing slowly to the songs you will perform. You can do this in the car on the way to rehearsal, at home, at work…wherever. Just listen to the music and breath slowly. Using a count of 5 for your inhale and 6 for your exhale. Eventually, you can build up to a count of 6 and 7, 7 and 8, etc. Focus on the exhales as much, if not more, than the inhales. Fully exhaling will allow for a deeper, more effective inhale.
3. Practice this slow breathing exercise whenever you are in chorus. Eventually you want to do it for your entire performance, but it will take some work to build up to that. So for now, think of chorus as an opportunity to reconnect with your breath and send some of that calming, positive energy to the featured group.
4. The day of your performance, set your intention as soon as you wake up. Do a few slow breathing exercises first thing. Repeat this throughout your day! Get your blood, muscles and brain oxygenated! It’s as important as your stage makeup or costuming.
5. Many dancers listen to their music while they are getting ready. This is another perfect opportunity to reconnect a slow, strong breath with your music. Your diaphragm is muscle and you can “drill” these breathing exercises to get them into muscle memory. Same as your smile, zils and shimmy.
6. Always do your gratitude meditation. I’ve started linking breath with these movements to create a “flow” and it’s really added an extra something special to the meditation.
When your mind starts shifting to being out of breath or tired in your performance ask yourself where you are with your breath. Reconnect with your breath every chance you get. This might just be between songs, or during chorus, but eventually your breathing will be just like your zils, effortless, concise and always on in class and performance.