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by Valeria Lo Iacono
When performing in front of an audience, even the most seasoned performers experience stage fright. So, whether you are a beginner or not, do not think that your are alone in experiencing this sensation. The secret is not to deny these feelings, but to instead focus on transforming the feeling of anxiety into positive energy and adrenalin, that will give you the impetus to give your best on stage.
To help you channel your energy and to enjoy a successful performance, I have listed below some advice and a few tips that work for me. These are written with dancers in mind, but they can apply to other performing artists as well. If you read this article and know about more tricks that help, which are not listed here, or if you want to tell your own experience, please feel free to comment below.
Learn the Music
Become very familiar with the music you will be performing to because this will help you connect the movements with each part of the music. The music will guide you and it will be something to rely on if you feel lost. This applies whether you are dancing to a choreography or if you are improvising. In any case you need to know the music well. If you dance to a choreography and you forget a piece, knowing the music will serve you as a reminder to get back on track. I am aware of the fact that there are certain pieces of dance, in particular within the field of contemporary dance, where music is not used. Dancers perform in silence or to recited poetry or other types of sound. You can try and reply on these other sounds to guide you or, if there is no sound at all, you could rely on the rhythms of your own body, but I understand that it is more difficult in this case.
Rehearse and practice as much as you can. Being familiar with the movements and the routine is the only way to really gain confidence. If you are dancing solo it is easier in that you can practise any-time you have a spare moment, while if you dance with a group you have to rely on other people being available and on the availability of a certain venue. However, try to be present at as many rehearsal sessions as you can. Also, even if you cannot practise with the group, you can always practise your part on your own in addition to practising with the group (you will always need to rehearse with the group but practising on your own can be a useful addition). Also, even though the physical practice and rehearsal is necessary, you can always go through the routine in your own mind by imagining it whenever you have the time, maybe listening to the music you will be dancing to. Mental practise is often very useful.
Releasing Nervous Energy
Before performing, try running on the spot or tensing and then releasing your muscles. This works by helping you to get rid of adrenaline in your body. I have tried it and it works for me. If you, like me, are a belly dancer, this adrenaline will also work wonders on helping you have great and effective hip shimmies when you perform!
Breathing is important. It may seem obvious, but the old yoga breathing techniques really help relax your body and mind. You should breathe deeply and slowly and you can find more information on breathing technique in many yoga books and DVDs.
Positive visualisation is a powerful tool, a sort of autohypnosis. You need to relax your whole body by breathing (you can find several books on relaxation on Amazon to guide you on this) and then visualise yourself on stage performing. Imagine that you are giving a great performance, with no fear, and that the audience is supportive and enjoying seeing you. When you visualise, try to imagine the whole situation as if it was real in as many details as possible, such as your own breath, the feeling of your feet touching the floor, your body moving, the smells (such as your own perfume) and the sounds surrounding you, the lights of the stage. This will help make the exercise more effective.
Keep in mind that people in the audience would be as scared if not more scared than you to perform. Many of them would not even dream of doing it. So, give yourself some credit for having the strength to perform in front of an audience and be proud of it.
If you forget a piece of the choreography, do not stop dancing nor look panicked. It is not the end of the world, just keep on moving, follow the music or the flow and smile (unless you are performing to something dramatic, in which case do not smile but keep impersonating whatever feeling you are supposed to portray). This is easier if you are dancing solo but it applies also if you are dancing in a group. If you carry on dancing many people will not notice the error; some other will, but still there is no point in panicking, just relax and carry on.
Enjoy the moment
Focus on how much you enjoy dancing and performing, rather than on what the audience thinks. After all, if you dance it is because you love doing it, so enjoy every second of your performance. The audience will respond positively if they sense your love for dancing and your passion and they will be more inclined to forgive any imperfections. The main thing though is focus on enjoying the experience.
Know the Venue
If at all possible, try to rehearse in the venue where you will perform. For many dancers this is not only possible, but it is the norm, for example if you are part of a professional troupe. Quite often though, rehearsing in the venue where you will perform is not possible, especially if you dance in the community and the venues are not accessible to all outside performing times. If you can do that though, it will help as familiarity will make you feel less nervous.
Remember that performing is not a life threatening situation and your life does not depend on it! You will survive, whatever happens, and instead your life as a dancer will be richer because of the opportunity to perform.
The first few seconds of the performance are usually the hardest to overcome but, once they are over, everything will be easier. You will get more and more immersed in the dance as it progresses and you will feel more relaxed until you are completely in the moment. Before you know it the performance will be over and you will wish it could continue!
Focus the Energy
Channel all the energy that the stage fright gives you into something positive. Create positive energy from all that adrenaline. See the signals that your body is sending you as signs of excitement rather than fear. Some adrenalin is actually good as it will help you focus and give your best on stage. If you are too relaxed you will be in a careless state of mind, which is not good. So, channel your energy positively towards the task at hand. Think that you are privileged to be able to perform in front of an audience and also see your performance as a gift to them. Think that you will dance well and you and the audience will enjoy it!