How To Prepare Yourself For Dancing On An Unfamiliar Stage

I once had a dancer lose her balance on stage at a competition, and later tell me that she was startled by her own shadow. We laughed it off, but this experience highlighted why it is important for dancers to take inventory of their surroundings before taking the stage at competition.

Very few dance competitions (such as Youth America Grand Prix) allow dancers a chance to “tech” their piece on the stage prior to performance. For the vast majority of competitions, the first time a dancer touches the stage is go-time. To achieve maximum comfort at your next competition, take the following steps before taking the stage.


1. Find Your Spot

Stained glass exit sign

Stained Glass Exit” by Glen Bledsoe is licensed CC BY 2.0

Spotting is easy in the studio. I often tell my dancers to use the mirror to look themselves in the eyes. However, when there is no mirror, we must adjust. The most common item in convention center ballrooms and theaters are “exit” signs. If there are none, look for non-moving lights or visible signs. Think through your choreography and decide where you will spot for each turning sequence.

Bonus Tip: It is common to fall backwards out of a turn on stage. This occurs because the dancer’s spot is much further away than in the dance studio. If you feel yourself falling backwards during a turn, pull your sternum towards your spot in order bring your center back over your leg.


2. Survey the Floor

Surveying the floor on which you will be dancing is important so that you can “space” your piece in your head. If you are able to look at the stage before you perform, consider the following to visualize the spacing of your choreography:

  1. Are there wings (and if so, how many)?
  2. How many strips of flooring (or tape lines) are there?
  3. Are there markings for center or quarter?

If you will be wearing pointe shoes, always have rosin with you in case the stage appears slippery. Water will do in a pinch, but use sparingly so you don’t ruin your pointe shoes. I recommend wetting a paper towel and stepping on that.


"Stage Lights" by Fuzzy Gerdes is licensed CC BY 2.0

“Stage Lights” by Fuzzy Gerdes is licensed CC BY 2.0

3. Check for Distractions

There are many distractions at dance competitions – flashy lighting techniques such as colored gobos (projected lighting patterns) or spotlights and large, loud audiences that may make it difficult to hear the music, for example. Being aware of these distractions before you dance makes it less likely that they will disrupt your performance.


4. Visualize

Once you have surveyed your external surroundings, it is important to make sure that you are mentally prepared to perform. After you have warmed up, use an mp3 player to listen to your music. Mark through your piece from the waist down, and perform full out from the waist up. As you are going through your piece, visualize yourself executing every step perfectly. This will prepare your body and mind to step on the stage and perform your best.


Chelsey Bradley
Chelsey (Dahm) Bradley is a recovering attorney turned freelance choreographer based in Madison, Wisconsin, where she teaches contemporary at Monona Academy of Dance and serves as resident choreographer for Dance Wisconsin. She is a four-time Regional Dance America National Commissioning Award Winner, and has received commissions to choreograph contemporary works throughout the Midwest, as well as a full-length production of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland for Dance Wisconsin. Chelsey is currently pursuing her M.F.A. in dance composition. You can follow her work on, Instagram and contact her for new projects at


  1. Interesting article. This is fairly good advice to less experienced dancers who haven’t performed much. But, after a few years, one theatre begins to look like the next. The checklist above becomes instinctual. The best on the job training for a dancers is amthree month tour of one night stands. One night you’re in a theatre in Icalaca Montana, that has no heat. Then you hop on your bus for 36 hours sleeping in the luggage rack with a thin blanket, and the next night you’re in Lima Ohio playing an old Fox theatre converted to a rock n’ roll club, the stage is is about as level,as the leaning tower of Pisa, and the basement dressing rooms have six inches of stagnant water in them. The next you’re playing a Mennonite College in Illinois, where the fly loft is still run by sand bags and theirmcrew is a wearing straw hats, and frumpy black suits! There are raked stages all over Europe. In Latin
    American, perormances traditionally begin 2hours after the advertised curtain time. High school auditoriums seem to compete for how bad of facilities they are. On and on. So, Lemme tell ya: when you’re finally ddancing for a living. where the gobos are focused will often be your last concern!

    I Think the best way to train young dancers about space, beginis as part of their curriculum: instructor/pedagogues must be mindful to make sure students do not over embody and internalize their focus. They need to be -equally- mindful of the space around them as they are with their body, what they are feeling and that their lines, technique and music is correct. Another way of saying this is, “you might be dancing for yourself, but a performance isn’t about you; its for an audience. Perform for them. Give to them. Be there for them.” This POV helps to get a young dancer out of their heads and into the space. The preparation before a show then becomes habitual and secondary to the ability to simply be present with their performance, the stage, other dancers and more overt with projecting their visage across the proscenium arch, regardless of where that performance is held.

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