I will never forget lying in bed the night before my very first performance of Mirlitons in the San Francisco Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” a complete and total nervous wreck. I called a friend on the phone to try and get help to calm me down. They guffawed at my fear, casually replying, “What? Are you afraid you’re going to go out there and NOT do it?”
And I thought, “Yes. That is EXACTLY what I am afraid of.”
If you have ever experienced stage fright, then you know what I am talking about – that paralyzing fear where you have butterflies rumbling in your tummy, clammy, sweaty palms, cotton balls in your mouth and you feel like you can’t feel, let alone move, your body; Where you actually think you just might step on stage and completely forget every single piece of choreography that you have so painstakingly rehearsed for the past days, weeks, and months. Well, if so, then this article is for you.
Here are eight tips for coping with stage fright, helping you take back control of your body and your performance.
Inhale deeply into your belly and your lungs. Exhale slowly. Feel the breath wash over your body like a wave, from toe to head and head to toe. Repeat.
2. Feel your body – especially your extremities.
Feel your hands, your feet, your nose, and your ears. Be as physically in your body as possible. Here’s an exercise to try: Rub your hands together, briskly. Develop some heat in them. Feel the heat. Then, hold your palms close together and slowly start to separate them. Feel the energy between your palms. Now, take that energy and “wash” it over your body from head to toe. Allow any tension in your muscles to release as you wash the “energy” over them.
3. See your environment.
The lights, the wings, the people around you, the stuff surrounding you (dance bags, pointe shoes, old leg warmers strewn about, etc.). Force yourself to see the colors, shapes and textures. Let your sight pull you into the present moment.
4. Have faith in something greater.
Have a spiritual practice of any kind? Great, use it now. Don’t have one? Not to worry. Just try considering the possibility that this current experience might be WAY bigger than you. Envision yourself, where you physically are right now, as if you are watching yourself from outer space. At any given moment, from this grand perspective, we are all each just tiny specks amidst a vast sea of a universe. An important speck, but a small part of the greater whole none-the-less.
5. Trust the process.
Remind yourself of all the work you have done to get here. All the hours of rehearsal, learning and fine-tuning the choreography in your body. Yes, one could always do more. But, it’s show time. Trust that you are as prepared as you are supposed to be at this moment in time.
6. Plan something to look forward to after the show.
A nice meal, a hot bath, watching your favorite movie… Something concrete and tangible that will help to remind you that this is just a show. It is one piece of fabric, out of the entire quilt of your dancing life.
Decide beforehand to be proud of yourself afterwards, for just going out there and dancing the heck out of your performance – regardless of how it goes.
8. Have Fun.
When you make the goal of the performance be to have fun and enjoy yourself, rather than to hit that one turn or balance “perfectly,” you instantly set yourself up for success. Then, you can relax. And when you relax and have fun, things usually go a lot better. And, if they still don’t go so well? Well, at least you had a good time in the process, and that is what performing is all about.