Got the Jitters?

Got the Jitters?

By Horacio Cifuentes

There you are, in full make up and costume, after many hours of preparation and rehearsals. Perhaps you even beaded your own costume. And after looking forward with anticipation to that performance, what happens? PANIC!

Stage fright is one of the worst enemies of the performing artist. A live performer does not get a second chance: if you slip and fall, there you are, flat on the floor and the director does not yell “cut.” This anxiety caused by the pressures of live performance is shared by many dancers, singers, actors and performing artists in general, but some cases of stage fright are certainly more extreme than others. That nervous feeling of abdominal tickle can spread throughout your system, developing into a horrible sense of helplessness, insecurity about your dancing, and just plain horror. Instead of enjoying the dance, the wish that it was all over already dominates. I once worked with a dancer who was so overcome by stage fright that he got to the point of vomiting right before his performance, and then he would go on stage and do a fine job.

Horacio Cifuentes

I have experienced that horror myself. When I started dancing professionally, I was so overcome by the pressure of being alone on a big stage that my mind was not clear and focused on what I was about to do. I went on stage with such fear that sometimes after I danced I could not remember what I had done.

What can we do about it? I decided to take some yoga classes to calm down the panic. Here are a few tips that have helped me:

1. Breathe! When the time arrives before you have to dance, try to have a moment for yourself. Most dancers naturally will find their privacy anyway, but use this time purposefully to center the mind. Try laying down flat on the back, or sitting on a chair or on the floor with the legs crossed, the eyes gently closed, the soft breath through the nostrils. As the breath flows in rhythm, repeat inwardly, “I am calm, I am relaxed, I am well.”

Instead of allowing the butterflies to spread, channel that energy through breath into a sense of excitement which will give you that extra kick that makes the audience not be able to blink while you dance!

2. Think positively! The mind will play tricks on us, and can be our own worst enemy. Negative thoughts can overcome us at such moments. Instead of thinking that your veil will get caught on your beaded bra, or that you will become dizzy while spinning and fall, just reverse the whole thing and consciously direct your mind toward more positive thoughts, toward self-affirmation. Play a different record in your mind.

3. Visualize! Many prefer to improvise in the dance and flow with the inspiration of the moment, while others find that choreography helps them to be more prepared and therefore less anxious. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be. But the choreographed dancer can be just as vulnerable to stage fright before a performance as the improvised dancer. Try laying down on the floor quietly, close the eyes, and visualise the entire dance in slow motion. See yourself doing your dance from start to finish, and see yourself exactly how you want to look.

From my own experience, when I started incorporating such techniques into my life, my dancing improved, and I noticed that I was not so afraid any longer. I could go on the stage and think more clearly as I danced, remember the choreographies without mental confusion, and enjoy the shows a lot more. If the next time you have a performance you feel those butterflies controlling you, remember that you can control them by using your own breath and your own mind. Controlled breathing and concentration, positive self-affirmations, and visualization can do wonders. Mind over matter: if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

Horacio Cifuentes’ early dance training included the Folkloric Troupe of Columbia, the American Ballet Theater in New York and the school of the San Francisco Ballet. By the age of 21 he was dancing major solos with the San Francisco Ballet. He later studied Oriental dance with Magaña Baptiste, Suhaila Salimpour, Bert Balladine, Ibrahim Farrah, and Shareen el Safy, among others. He has taught and performed extensively in the U.S., Canada and Europe, and is co-owner of Tanzstudio Halensee with his wife, Beata, in Berlin, Germany, where they produce “Oriental Fantasy” each Spring.

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