Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Performance Anxiety

Vimy Teacher and Director of the ESB Teacher Training Program, Janet Hagisavis, has held on to this timeless article from the Dance Magazine for many years.  Unfortunately, the year of the article has been lost, but the message is still very relevant to our dancers, particularly as they head into exam and performance season!

The Personal You – by Marian Horosko
Performance Anxiety – Dance Magazine, December 19, ????

You’ve performed in demonstrations, recitals, competitions, and auditions, and are probably rehearsing for a Nutcracker season.  How does performing feel to you?  Do you wish you had better control over nervousness?  Concentration?  Muscular tension?  Are you a professional dancer still trying to master preperformance anxiety?

In her report, “Performance Preparation and Enhancement – What Professional Dancers Do,” Virginia Gallagher, an Australian Ballet School graduate, performer, and diplomate in counseling and psychotherapy, found that performance skills are learned over a long period of time, but not in the classroom or from a teacher. Here are some findings from her survey of ballet, modern, and actor-dancers that may help you assess your performance preparations.

Everyone knows that good schooling and a technique suitable to one's ambitions are necessary for a career in dance. According to Gallagher's survey: It is not necessarily the physically- gifted who attain success and survive a professional career, but rather the mentally tough, who with the required physical attributes become the survivors and make a successful career.

Mental toughness is described as the development of:
high levels of relaxation and concentration skills, especially when performing under pressure
breathing techniques to control performance anxiety
highly evolved mental rehearsal skills
keen awareness of arousal levels when performing
good control over negative thoughts when performing
effective personal organizational skills for performance.

Relaxation techniques include any method that releases physical and mental tension, such as consciously releasing various parts of the body from muscular tightness through concentration while lying prone; deep breathing to various counts; or practicing the Feldenkrais technique-
a relaxation methodology. According to the survey, dancers with a high level of confidence, as well as those with a low level, use relaxation techniques. Confidence is described as being sure of one's abilities, qualities, and ideas. Tests of confidence involve performing situations, the opinion of others, opening nights, auditions. Performing new skills, having friends in the audience, adverse criticism, and taking class with other dancers watching. Sleep, a component of relaxation, can be a double-edged sword. While rest from strenuous classes and rehearsals can build up energy, because the dancer is less fatigued, more time is available to fret and worry about a forthcoming performance.  A cycle of sleeplessness frequently begins this way. A sleep technique that may be practiced during the training years involves "going to black"- a theatrical term for the blackout of colors and objects on stage or on film. With closed eyes, the dancer must see "black" and deliberately eliminate all colors, thoughts, objects, or worries from the black screen until asleep. Let us say that you get the opportunity to rest during a rehearsal period; advantage can be taken of even a few minutes by closing one's eyes and picturing the hands of a clock at the point at which you must awake. With a little practice, this becomes an invaluable technique while traveling, in the dressing room, or between shows. Some dancers answering the survey find the opposite is true. They picture breathing in blue air, breathing out red air; feel sunlight entering the toes and slowly relaxing and warming the whole body; and imagine they are floating in calm water. Those who say that they sometimes sleep well mostly use imaging and breathing to relax and sleep, but they don ' t know where they learned these procedures; those who always sleep well do not use a technique but say they relax and sleep by instinct; and those who never, or don 't sleep well use relaxation techniques with a small percentage using drugs and alcohol. Fifty percent of the never group have no procedure for relaxing and sleeping; 50 percent describe reading, watching TV, drinking wine or hot milk, using sleeping pills and imagery as ineffective.

Formerly taught in the classroom, the technique of breathing while executing movements has almost disappeared. An exhale during a plie or contraction, before a preparation followed by an
inhale during multiple tours and during a balance; the danger of holding one 's breath that can lead to dizziness and fainting especially during cambré movements - and many, many more breathing components are seldom taught. During a performance, fear, nervousness, or can restrict natural breathing, thus cutting off oxygen to the lungs and muscles resulting in fatigue, and loss of concentration, and coordination. Left unchecked, small changes in breathing can
lead to excessive muscle tension that interferes with coordination and timing. Correct breathing is one of the most valuable techniques for focusing, calming, and energizing the performer in a physical and mental sense. _

Visualization improves performance. Mental rehearsal is the process of watching yourself on the screen of your mind's eye and performing perfectly. According to Gallagher: "The muscle groups involved in visualization actually move on a subliminal level because small messages are sent to those muscles through the nervous system. Mental rehearsals can help short cut the learning process and complement the actual physical practice of skills by tapping the nervous system's memory. Bad habits can be corrected and fear of an accident can be visualized away.
Here are some links to more current articles posted in Dance Magazine online addressing performance anxiety:

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