There's no doubt performing at your peak requires physical preparedness...and a lot of it at that. It requires specific skill development through technique class, body optimization through strategic cross-training, athletic prowess, and artistic refinement.
But peak performance also requires a huge mental component, as well. The mental tools needed to perform at your peak are vast, but they mostly revolve around one central concept -- overcoming fear.
Tell me if you can relate:
You're waiting in the wings, in the curtain shadows of the stage lights. You've felt so confident in the rehearsals leading up to this moment. Nailed the variation over and over, each time getting better. The physical effort now feels like a calm, comfortable flow in your body. You barely have to think; your body just knows what to do so you are free to focus on the artistry.
But just before stepping out on stage, you start to get nervous. You feel everything locking up. Your breathing becomes shallow and quick, and you start to vibrate with tiny tremors all over.
Your mission now switches from performing (connecting with the audience in a meaningful way)...to surviving. Just get through it with as little mistakes as possible. Not exactly the artistic experience you were hoping for.
Call it stage fright, mental sabotage, mental demons, whatever. It used to happen to me a lot. It still happens sometimes. I never had anyone to talk to about it. I never had the words to put with it. I never had the mental tools to deal with it...until now.
Why does this happen? FEAR. Fear of failure. You put so much pressure on yourself to get things right...to perform perfectly...that you sabotage yourself with doubt. All the hard work you put in to become proficient at the variation doesn't matter when you don't trust yourself. The physical skill developed over months of preparation can disappear instantly if you let this little nugget of fear take over your mind.
So let's break this down. When you feel this fear rising up and choking you off, ask yourself this simple question:
Which scenario would you rather happen during this performance?
- A performance that is clean, predictable, safe, focused entirely on you, & highlights "perfection"
- An artistic adventure that is daring, risky, emotional, focused on connection, & says something
When you think about the experience that you actually want out of the performance (a.k.a. what drives you to dance in the first place) and how you want to present yourself to the audience, that usually fixes those demons in your head. A mistake, or a fall, or not hitting something precisely as in rehearsal no longer seems like it will kill you. But a cold, unfeeling, inwardly-focused, safe performance will...in the sense that it will leave you so unsatisfied & unfulfilled.
You didn't pursue dancing to be "perfect." You got into this art to express yourself, connect, feel. When you are in this state of fear, you can't tap into that. You get trapped in survival mode instead.
You have to remind yourself why it's so irrational to fear failure. You need "failure." It proves you are pushing out of your comfort zone, past your limits, into the unknown & scary & never-been-tried-before. A performance that is safe and perfect is boring. That's just technique. In order for it to be art...it has to make people feel. A well-executed trick might wow the audience for a moment...but it won't leave a lasting impression on them...it won't change them. And that is your job as an artist.
Don't be afraid to "fail" -- because that's when you really start to win. That's when you find out what you're really made of. That's where real growth happens.
This mindset trick doesn't just work when applied to performances. I use it a lot for life lessons in general. When you feel pressure to be perfect at everything, you miss out on a lot. You don't explore or try things because you fear you won't be good at them. You hold yourself back and play safe. But instead of treating life like a performance that has to go perfectly...see it as an experiment you have to constantly observe & adjust for. The more risks you take, the more knowledge & experience you gain. The more fulfilling your life is. The more you fail, the more you learn.
"Mastery lives quietly atop a mountain of mistakes."
~ Eric Greitens
So, if you can relate to any part of this, I'm hoping this gives you an opportunity to put your fear into words...and a method for dealing with it. Fear shouldn't be something that holds back your artistry or your life. Conquer it so you can get to what really matters.