Nerves versus fear. As a dancer you MUST know the difference.
by Jo Bolden
When I chat with dancers about nerves it generally boils down to a discussion about them wanting and hoping to do well. It’s about the physical sensation and butterflies before going onstage and the anticipation before heading to an audition, master class, etc.
Bottom-line: Nerves might need to be reeled in and sat down but they CAN be a good thing in a ‘prepping-you-for-the-big-moment’ way. You know… kick-starting the adrenalin, heightening your energy and clearing your mind of anything but THE moment.
And then there’s fear.
Dance-wise it ranges from being fear of standing out, not standing out, messing up, not getting it right, not belonging or fitting in, what other people might think or say, not picking up the choreography, not knowing if they’ll be good enough, being laughed at, left out or looking terrible… and the list goes on!
Bottom-line: Fear is what we worry might happen and, in the opposite way to nerves, it takes your attention AWAY from what’s actually going on, away from the moment. It’s the part of our minds that tries to keep us safe. In life, it prompts you to be careful about crossing a busy street. In dance, fear shuts you down.
It’s so important to remember that there will ABSOLUTELY be times when you will make a huge mistake, forget all of the choreography, not know anyone or stick out like a sore thumb. You’re not alone, that’s part of dance life. And it’s OK. You will come out the other side of all of these experiences with a good story and some things to work on.
The problem with runaway fear of any, or all, of these it that:
- It almost MAKES them more likely to happen
- If you’re so preoccupied with what you’re afraid of then we never get to see who you really are and what you really have to offer. You get stuck in the small, hiding fear-based version of yourself. NOTE: this is often how fear works – it dominates the conversation in your head.
We don’t talk when we dance but we get really good at focusing on what we’re saying with our bodies. The challenge with this is that there is a lot that goes unspoken about the internal voice of the dancer. Yep – we all have one. We’re often so busy connecting with our bodies that we overlook the need to sort out what our head is telling us.
Bottom-line: it’s important to have some tricks up your sleeve for when fear shows up and before it derails you…
- Take some deep breaths and concentrate on them. I’ve learned in yoga that when you’re focused on each breath it keeps you out of your head.
- Remember that your thoughts are not facts AND that in most dance spaces everybody else is far too concerned with what’s going on for them than you.
- Give yourself permission (write it down if you have to!) to be imperfect, to NOT know what’s going to happen or what the choreography might be like. Give yourself permission to go for it anyway because you don’t get this moment twice.
- Have a phrase to repeat to yourself or a song (I call them my anthems) that gets you out of your head (where fear lives), into your body and back on track. Because you count and you have something important to offer. Both in dance and in life.
So, fear? It’s where nerves cross over to the dark side and hold you back from showing up as your best or sometimes even showing up at all. Let it go or at least don’t let it lead.
Those nerves? A sign you’re invested. That you want it all to come together. Take a deep breath, see them, settle them and use them.