What’s Your Ideal Arousal Level?

I thought that might get your attention. (heh, heh)

Translated, that title is: What is the perfect level of energy for your best performance?

Sport and performance psychologists spend a lot of time examining this with their performers because it plays a major part in their success. Performers who have too much energy can go off the rails; inversely, performers with not enough energy can under-perform.

Energy isn’t really the right word. Sport and performance psychologists call it the “arousal” or “activation” level. Being “over-aroused” or having a high activation level can raise your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. It’s the butterflies in the stomach, dry-mouth, feeling nauseous experience that most performers are familiar with.

Over-arousal can really interfere with your performance in part because you rarely rehearse at that level of arousal. The brain and body are happiest with consistency and those symptoms are way outside the limits of how you usually dance. Consequently, they impact your dancing in negative ways.

On the other hand, being “under-aroused” or having a low activation level can have the opposite effect: a bored, lifeless performance that lacks excitement.

So what you want is to feel the way you usually do while training and rehearsing. Then, add in just the right amount of pre-performance jitters and that’s a recipe for peak performance.

If you’re feeling on board with the above, then your next question is probably, “How do I know what the right arousal level is for me?”

The bad news is, I don’t haver the answer.

The good news is, you do!

First, think back to the last performance or audition you did that went really well – where you felt excited but calm and gave a great performance. Then, start recreating those circumstances on a daily basis in class and rehearsal. Pay attention to when things go off the rails (over-arousal) and, conversely, when you feel bored or tired (under-arousal). We’re aiming for “just right.”

Finally, if you have an audition or performance coming up, follow your plan and then make careful notes about how it went.

  • Were you calm, but excited?
  • Did your body feel energized and ready?
  • Were you too nervous to learn the combinations?
  • Were you too tired to focus?

The answer is that only you can know what your optimal arousal level for peak performance is. You can find it through experimentation and mindfulness.

If you’d like help with this, or any other issues related to performing, auditioning, healthy eating or stress reduction, contact me here. I’d love to hear from you.

Superbowl & Ballet: Common Ground

I’m not sure if you watched the Superbowl the other week. It was kind of a big deal. I didn’t watch it because I’m not much of a football fan.

However, it was *on* in my house, and I tuned in once the score tied at the game’s end. (That had never happened before in the game’s history.)

So they went into “Sudden Death Overtime” which meant the first team to score would win the game.

The first thing they did after the announcement of overtime was what made me think of you all.

They did a coin toss.  

(You’ll see why that matters in a second…)

The Patriots called heads and won the coin toss, so they got the ball.

Once they got the ball, they showed up and played the game they’ve played thousands of times. They scored first. So they won the Superbowl, after having been seriously behind in points for the first three-quarters of the game.

What if the coin had been tails?

What if the Falcons had won control of the ball?

Would they have scored first?

The answer is almost certainly yes. The Falcons had been killing it all game long. They were dominating the Patriots. Chances are, had lucked smiled on them in the coin toss, they would have won the game.

One coin toss. One outcome. And that was that.

I was reminded of all of the times that luck played a part in my own career, and that of many of the dancers in my life. A principal dancer’s partner retired so I got promoted; I was the right height to wear the costume for an injured dancer; I was the only one in an eye-catching red unitard at a midwest audition… the list goes on.

Luck matters in your dancing.

Opportunities will come to you or to your peers, and sometimes the only real reason why is that you got lucky. (Or she did.)

There’s now way to control for luck or to predict it.

If that makes you feel a little queasy, it should. Luck is like that.

However, what you can prepare for is what happens right afterwards. If the Patriots had played badly after the coin toss, or had let the pressure get to them, they wouldn’t have scored when they needed to. Instead they played the way they knew they needed to play. They showed up and played their best when that door opened, and they won.

If you’re an understudy, luck might help get you the part, but how you perform is entirely up to you.

Luck might help you land a contract, but how you dance your first professional season is in your hands.

So remember that while luck plays a part in success, it never plays the biggest part which comes afterwards. Prepare for that part, so that, like the Patriots in this historic Superbowl,  you’re ready when luck finally smiles on you.

 

Disappointment: How to Deal

There’s no greater disappointment than psyching yourself up and performing your heart out only to get rejected by your school or company of choice. Or even worse, getting cut halfway through the audition, before you have had a chance to show them what you can do.

It’s so frustrating. It can really get you down.

Some dancers are tempted to take these rejections as final judgments on their dancing.

Please resist that temptation. 

For starters, you can’t say why you weren’t chosen. Artistic Directors have all kinds of reasons they choose and don’t choose dancers, from height and weight to hair color. If you danced well, then try not to worry about it too much.

Dwelling on why you didn’t get in when you can’t ever know the reason is a lesson in frustration. 

Instead, try to keep your focus on what’s coming up next.

If you’re doing multiple auditions, you may not have a lot of turnaround between one audition and the next. Here are some tips for dealing with your disappointment so that you can bounce back quickly.

  • There’s no rejection; there’s only selection. Think about it like this: directors aren’t necessarily saying no to you; they’re saying yes to someone else. When you’re not selected for any one thing, that means you’re available for something else. Keep looking.
  • Always walk away from the audition with *something*: a strategy to apply to your dancing, a style to try, a good correction to apply. You can always learn from the experience. Making that part of the process gives you a larger focus beyond just getting in or not.
  • Remember the bigger picture. You’re doing something you love and you’re working hard, and this is part of the process. Take what you’ve observed and bring it back to the studio. Use the experience to work smarter, not just harder.

If you’re having trouble quieting the part of your brain that enjoys reliving rejection, try some thought stoppage. Find a word or short phrase to cut off your negativity before it consumes you. For example, “Stop” or “Not now.” I like the Italian word for enough, “Basta.” My dancers find a word that silences their inner critic and they stick with it.

Then, you can try a little mental reprogramming to find words and cues to lift you up and keep your mind clear while dancing. If you could use some help applying this strategy, shoot me an email. It’s my speciality!