Performance Preparation: Have a Plan

It’s springtime, which means preparation is underway across the country for end-of-year performances. It’s an exciting time of technical and artistic growth as dancers push themselves to meet their onstage goals.

It can also be a time of physical and mental stress and fatigue, which is why it’s important to have a performance preparation plan. If you are wondering what that is, it’s simple: a performance preparation plan is a plan of action for the weeks and days leading up to your performance.

Because your rehearsal days will be longer and longer, you will be more tired as you get closer to the performance, which means it’s unlikely you’ll have a lot of extra energy to focus on things like food preparation or research on ways to be more centered or relaxed. Instead, try getting some concrete resources together now, so that everything is ready for you when you need it.

Resources to Add to Your Performance Plan

  • Relaxation

Both the mind and the body react negatively to stress. Part of being fully prepared for a performance is having a plan to manage your stress levels. Most of us have things that calm us down, like listening to music or taking a hot bath. Many health professionals recommend mindful breathing as an incredibly effective tool for relieving stress. Click here for some breathing exercises that you might want to try.

Whatever your relaxation methods, try to have at least one you can do in less than 5 minutes in a public place, like the dressing room or the wings. While taking a hot bath is wonderful, it won’t help with your “5 minutes to onstage” nerves.

  • Sleep

Once the rehearsals start getting more intense, you may find that you are more tired than usual. Listen to your body. You may want to plan on getting an extra hour of sleep every night. If that involves some schedule shuffling, make time to figure that out. Come performance time, you want to feel well rested and energized.

  • Diet

The foods we eat have such a strong impact on our energy levels and ability to perform. Ironically, the closer we get to performance, the more we tend to eat on the run and slow down our own cooking. Don’t let this happen to you! Set up some meal plans for the next few weeks, including portable snack. Do one big shop when you get everything you’ll need.

Depending on how much you’re dancing, you may need to increase the amount of food you’re eating. If you’re feeling unusually fatigued, make sure you are eating protein+carb combos both before and after dancing. Some popular combos are apples+peanut butter, carrots+hummus, cottage cheese+fruit, beans+rice. Small amounts regularly throughout your dancing day will keep your body fueled for what’s coming up.

  • Water

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Dehydration leads to fatigue and lack of concentration. Make sure you are replenishing your water supply all day, especially in the morning when you wake up (before coffee or tea).

  • Performance particulars

Check your makeup, hairpins, pointe shoes, elastics, etc. now to be sure you have enough of what you’ll need for your performances. Have extra of anything crucial so you will not have to go out and buy it the week of the performance. Having all of those particulars ready to go will help your mind to relax so it can focus on more important things.

  • Positive Mantra

Don’t let fear of failure or self-doubt get in your way. Have a positive mantra handy that you can repeat to yourself while breathing mindfully. This simple tool can be incredibly effective for combating stage fright and calming your nerves. Scroll down to my last blog entry for more information.

If you can get these things in order, you are likely to approach performance season more relaxed, well-fueled and well-rested than usual. All of which sets you up for an optimal experience onstage.

Merde!

Feeling Rejected? Adopt a Mantra

I know you have been in a situation where you wanted something to happen and it didn’t. Maybe it was an audition for a summer program, or a role you really wanted, or getting into certain school. You practiced, you did your best, but you weren’t accepted. This happens to a lot of dance students. It happened to me a lot even as a professional.

Rejection can’t be avoided, but the important question is how do we deal with it?

There are a number of strategies to deal with rejection. Recently I found a new one that has been very helpful to me. It came from one of my teachers. She suggested that I adopt a positive mantra.

A positive mantra is a short phrase that you can say to yourself when you start to think negative thoughts about yourself or your abilities. Negative talk in your mind leads to all sorts of problems.  Briefly said, what you think is what you do. (See associated post for more.)

Remember, the mind is powerful. As an artist, it is crucial to stay positive. So, instead of going to a negative place, find a positive saying that speaks to you and make it your mantra.

Choosing a Mantra

In my case, my teacher’s words became my mantra. “There’s no rejection, there’s only selection.”

I like this mantra because it replaced rejection with selection. Just because we aren’t right for every role we’d like or for every school we select, that doesn’t mean that we’ve been rejected. It just means we haven’t been selected for that particular thing. And although that disappointment can be painful, other better opportunities will come along. They always do. So that mantra speaks to me.

Mantra for Stress Reduction

We can use mantras to calm our minds in times of stress, like during an audition or before a performance. Having a positive thought to focus on keeps us from getting distracted by fear or self-doubt.

Repeating it while practicing mindful breathing can also calm nerves. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, and out through your mouth while saying your mantra. The one I’ve started using lately is, “You’ve got this.”

Your mantra should be

  • Short
  • Positive
  • Make you feel better emotionally
  • Set your mind at ease

Does this post give you any ideas? Feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Considering Meditation? The Path is Curiosity

If you are considering, or have ever considered, meditation, then these wise words are for you. They are from Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, whose practical advice and unusual perspective are always spot on.

The path of meditation and the path of our lives altogether has to do with curiosity, inquisitiveness. The ground is ourselves; we’re here to study ourselves and to get to know ourselves now, not later. People often say to me, “I wanted to come and have an interview with you, I wanted to write you a letter, I wanted to call you on the phone, but I wanted to wait until I was more together.” And I think, “Well, if you’re anything like me, you could wait forever!”

So come as you are. The magic is being willing to open to that, being willing to be fully awake to that. One of the main discoveries of meditation is seeing how we continually run away from the present moment, how we avoid being here just as we are. That’s not considered to be a problem; the point is to see it.”   Pema Chodron.

Meditation is a tool, and learning to use it is like learning to use any tool: it takes time and it’s a process.

Pema’s quote tells us to start wherever you are; don’t wait until you’ve reached some “magic” place where you are perfectly poised to meditate. It will most likely never come, and then you would miss what meditation is for: it’s for day-to-day life; it’s for helping you get to a better place.

And the good news is, it doesn’t cost anything or take much time. 5-10 minutes a day of slow breathing while sitting still can make a huge difference in your stress levels (lowering them) and in your ability to focus (improving it).

For more information on Pema, check out her website. (Yes, even Buddhist nuns have websites!)

Eat More, Do More

Eat More, Do More

A dancer-friend of mine once told me that she wished someone had imparted this piece of wisdom to her when she was training: rather than eating less (as many dancers seem to do), and feeling that she had to conserve her energy and be careful about not overdoing it, wouldn’t it have made more sense to eat more and do more? Yes! In fact, that is the way to go. The question is, what to eat and do more of?

When most of us think about eating more, we often think this means eating everything. We hear “eat more” and think, “Yes! I AM going to have dessert after lunch…AND dinner! And throw in that bag of chips!”

That’s not what I mean though. What I mean is to eat more whole foods, more REAL foods: more greens and veggies, more whole grains, more fruits, more beans. As athletes, dancers need adequate fuel, and that fuel cannot be substandard in quality. If you were taking a road trip across the country, would you fill your car with the dirtiest, cheapest gas you could find? You could, but you wouldn’t get very far and your car would be in a sad state after a few hours.

It’s a crude metaphor, but the same is true for your dancing body: if you fill it with processed foods, sugar, simple carbs, and/or junk food, you’re not going to much out of it. Most dancers I have worked with tend to eat very little actual food. Instead, they exist on snack foods: pretzels, nuts, rice cakes- nibbles of finger food rather than the real deal. And they usually think that they have good energy and strength; they don’t even know what they’re missing. Once we get them on a diet of whole foods, there are some pretty exciting changes like increased energy and power reserves they never experienced before.

Once you have adequate fuel, you’ll know you can do more- you’ll feel stronger and more energetic. You’ll have the fuel for the cross training which is so critical to improving. (What kind of cross training to do depends on your body, what kind of dancing you’re doing, and previous injuries you’ve sustained. Check out this post from a few weeks ago about fitness and this link to a Dance Spirit article on cross training.)

You’ll also have energy to get through your day. It used to surprise me to hear young dancers talk about how tired they were all of the time- then I realized how little they were eating and it made perfect sense. Of course you slow down when there is no fuel in the system: your body is conserving energy. And with low/no fuel, your dancing suffers. But with a full tank of whole foods that is regularly replenished, your body will be capable of amazing things. How else do we explain marathon runners, mountain climbers, and cyclists? Are we saying that dancers aren’t capable of that level of exertion? I think not. I think most dancers can do a lot more than they think- the trouble is, without adequate fuel, you’ll never know what you’re capable of.

Dancer, Yes. Physically Fit? Maybe.

Dancer, Yes. Physically Fit? Maybe.

Don’t assume you are physically fit just because you’re a dancer. Find out! Schedule an appointment with an athletic trainer or physical therapist, explaining that you want to test your fitness and strength levels, as well as get some ideas for improvement.

Chances are, your endurance is not what it could be. That’s because most forms of dance are anaerobic; you will need to cross train in order to build your stamina. Also, depending on what kind of dance you do, some muscle groups get a lot of attention, while others are left alone; a fitness test can show you where you need work. Working even for 1 or 2 sessions with a trainer can open your eyes to the wide variety of activities that you could do to cross-train your body into better physical fitness. Strengthening of your overall fitness will help you in the dance studio in ways you probably don’t even know about; it can improve your…

  •  Agility: ability to change direction quickly and powerfully
  • Strength: how much force can you generate for a specific muscle group or movement
  • Coordination: from simple to complex movements, getting all your parts in the right place at the right time
  • Stamina: get your heart and lungs to keep up with the pace of your allegro
  • Muscular endurance: when your lungs feel great but your muscles give out or shake= lack of muscular endurance

If you haven’t cross-trained before or need some tips, Dance Spirit Magazine has a great article out this month: The Dos and Don’ts of Cross-training. Give it a peek, contact a trainer or PT, and then make a plan to improve your physical fitness. You will feel the difference, I promise.

Tell me how you’ve improved your physical fitness; did your dancing improve as a result?