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It’s Never Too Late to Change Direction

Dancers put a lot of time, energy and passion into their dancing. That dedication often spills over into other areas of our lives: we approach many other things in life with that same spirit of staying the course, without a thought to the direction we’re going.

When we’ve put so much on the line, it can be difficult to admit to ourselves, or others, that we are heading in the wrong direction. Our commitment is so complete, that there is little space for doubt or re-evaluation. When we do see the problem, a stubbornness can set in that says, “I came this far; I can’t turn back now.”

Personally

I had an experience like this while dancing professionally. While I had a natural facility for ballet and the technique often looked right on my body, it wasn’t always coming from a place of understanding. A good example was my alignment in allegro: when I was moving quickly, my knees were rarely over my toes, so that when I landed from jumps, I was often rolling in on my ankles and twisting my knees. It was very slight, but I knew it was happening.

Sometimes, the ballet master would point it out. I remember thinking on many occasions that I should really do something about that, but it seemed daunting. How was I going to slow down long enough to fix the alignment in my lower legs? Where would I begin?

In my mind, I had missed the window for fixing old problems – now I was a professional and had to keep moving forward. I told myself, “I can’t regress now, I’ve come too far.”

It wasn’t until I got a stress fracture that I understood the full effect of my stubbornness. I had been going further and further down a wrong road, and refused to admit it. Had I taken the time to investigate my alignment with a PT or a teacher, I might not have given myself the fracture.

“No matter how far you have gone on a wrong road, turn around.”

I’m sharing this little phrase with you as a reminder that we have never gone so far in the wrong direction that we can’t turn around. We can always choose to take a new direction in our training, our habits, and our thinking.

Also, moving in the wrong direction has consequences: it takes us further from our goals. In some cases, like mine, our goals are brought to a standstill for a while. So, even if turning around feels like a setback, face that with the same determination you have in your dancing. Slowing down in order to reorient yourself in the right direction is well worth the effort.

Mindful Breathing Relieves Performance Anxiety

Those of you who have taken a yoga class or meditated know the positive effects of mindful breathing. An article in the Pacific Standard Magazine confirms those effects, reporting on a recent study out of the University of Sydney. The study shows that 30 minutes of mindful breath before performance steadies the heart rate and calms down the nervous system.

The Study

Psychologists Andrew Kemp and Ruth Wells lead a research team that experimented on a group of 46 musicians and singers. After being hooked up to a device that measured changes in their heart rates, the musicians were asked to perform a difficult piece and their heart rates and anxiety levels were measured.

Then, the musicians were divided into three groups.

  • The first group performed a slow, deliberate breathing exercise for 30 minutes
  • The second group did the same and stayed hooked up to the device to see the results of their breathing
  • The third group just relaxed on their own without special breathing instructions.

The musicians then performed a second, equally difficult piece of music.

The Results

The results showed that the musicians who felt anxious during the first performance experienced lower anxiety after doing the breathing exercises- much lower than those who simple relaxed.

The researchers suggest that slow, mindful breathing helped the musicians regulate their physiological stress levels. That is, it helped regulate their shaking hands, sweating palms, and butterflies in the stomach – all physical traits of anxiety.

It seems that emphasizing the exhale during slow breathing also helps. Our heart rate can increase with inhalation, and decrease with exhalation. So focusing on a long, slow exhale helps decrease the heart rate and thus lowers the amount of anxiety that we feel before a performance.

The Takeaway

So, remember those breathing exercises you learned in yoga or wellness class? Start using them! They are an easy, effective way to calm the mind and the body before class, rehearsal, auditions, and of course, performance. Remember that it takes a little time to master, so start practicing now to become a master by the time you really need it.

 

Experimentation Can Free You Up

And it won’t be as hard as this…I promise!

Creatures of Habit

Dancers tend to be fearful of experimentation and strong creatures of habit: we eat the same foods, go through the same warm-up rituals every day, and gravitate towards the same routines. In some ways, these habits help us stay grounded and keep our bodies happy and our minds calm.

In other ways, the habits we adopt can limit our ability to move forward to discover better routines and solutions. I know that when I was dancing my routines came both from a sense of ritual that kept me focused and calm. They also came from a sense of fear: if I changed my routine, would I be able to perform to the same high level?

Often, I was not courageous enough to experiment because of that fear. And yet, experimentation is so valuable, and such an important part of the artistic process.

Routine: Mix It Up

As we start up another school year, I encourage you to take a look at your routines and habits. Ask yourself what is really working and what might benefit from some new input. Be honest with yourself. Then, try something new- experiment.

Tired of your diet?

Maybe you’ll undertake a physical experiment by changing up your diet.

  • Try adding vegetables you don’t usually eat
  • Add a whole grain breakfast to your routine
  • Try a new snack and see if it helps with your energy and focus.

Tired of mind games?

Maybe you’ll undertake an intellectual experiment. Think about something in a new way.

  • How do you handle corrections? If you usually get upset or frustrated, try forcing yourself to remain calm and even smile.
  •  How do you work with your image in the mirror? Try not looking at all, or looking only at port de bras, if you’re a feet and legs person.
  • How do you react to the energy around you? If you are usually pulled into the gossip or drama of the moment, try experimenting with the opposite. Have a plan for responding to situations that bring you down. On the other hand, if you rely on other people’s energy or teacher input in order to dance well, try looking inside yourself instead for motivation.

Nothing is Permanent

The good news is that nothing is permanent! Your experiment will open you up to something new: if you like it, great. If not, you can try something else until you find the result you are looking for.

And remember that in order to grow creatively and artistically, we can’t be afraid to be wrong. Instead we must embrace experimentation with a courageous spirit and see where it takes us.

Criticism: How to Handle it Gracefully

One of the challenges of training in the performing arts is staying positive in the face of a lot of criticism. I was reminded of this the other day when I had the opportunity to observe a master class at the U.S. Performing Arts Camp here in NYC. (I’m teaching a master class there next week on Mental Fitness!)

I watched a group of musical theater students sing their audition pieces for a Broadway performer who gave them feedback to improve their performance. It was just amazing to see these teenagers get up and sing their hearts out, and then listen to the feedback and try it over all again.

I was reminded of the courage that it takes, not only to put yourself front and center and perform (which to most people, is a positively terrifying idea), but to submit to immediate criticism. Even feedback delivered in a nice way, as it was that day, can be hard to take. There are days when the slightest tinge of criticism can send us reeling emotionally.

But how should we handle feedback that isn’t delivered positively?

How do we handle negativity when it comes from the teacher?

This is a very complicated issue, so let’s just dive into one part at a time.

How’s Your Self-Talk?

The first and most important thing to consider is how you communicate with yourself. Your attitude colors how you hear feedback. If you tend to be very self-critical, then you are more likely to hear feedback as negative, even when it isn’t.

Conversely, if you tend to be positive and constructive with yourself, you are more likely to be able to take criticism in a constructive way.

Make it Not-Personal

It’s also important to take a step away from the personal when receiving feedback. This is Very Hard to do. After all, performers are the instrument: when you sing or act, it’s you; when you dance, it’s you; when you play, it’s still you even though there’s an external instrument.  We all connect so deeply to what we do as performers that we often feel we are inseparable from what we’re doing. While that’s natural, it’s also important to start developing the ability to distance yourself from your art form so that you can accept criticism in an objective way. This means understanding that criticism is about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, not about who you are as a person.

My Story

To that end, I’d like to share a story from my training with you. When I was sixteen, I started studying dance at UNCSA, and my main teacher was Melissa Hayden, a former Balanchine ballerina. I spent my first year of training with Milly in shock: I had always had kind teachers – they couched their corrections in positive language and gave as much praise as criticism.

Milly was different. She used language that was harsh, she was dismissive, she was impatient, and she did not like to have to repeat herself.

That first year I cried a lot- I had difficulty understanding her corrections, so it probably seemed to her like I wasn’t even trying to do them. I became unsure of myself and wondered if I was good enough to be a dancer. Her criticism felt very personal to me. It was impossible for me to listen to a correction without feeling like she hated me and my dancing.

But then, during my second year with her, something clicked. In part, I became more comfortable taking corrections from teachers whose styles were different from what I was used to. I also got a thicker skin and started distancing my emotions from the corrections. I worked hard not to take them personally.

The Whole You

How do you develop that distance? We’ll tackle that in another blog post.

For now, just start thinking about all of the parts of you that make up who you are: your mind, your heart, your body, your brain, your interests and passions, your family, friends, relatives, pets. You are a lot more than your art form, and thank goodness for that!

The criticism you get from your teachers and coaches is not directed at you as a person, but at what you’re doing as an artist and a student of a performing art. Sometimes, just telling yourself that is enough to create the distance I’m talking about.

Teachers Are People Too

I also realized that it wasn’t out of malice that Milly lost her temper, but out of frustration at not being able to make me see what she wanted. I realized that she had trouble saying what she wanted with words, and because she was no longer able to demonstrate, she couldn’t show me what she wanted either.

I started to have compassion for her situation and I made it my responsibility to figure out what she was getting at. This was a subtle shift in how I approached working with her, and it made all the difference. I was no longer a victim of someone whose commands made no sense to me. Instead, I was actively trying to find the gems in what she was saying.

Because I became curious, instead of frustrated, I was calmer and more in control of myself. Because of that, she saw that I was really listening. It calmed both of us down.

In Closing

I mention this story because in the performing arts, you rarely get to choose who you work with. Some coaches are incredibly gifted at communicating what they want, and others are not. You still want to learn and grow, so how that happens is really up to you.

There may be people with whom you really can’t find common ground- that does happen. But for the most part, teachers and coaches want to get the best work out of you, so if they deliver their message in a less than positive way, see if you can interpret it in a way that works better for you.

Ask yourself if you’re taking things too personally, and try listening for the gems in their criticism. If it makes any difference, let me know. Like I said, Big Topic- so we’ll come back to this again in future posts!

 

 

Positive Feedback Loop: Make Your Own

In my post on using video as a feedback tool for improving, I mentioned that the hardest part of that exercise is not becoming completely negative while watching yourself on video.

I promised to come back to this topic because how we feel about our own image either in the mirror or on video gives us some useful information.

The Role of Corrections

For starters, from the earliest days in the classroom, dancers seek out corrections from their teachers in part because corrections are a form of attention.

If you look at other fields of study, being corrected is not necessarily a good thing- it means you’re doing something wrong. But in dance, we seek out that feedback. It is not unusual to hope for attention in the form of criticism, and it informs how we interact with our image.

When most of us look in the mirror, we look with a critical eye, we focus on finding problems and fixing them. This means that we don’t often see the whole picture: we miss the parts that are going well. But dancers are loathe to see the good stuff. Students have asked me, how it is possible to improve and not lower our standards if we are “wasting time” noticing what looks good, instead of “working hard to improve”? Good question.

Positive Feedback Loop

First, noticing what looks good creates a positive feedback loop. When your teacher or friends compliment you, it feels good, right? It doesn’t feel like a waste of time, does it? Of course not! We all love to hear what’s going well. It lifts our spirits and makes us feel fantastic. Those good feelings help us to approach our work in a more positive way. That’s a positive feedback loop.

You are already engaging in something similar when you use the mirror. When you correct a problem, do you notice later that it’s better? Of course you do! That’s how you know to move on and look for something else to fix.

But most of us gloss over the improvement, and move right away to the next problem. This is a missed opportunity. We should pay as much attention to what we’ve fixed as we do to what’s wrong. It builds self-esteem in part because it’s proof that you are improving.

Cultivate Your Own Loop

We all need positive feedback- it helps us grow and improve. But it is unreasonable to expect all of that feedback to come from your teachers because they have the entire class to monitor. You can start cultivating your own positive feedback loop by noticing what’s going well, and allowing yourself to feel good about it. This is an active position, one in which YOU take action, rather than waiting for external feedback.

I would guess that some of you are wondering if this exercise will give you a big ego or cause you to stop working hard. That is highly unlikely in part because dance tends to attract individuals who are driven and ambitious. It’s unlikely that paying attention to the good stuff is going to diminish your drive or suddenly eradicate your well-trained critical eye. Instead, it’s likely that you will start feeling more  emotionally balanced and supported.

Give it a try and see how it goes. You may run into a few things that get in the way:

  • Your body.

All dancers have some part of their body that they wish were different, from the feet to the ears. You may have a hang-up about a body part, and every time you see yourself, all you see is that part you don’t like.

This is a complex problem, but to keep it simple, try this: make peace with yourself. If you want to dance happily, you need to make peace with your body, both its good and “bad” parts. This doesn’t mean you have to ignore them, or stop working on them, but instead, they need to stop being obstacles to your positive feedback loop.

This is so important, I’m going to say it again. You must make peace with the parts of your body that aren’t the way you want them to be in order to move forward with your training and improve.

  • Your self-talk.

It is common among high achievers to engage in what is called negative self-talk. Self-talk is the words or thoughts that you have in your mind when you dance or see yourself. You might see an unpointed foot and say, “Come on, point!!” or “That foot always looks so bad.”

Over time, these negative messages accumulate in your brain and affect the way that you work. Negative self-talk is a major impediment to your positive feedback loop, so it’s a good idea to start noticing if you do it.

Ask Yourself Some Questions

To wrap up, in order to create a positive feedback loop, you’ll want to look at the two issues raised here and ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do I have a stumbling block in my own body? Is there something that I don’t like that I always focus on or look at?
  • When I see that body part, what thoughts go through my mind?
  • When I make a mistake, what goes though my mind?
  • What kind of language do I use with myself when I am working in class?

It’s a good idea to write down the answers, especially the words that you use in your head. Once you do this for a few days, you will be able to see a pattern.

If it’s not positive, try to start incorporating some positive feedback into your day. Every time you spot a “negative” in the mirror/video, also find a positive and really enjoy it. If you find that you use a lot of negative language with yourself, try incorporating some positive phrases in and see how it feels.

Research in performance and sport psychology has shown that positive self-talk and feedback improves performance by a huge margin. Why not give it a try? Let me know how it goes!

Comparisons Done Right: Summer Study

Comparisons…like apples and oranges.

Summer intensives offer so many opportunities for growth and learning. If you go away to another school, the experience is also an opportunity to see how you measure up against other students.

My first few summers away were full of observation. I remember being in awe of some students, watching them almost obsessively and trying to imitate their technical and artistic bravura. There was always this period of intense watching before I could shift my focus back into my own body.

Overall, observation and imitation helped me pick up little things that I hadn’t been exposed to before, like stylistic flourishes and different qualities of movement. And as I got older, I continued to observe other dancers and “steal”** from them, but it occupied a lot less of my energy because my work became more about my own needs.

Comparisons Done the Right Way

I am a proponent of observing fellow dancers in your classes and learning from them. But in my experience, many students approach this exercise in a negative way, comparing themselves and coming to conclusions about how “bad” they are, and how good everyone else is. If this sounds familiar, or if you think that you might be spending too much time looking outside yourself instead of inside, ask yourself some of these questions:

  •  How much time do I spend during barre and centre looking at someone other than myself?
  • What thoughts are going through my head when I look at other dancers?
  • Are my thoughts positive and constructive?
  • Are my thoughts negative and critical?
  • Am I making comparisons between those dancers and myself?
  • What is the nature of those comparisons?
  • Am I ultimately learning anything by looking at other students in my class?
  • Am I improving by using the information I’m getting from observation?

If you find that you are spending more time looking at other people than working on your own stuff, you might want to ask yourself why that is. Are you hiding from yourself? Or are you just very distracted?

It is really only useful to observe others up to a certain point, after which, your work really needs to be about you.

If, on the other hand, you are using observation as a tool to improve your dancing, and it isn’t interfering with your own concentration, then you’ve probably found a good balance.

Framing Comparisons

Think of comparisons as opportunities to learn or “steal” something, rather than a measure for how you fall short or don’t measure up. That is, “I really like how she scoops up her foot in coup de pied as she’s doing a developé…I’m going to try to do that.”

That’s much more helpful than, “The way she articulates her feet is amazing; there’s no way I can do that.”

Framing your observations in terms of what you can learn changes the reason for looking, as well as the impact- and it makes observation worthwhile rather than upsetting or damaging to your sense of self.

 

** The art of the steal: A teacher of mine once told me that all artists “steal” from each other. Musicians imitate their predecessors, painters mimic their teachers, and of course, dancers do as well. “Stealing” is when you see someone do something in a way that moves you, or makes sense to you- it can be technical or artistic- and then you imitate it. Most of us do this instinctively without even thinking about it, because the training model encourages it. We watch our teachers and we mimic their way of moving. I always found this to be one of the great reasons to watch other dancers closely.

 


Video: Tool or Weapon? You Decide.

Now that we’ve talked about the mirror, a tool that is often misused, I want to turn for a minute to video.

Most of us have seen ourselves on video at one point and may have been disappointed by what we saw. Often the reason for that is that what we see recorded is not what we felt when we were performing. Why is that? I’m not exactly sure, but I can tell you two things.

First, no video can capture the thrill of live performance. What you felt onstage is real and it’s yours to keep.

Second, no performing artists are happy with recordings of their work. Try asking musicians how they feel about the recording of their latest performance. They will point out all the errors. Same thing with actors and singers. So you are not alone in feeling that what happened on stage and what you can see in the video are not equal. That said, video can be a great tool for improvement, which is what I want to talk about.

Video as Weapon

Using video as a weapon is a dramatic way of saying that you use it to tear apart your dancing and/or yourself. Focusing all of your attention on what you don’t do well and feeling terrible about it, is truly a missed opportunity (not to mention a very bad habit to get into).

Video as Tool

Instead, think of video as a tool through which you can learn more about your dancing. Try this experiment.

  • First watch the recording and allow yourself to experience whatever emotions you feel.

It’s okay if you aren’t 100% happy with what you see. Take a little time away from the video if that’s the case, so that you can process those feelings. Take a whole day if you need it. Then take a deep breath, and…

  • Watch the video again, this time noticing what looks good.

Imagine you’re watching a close friend of yours and you want to compliment him/her on the video. (Go ahead. You’re the only one listening.) It’s important to train your eye to see both the positives and the negatives. Seeing only one or the other is not being realistic, and will make it hard to use the video as a tool for improvement.

  • Now, rewind and watch the video a third time with a notebook handy.

This time, focus on what you see without any judgment. Try not to criticize or compliment yourself while watching. Instead, pretend you are watching that close friend of yours again and you are taking notes to help this person improve. Use positive, constructive words to correct yourself, like “place arabesque behind you” rather than “arabesque is all wonky.”

  • Use your corrections on yourself when you practice.

Now that you know what needs work, start to apply it. Be kind to yourself, and remember that muscle memory is stronger than your brain, so it will take time to “reprogram” your muscles. Just stick with it, and try to get your muscles to comply.

  • Videotape yourself again doing the same piece/variation.

Some of the changes you make might feel simple, but remember that your muscle memory may revert to the old way out of habit.  It can be helpful to video yourself more than once to see if you are applying the corrections you spotted. Don’t worry if you aren’t and don’t beat yourself up about it. This process of seeing, correcting, and trying again is part of becoming a better performer and it requires patience.

If you can do this, if you can watch yourself on video, note your strengths as well as your weaknesses, take notes and then apply them to your dancing, then you will be using video in a smart, sophisticated way that will help you improve.

The hardest part of the entire exercise is not becoming completely negative while watching yourself, so please try to avoid that trap! I will address that issue in my next post so stay tuned…

If you try the experiment, let me know how it went! What did you notice or learn?

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall: Part II

So you have discovered that you use the mirror as a crutch. Now what do you do? Here are a few things to try: **

  • Change barre placement: stand where you can’t see yourself.
  • Change centre placement: stand in the back, or on the side where your full image is not visible.
  • Try doing normal, non-dance things without a mirror. If you practice yoga or go to the gym, don’t look in the mirror. Try to feel and sense things instead.

This will all feel weird. Don’t worry and don’t give up. You are highly adaptable and in a few days, it will feel normal. Think about how the first rehearsal on stage feels so strange, but then, within a few run-throughs, it starts to feel better.

My Story

It wasn’t until I got injured that I changed my relationship with the mirror. I learned that when I was forced to face the wall, I lost a lot of my turnout and placement. I also learned that my alignment when jumping was slightly off, which I couldn’t see very well during en face allegro. The physical therapist I worked with at the Boston Ballet helped re-orient me in the studio so that I was looking inside of myself for my alignment and balance, not in the mirror.

I started taking barre a few days a week without looking at myself. I learned to place myself in the centre off to the side, behind the piano, so that I would be forced to dance without seeing my image. It was hard!

At first it was so disorienting to not get the immediate feedback I was used to. I couldn’t see how good or bad things looked so I didn’t know what to work on. Instead, I had to focus on what it felt like in my body. And you know what? I adapted. My body and mind adapted. I learned how to look inside for my center and how to feel my technique. I didn’t have to see it to believe it.

This was an important lesson that I learned much too late.

Doing these little experiments can help you understand whether you base your feelings about yourself, your body or your dancing on what you SEE in the mirror or what you FEEL in your body. This is an important distinction, but most of us can’t feel it because we’re so distracted by what we see.

Try this out and then tell me: What did you learn? Did anything surprise you?

 

** NOTE: If you are like many dancers, you have a certain way of doing thing. You like “your spot” at the barre; you have a special way you like to stand so that you can see yourself just so. Which means, of course, that you may not want to experiment with standing somewhere else. But if you’ve noticed that you use the mirror as a crutch, then do try some of the experiments. I promise you, you will learn a lot about your dancing and discomfort is often the first sign of growth. Don’t be afraid to try something new!

Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall: Part I

Mirror as Crutch

As dancers, we are trained to work in front of a mirror. For as many as eight hours a day, we scrutinize every inch of our bodies from our fingertips to our toes, searching for…what? Are we using the mirror to scrutinize our dancing or are we getting distracted?

I was taught that the mirror was a tool and that by looking, I would become more self-sufficient at spotting and correcting my errors of alignment, line, and technique. In fact, when I was training, I used my reflection constantly to correct myself and it was helpful.

However, at some point in my training, the power dynamic shifted and the mirror came out on top. When I couldn’t see my reflection, my technique suffered. When my image was blocked by another dancer, I didn’t feel my feet or my extensions in the same way. I became reliant on my reflection to dance well. It stopped being a tool and became a crutch.

How Does It Happen?

In my experience, this is something that happens to most dancers at some point.  We often have trouble feeling things like where an arabesque is (90 degrees? 110 degrees?) or whether our feet are pointing in petite allegro, so we look at our reflection to see what’s going on.

Find Out Where You Stand

If any of this sounds familiar, then try this little experiment over the summer. Start by asking yourself some questions:

  1. If I am having a good class- I’m on my leg, I feel centered and balanced- does that change if I stop looking in the mirror?
  2. Does my image of my body or technique get better or worse when I see myself?
  3. When I see my image in a distorted mirror (the so-called “fat” mirror), does this change how I feel about myself or my dancing?
  4. When my reflection is “taken away” or covered, do I panic? Do I lose my center and my bearings? If so, how long does it take for me to get re-oriented?
  5. How much time do I spend correcting errors vs. noticing other things about myself (hair, make-up, leotard, etc) or other dancers?

Your answers to these questions may indicate that it’s time to start thinking about how to change your relationship with the mirror. It will take some time, but will be well worth the effort. You’ll dance in a more organic way if your movement comes from what you feel in your body, rather than what you see with your eyes.

Answer the above questions and tell me what you’ve learned. I’d love to hear from you. Next time, we’ll talk about ways to start changing how you work with your own image.

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!