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Audition Prep: Familiarity and Routine

“Last time I auditioned, I was up till midnight printing out my resume. I had totally forgotten to do it earlier.”

* * *

“Last year, I didn’t wear my usual class skirt to one audition and it completely threw me off.”

 

I’ve already started talking about how auditions can be scary, unpredictable experiences – see here– which upset your normal schedule and mindset. Your brain likes routine; it enjoys being able to predict what’s coming up. When it gets jostled by sudden last-minute changes, your brain can either get pumped at the challenge or totally freak out. Hopefully you know yourself well enough to know which camp you fall into. Either way, you can reduce anxiety by making the audition process as familiar as possible, before the actual audition.

What does that mean?

Stress and anxiety are born from many things, but some last-minute, unexpected changes to routine can be anticipated and controlled by you. For example, take the second quote and imagine this is you. Every day, all year round, you wear a similar outfit for class: a leotard and a skirt. You are used to seeing your reflection in the mirror with a skirt on. While it might seem like a minor detail to a non-dancer, dancers know that altering your own reflection can be as disorienting as dancing without a mirror. For the dancer quoted above, it proved to be a major distraction for the duration of the audition.

Distraction = lack of focus = stress and anxiety. 

The solution is simple: start dressing now the way you will dress for your next audition. If you never wear pink tights, but know you’ll have to for auditions, then start as soon as possible; get used to the reflection of yourself you’re about to see in the audition. It’s one less distraction and one less source of possible stress.

Another upset to your routine is the extras that come with auditioning: maybe you’ll have an extra long commute to the audition, or need to pack extra food; you’ll definitely need things like resumes, cover letters, and pointe shoes that are ready to go. Leaving these details until the last minute and then not expecting them to stress you out is a little crazy. (See first quote, above.)

So start planning now. If you’ll need extra snacks, figure out what and plan to shop ahead of time. If you don’t have a printer (or even if you do), get those final drafts written and printed at least two days before the audition. The sooner it’s done, the calmer your brain will be, and the less it will weigh on you.

Familiarity + routine = calmer, happier brain = calmer, happier you. 

Good luck to everyone auditioning this weekend!

Grace Under Stress: Your Average Dancer

 

A diamond is just a piece of charcoal that handled stress exceptionally well. 

Among the many things dancers are gifted at, hiding stress is one of them. How many times have you been nervous or scared, and someone has said to you afterwards that you looked relaxed and nonplussed? This still happens to me now, years after my dance career ended, and I attribute it to my dance training.

Unlike athletes, dancers can’t show exertion or pain on their faces. Remember the Olympics last summer? The fierce determination, the anguish in the faces of the athletes- it really struck me that as an observer, I could almost read their minds because of how much showed on their faces.

Dance isn’t like that: dancers are trained to minimize natural expressions of pain or exertion so that they do not distract the audience from the art form. Keeping stress under the radar does not, however, mean that dancers handle it effectively. I have found that most dancers either ignore their stress, hoping it will go away on its own, or they are completely consumed by it.

Here are some tips for dealing with your stress so that you can respond like the diamond pictures above: clear-minded and beautiful!

  1. First, start paying attention to it: how does it manifest in your body? (i.e. no appetite, shaking, extremely tense muscles, dry mouth?) How does it manifest in your mind? (i.e. replaying mistakes in your head, self-criticism, obsessively checking things like your hair or your text messages?) Often, just noticing what is happening to us is a strong step towards managing the stress and preventing it in the future.
  2. Don’t wait until you’re stressed to practice self-care. Think of one thing that calms you down when you feel stressed, and add it to your daily routine to stop stress before it starts.
  3. Breathe. Deep, mindful breathing has been shown to lower the heart rate and slow down the release of stress hormones. Try counting your inhales and exhales, “inhale 1, exhale 2; inhale 3, exhale 4.” Count up to 10, and then start over. Doing this 2-3 times should help you feel calmer and more in control.

Understand that everyone experiences anxiety and those who come out the other end looking shiny and bright probably spent some time “in the wings” dealing with it. So, the real secret to handling stress is to not keep it a secret: acknowledge that you will have stress at some point, and make a plan to deal with it that involves prevention as well as treating the symptoms.

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.

Centered vs. Uncentered: Where Are You?

Centered vs. Uncentered

Yoga and meditation practitioners say that the body is controlled by the mind and the mind, in turn, is controlled by the breath. When mind and body are in tune with each other through the breath, we can consider ourselves to be “centered.”

When the body is out of control and we can’t settle ourselves down, we would consider ourselves to be “not centered.” This can happen before or during an audition, when sweating and shaking can become uncontrollable.

It can also happen to the mind. Instead of thinking about how well you will perform, your mind is going through the list of everything you’ll probably mess up. In either of these uncentered situations, we don’t do our best work.

When we think about being centered, or achieving our center, we can go back to the first line of the post: the body is controlled by the mind, and the mind is controlled by the breath. This is where we want to be: in a calm body, with a calm mind, breathing easily.

So, are you centered?

If you are like a lot people, you are an energetic multi-tasker. You do five or six things at once, shifting from your smart phone to the computer, to the TV, homework, and rehearsal flawlessly. You might even be stretching while you do all of that.

Although a useful skill in many ways, multi-tasking is, by definition, not allowing the mind to focus on one thing. If the mind is unfocused, it can be difficult to feel centered.

In some ways, this state of hyper-activity makes us feel accomplished. We can get so much done in a single morning or day! But the question today is, do we feel centered enough to do our best work?

To find out, answer these questions:

  • When you want to focus on a single task, are you able to turn down the chatter in your mind and achieve total focus?
  • How long can you remain in that state before your mind starts to activate or wander to other things?
  • When you set a goal for yourself, can you accomplish it in the time you set aside for it?
  • How often do you get distracted in the middle or before it’s done?
  • Can you think of a time when you wanted to do good work, but your mind or body’s nervousness or anxiety got in the way?

The first step in getting centered is recognizing that you aren’t. Don’t worry if you’ve just realized that you are easily distracted – most people are! It’s actually very normal and natural.

Controlling our minds and bodies is a sophisticated skill that few people have mastered, mostly because they haven’t tried. Stay tuned to the next few posts where I will give you some tips to getting centered.