For dancers, dealing with nerves is an essential part of our job. Although a little bit of excitement and anticipation is good to increase adrenaline levels, stage fright is not a desirable experience. Personally, I experience more nerves for dress rehearsals than actual performances, especially when I’m doing a new role or a new ballet. It’s probably due to the fact that the artistic staff is ready to fire from the “God mic” (the overhead sound system that the artistic staff uses to yell at you about spacing during rehearsals at the theatre). When opening night comes around, thankfully I’ve exhausted most of my nervous energy on the dress rehearsal. Here are my secret weapons to calm my nerves backstage:
- Arrive with Plenty of Time. The last thing you want to deal with when you’re nervous is being in a time crunch. Being early is better than being late, so I always get to the theatre about two hours before a show if I know that I’m doing something that I’m not 100% comfortable with.
- Establish a Pre-Show Ritual. Ballet dancers are known for being superstitious. Most dancers that I know have a specific order in which they do things before a show. Be that a certain meal, or the order in which they get ready; it’s nice to have a pattern to follow. That way, you have something constant to rely on that is in your control. For me, I always get a latte before an evening show, brush my teeth at the 10-minute call, and rosin my heels, no matter what. What would happen if I didn’t do those things? I hope I never have to find out!
- Listen to a Relaxing Playlist. I always listen to music while I’m doing my makeup or warming up before a show. Sometimes I prefer to “get in the zone” as opposed to talking to my dressing roommates. Listening to music helps me relax and get focused. Whatever music you enjoy that’s familiar is ideal. (Sometimes I like to jam to gangster rap or heavy metal, which you wouldn’t really expect from a ballerina!)
- Makeup/Hair. I usually wash off all of my makeup and redo my hair after a matinee show even if I have to do it all over again for an evening performance. This is because doing my hair and makeup is an integral part of my pre-show routine. It relaxes me as well as helps me get ready to transform into a character for the show.
- Breathe. This seems self-explanatory, but it’s actually really difficult sometimes, especially if you’re feeling anxious. Meditation apps like “Headspace” are great for guiding you into a more relaxed state.
- Visualization. I don’t like to go over every step of the choreography before a show, but I definitely visualize what I will be doing when the curtain comes up. It sounds corny, but it really helps give you an extra boost of confidence. If you picture yourself killing it on stage, there’s a better chance that you will. Going from the studio to the stage can be jarring with all of the lights and the pitch black that you’re staring out at as opposed to a mirror. Before the show, I picture what it will feel like to be doing the steps and looking out into the dark audience. I pay close attention to sequences that are more challenging for me, and I visualize myself kicking butt!
- Don’t Participate in Negativity. Negative people are draining. Ballet companies are known for cattiness, and people naturally like to complain. If people are complaining or talking badly about someone else, it’s best to just remove yourself from that kind of energy before a show.
- Abs and Barre Exercises. I like fire up my core before getting into costume. Your abs are really what stabilizes every movement, so I just feel peace of mind if my abs are “awake.” I also like to do some simple barre exercises. Since barre is so familiar at this point, it’s just methodical and therapeutic.
- Nosh on a Dark Chocolate. This is probably my favorite way to calm my nerves. A square (about 1.4 ounces) can calm your nerves. Dark chocolate regulates levels of the stress hormone cortisol and stabilizes metabolism. Just in case you needed an excuse to eat more dark chocolate…