Many years ago, during my ballet career, I regularly performed at the Metropolitan Opera House with American Ballet Theater. Although most of my time was spent in the corps de ballet, I did have the opportunity to perform many solos. They were the outcome of years of study starting at the age of 8 and culminating in a professional career with an often punishing performing schedule. I danced full length ballets like Swan Lake and Giselle, repertoire pieces (3 or 4 per night) and I was always on stage.
I became accustomed to the routine of classes, rehearsals, applying makeup, donning costumes and making sure that my whole body was warmed up and ready to go on stage. This in order to deliver seamless movement quality, beauty and the illusion of creatures dancing effortlessly on their toes often in tutus. Here I am en pointe in a “La Bayadere” tutu.
But here’s the thing. I was never as nervous and frightened on the Met stage as I was in my first Rhythm competition. I felt the judges, judging me in my new and unfamiliar milieu. I didn’t know what came next – I had to follow Ilya’s lead. Everyone was so close and I missed the distance between the ‘audience’ and me.
And I signed up for this! Well, it is said “do what scares you”. I did, Big Time.
As it turns out the thing that you do when you are younger, at a receptive age sticks. It seemed so much more difficult, in my fifties to capture that familiarity and comfort in the ballroom. (Granted I did not have the benefit of the years of experience I had with ballet performance). But I became curious about the extreme nerves that accompanied my foray into ballroom dancing. It was the big F – FEAR. It is such a common emotion and I’ve found that without having to figure out the cause, it is much more productive to address the physical signs of fear.
My wonderful meditation teacher, Susan Morton recently talked about it, quoting Tara Brach as she addresses the physical aspects of fear and how to respond:
“If you can feel that tightness at the diaphragm—with full awareness, without trying to change it or put an end to it—it isn’t as disabling. If you can feel the tightness at the sphincter, it won’t move up into the torso. And if you can feel the sensation of fear before there is any tightening at all, you will see that it exists as a ball of energy in the pit of the stomach. It might be uncomfortable, but if you can stay with it, you will see it for what it is: just energy. The moment you become aware of it, it is your energy. You can use it”.
Learning how to recognize how the mind affects the body was an essential tenet of FM Alexander’s discovery. When I reminded myself that recognizing the moment for what it was and applying tools to calm the physical manifestations of fear, I was able to move towards enjoyment. I’m still dancing after 12 years. I still get nervous but when I use the tools I already have I can work with it and the fear does not overtake me.
If you don’t have a bit of nerves before performance, that’s great! But maybe you have other fears that you would like to explore. Fear is fear and it is physical. I can help you with that.
I’ll get back to my “10 Steps….. next week. Until then, Happy Dancing! If you know other dancers who may benefit from these tips, please forward.