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Sean Boutilier Academy of Dance
Psychological Benefits of Dance
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About the Author:

Tanya holds a PhD in Dance Studies from York University in Toronto and she is a graduate of Canada’s National Ballet School Teacher Training Program. In addition to teaching ballet in private dance studios, Tanya has taught at the University of Toronto in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education since 2003.

Practical Tips for Coping with Performance Anxiety
by Tanya Berg PhD
Posted on March 29, 2018

As a dancer, there are many stressors that can create performance anxiety. This anxiety usually comes from a dancer feeling out of control. In the book Dancer Wellness (2017), the chapter on physiological wellbeing explains that performance anxiety creates two categories of symptoms in the dancer. The dancer may experience cognitive anxiety, which means they are worried, or having negative thoughts, or the dancer might have somatic anxiety where they have physical symptoms like frequently using the washroom and shaky muscles.

What can dancers do to lessen or eliminate these reactions to performing? Psychologist Lynda Mainwaring and dance scientist Imogen Aujla suggest the following six tips:

1) Deep breathing will reduce the heart rate. Dancers can inhale deep into the belly counting to 5 and exhale counting to 6.

2) Dancers must always warm up the body to prepare for physical activity and stabilize the heart rate. Warm up should include gentle stretching, exercises that raise the pulse and mobilize the joints.

3) A strategy to reduce muscular tension is progressive muscular relaxation were the dancer tenses, holds and releases each muscle group starting at the feet and working their way up the body. This can be repeated three to five times.

4) To build self-confidence, a dancer can perform mental rehearsal where they run through the performance in their head, using all of their senses to make it as realistic and accurate as possible.

5) Dancers can use positive self-talk to reduce worry and negative thoughts and increase self-confidence. Dancers can repeat short motivating phrases (“you can turn well”) or instructional ideas (“remember to change arms on the kick”).

6) Establishing pre-performance routine reduces distraction for the dancer. Write a list of things to do before performance and repeat them in that order before each event.

In addition to these suggestions, dancers should be encouraged to find internal rewards that keep them motivated. Dance is a satisfying activity when the dancer feels that they are consistently accomplishing personal goals and milestones. These goals can include individual objectives, such as controlling pirouettes or adding an extra rotation to that pirouette, as well as social objectives such as supporting friends by changing partners each class to establish a social network. Communication between dancers and teachers as well as communication between dancers and parents can help support the dancer along this rewarding journey.

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