Surviving Stage Fright

by Jasmin Jahal, March 2000 (back)


Almost every performing artist has had the not-so-wonderful experience of dealing with stage fright. When preparing for a show, you work a lot on your physical movement and don’t always consider the mental conditioning that is necessary for successful stage presence. The mere thought of being on state with critical eyes watching can bring fear into your heart. The more important the show, the greater the potential stage fright.

Stage fright manifests itself in numerous ways. You might get the Shakes and Quakes, where your hands tremble, your heart flutters and your facial nerves twitch. You might get King Tut’s Revenge, with a sour stomach and/or diarrhea. Maybe you’ll get a taste of Salome’s Syndrome, where you wish you could cut off your head because of a splitting migraine, and your memory frequently blanks out so you cannot recall the choreography you worked so hard to learn. Or perhaps you feel like you’re having a bout of PMS (Pretty Mean Stuff), feeling extremely irritable and taking it out on everyone around you. One or all of these symptoms indicates a case of stage fright. It will last at least until you complete your performance, and then it might still take time to get completely out of your system.

What to do about stage fright? Well, first of all, don’t ignore it. Besides hurting physically, it can ruin your performance! There are things you can do before your show to diminish stage fright.

Stage fright comes from within your won mind, particularly if you are new to the performance arena. Self-confidence is a key element to calming stage fright. The more you perform, the greater your self-confidence. Until you have several successful shows under your belt, one of the best things you can do is Practice, Practice, Practice! Be dedicated to your art. Learn as much as you can and practice at home, not just in class. Listen to the music you selected for the program until you truly know every nuance. Practice your routine until it feels like you could dance it blindfolded.

Speaking of the image of being blindfolded, it is a great exercise to close your eyes and visualize your show, visualize your success. Nothing is more powerful than to firmly plant in your mind the positive result you wish to experience.

Planning ahead will also help to calm your nerves. Pack everything you need early, including your costume, a cover-up, business cards, your music, a back-up copy of the music, make-up, toiletries, a towel and items to clean up with afterward. If you are prone to King Tut’s Revenge include Pepto-Bismol or Imodium AD. Salome’s Syndrome requires some version of aspirin. The Shakes & Quakes could be managed by chewing gum. And as for PMS, try to be silly and laugh! Laughter is a great tension reducer.

I don’t recommend that you get into the habit of drinking or taking valium or other drugs before a show. No matter how bad the stage fright, you are completely self-defeating if you resort to drugs or alcohol. The whole point of dancing is to get in touch with your inner self, not to make your inner self so high you can’t feel anything!

Arrive a little early to the show so that you have time to scope out the place, especially the stage. If there is a band, introduce yourself to them to break the ice and begin to feel a connection to them. If you are dancing to recorded music, see if you can do a sound check and make sure the person running the sound equipment understands how you want to do your show (i.e., when you enter and exit, which cuts to use on a CD, etc.).

Just before you go on stage, take a few minutes alone for yourself, shutting out all the noise around you. Center yourself, seeking inner peace, or at least as much inner peace as possible. Take deep breaths and tell yourself that you will be great.

Choose to view every performance as a chance to learn and grow. Yes, mistakes will happen, but you’ll survive. Don’t focus on the negative. With every experience, good or bad, you will become a better dancer.

Ultimately, bear in mind that even a very seasoned performer will still feel some degree of stage fright, even if it is just a strong pounding of her heart, because she cares. She cares about doing a good job. She cares about being a talented performer and pleasing her audience. Above all, she cares about pleasing herself in an art form that promotes self-expression. Next time you feel stage fright, smile. You are connecting with every other artist in the world!

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©2000 Jasmin Jahal