Imagine your hands shaking, your legs feeling weak, and your heart racing… only to have to then try to dance!
People experience nervousness at different levels. At the lower levels it might be considered excitement; at the higher levels it’s almost traumatizing. I’ve dealt with all levels of nervousness, including the most extreme: after my one of my competitions in which I danced pro-am as an amateur, I had a mini heart attack in the corner! Since then, I’ve explored many different ways to address nervousness because–let’s be honest–when you’re shaking, your legs feel like jelly, and you’re in your head so much it’s hard to focus, you’re not going to dance your best, nor are you going to have a very enjoyable experience.
It’s commonly accepted that everyone gets nervous, and conventional advice is that you just have to desensitize yourself to it (i.e. be uncomfortable over and over again with no clear end in sight), or: “Here, take a shot.” When people say things like, “Everyone gets nervous,” it implies that they didn’t find a solution and suffered through things and that so should you.
I don’t think anyone has to be any more nervous than they want to and are okay with being. I’ve tried several different ways to address nervousness and wanted share one of the most effective ones for me–having an intention.
I’ve found having an intention accomplishes many things at once. It removes sources of nervousness and replaces them with things that give you confidence and put you in a more resourceful state. When getting nervous about performing, I would frequently find that one cause of my nerves was that I was afraid of letting people down or disappointing them. As a source of nervousness, I knew this wasn’t logical, but it was still affecting me. To address this, I chose an intention that replaced the nervousness with a purpose that inspired me.
Several intentions I’ve always used are: this is who I am (a dancer, a performer), this is what I do (make a difference, inspire, contribute, do the best I can in the moment), or this is what I came for (to do this routine, to give it as a gift). I would say each intention several time before competing. This always reassured me that I was doing something for myself and also for others. It also assured me that everyone was rooting for my success, and that I was about give something to everyone.
Stating an intention has the benefit of shifting your thought to a more empowering perspective as well as relaxing you, and giving you more confidence. It’s easy to choose intentions, but I’ve developed several guidelines. You want intentions to be present tense, positive, and something that changes your experience. You should state them as positives. For example: I’ve already won. It’s possible to come up with intentions based off things you want to avoid, but you’ll have to reword them. For example: “I don’t want to fail,” becomes “I’ve already won.” “I don’t want to let anyone down,” becomes “I’m doing this to express who I am.”
If you would like the intentions to make even more of a difference then it’s helpful to ask yourself a few guiding questions.
Q: Why am I feeling nervous? A: I don’t want to make a fool of myself.
Q: Why is that? A: I don’t want to fail.
Q: Is it possible to fail? A: Yes. (If the answer is “no” you can skip to a later question.)
Q: What would it look like if you didn’t fail? A: I would dance well.
Q: What would that provide to you? A: I would feel accomplished.
Q: If you were feeling accomplished what would that be like? A: I would be happy.
Q: If you were feeling happy would that provide anything else? A: No, i’d just be happy. (If the answer is “yes” then list those as well as those are also possible intentions.)
Q: So being happy would be the intention in this example, you could state it as. A: I am expressing happiness.
Examples of other intentions might be: I am a powerful expression of love, I am making a difference through dance, I am a powerful, confident person and this is how I show it. You know you have a good intention when the thought of it resonates with you and changes your experience of the moment. As I’ve said before, I recommend avoiding negatives such as “I don’t want X” or statements that try to change people, such as “They will love me.” After all, we want this to work quickly!
It’s really up to you as far as what you decide is your intention, and it can change every time you practice, dance or compete.