Butterflies in your stomach...they can be uncomfortable, but they’re simply a reminder that you care about what you are doing. Next time you have the nervous jitters before a ballroom dance lesson, practice, or dance competition, try these five tips from our mindfulness expert and Dance Vision Instructor, Natalie Crandall.
Identify the emotion.
Excitement and anxiety oftentimes physically feel similar. When you sense butterflies in your stomach, sweaty palms, or a dry mouth, imagine it as energy traveling throughout your body. The mind labels this energy and assigns an emotion to it...and guess what, you decide what that emotion is! During the moments you feel a build, a simple act of self-awareness can help you decide what you actually want to feel. Whether it’s before practice, a lesson, or right before stepping on the floor, take a moment to recognize the feeling, allow it to happen, and then label it. It takes a simple act of mindfulness to transform that ‘nervous’ energy into a positive emotion.
Create an intention.
Feeling overwhelmed before or during a lesson or competition is completely normal—memorizing steps, or dancing in front of another person like your instructor, are monumental achievements. You can place a lot of pressure on yourself through self-imposed expectations. Stay calm by writing down or thinking about an intention. An intention during practice may be to focus only on footwork or only on connection. When you give your mind something to zero in on, you’re less likely to get overwhelmed with information or the environment. It can anchor you through any scenario.
This may seem simple, but it’s often forgotten. When you feel anxious, it can be due to a lack of understanding or experience. For example, the more experience you have in the dance studio, the less likely you will become nervous before lessons. The more you understand the counts and choreography of your routines, the less likely you’ll feel unsure during practice. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you feel confused—the more logic your brain has, psychologically, you will feel more confident and less jittery.
You’ve felt this before—the sensation of anxiety floods your body, your heart rate goes up, your breath shortens, and you can even feel light-headed. Stop the spiral by focusing on breath—it’s scientifically-proven that you can change your physiological state of being with this skill. To feel a sense of calmness, maintain exhales longer than your inhales. Breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, and then exhale for 8 counts. This signals to your parasympathetic nervous system (the one that focuses on rest and digest!) that you are safe and secure.
Shake it out.
As dancers, especially those who compete, it can be easy to view our dancing as the product of our hard work, dedication and perseverance. We forget that dance and movement is also medicine for our physical and psychological state of being. Have you noticed an animal go through a stressful situation, then stand and shake their whole body out after? This is the animal ridding their body of uncomfortable anxiety or stress. Next time you’re feeling nervous before a lesson, coaching, practice or competition, put on your favorite song and let yourself shake it out.
Have a question for Natalie that wasn’t answered in this blog? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and with your question. Want to read on about creating a practice schedule that puts you in control? Check out our post here. You’ve got this!
To learn more from Natalie,