So one of my all-time favorite movies is Dirty Dancing, but now, 8 weeks into my Salsa foray, I realize Hollywood lied! I mean, how could they? Somehow in the back of my mind, I thought I’d end up meeting a hot dance instructor, and dancing my way away from competition anxiety (or at least Salsa Social happiness.) After all, Baby did it during a 6-week summer stay in the Catskills, I should be able to do it in 8 weeks (4 times per week classes–yes I am now obsessed.)

But NOOOO! Clearly not the case. And no better way to point this out than my last attendance at a Salsa Social. For those of you who don’t know what a Salsa Social is, it is a widespread Salsa Dance party (huge in fact, about 300 people.) So at this social, the first I attended since taking class, I figured I was going to bust out my inner Rita Moreno, but I was dumbfounded to discover, I was not much more advanced than the first time I attended a social 8 weeks ago. In fact, I was so unprepared that when I did get on the dance floor, I was nervous, I could not dance well, I screwed up my beat, and was frequently told by dance partners, “Loosen Up, you’re so stiff!” That’s because I was scared to fall and otherwise screw up!

But what does this have to do with a Competitive Dance Studio? The connection is the pressure and nerves that affect me MUST be worse for a vulnerable teen and especially those in the world of competitive dance. We reached out to professional choreographer, teacher and performer, Rachel Breiss  and currently working on the Broadway Musical, “ANNIE.”

“It is difficult to deemphasize the importance of winning a Gold at a competitive dance studio, but there are certain things you can do to reduce the competition anxiety and pressure, and thus increase performance and enjoyment of the competitive event.”

  1. Assure every dancer that NERVES are NORMAL! Every performing artist has “nerves and anxiety” before a show or audition. Nerves are part of the process and actually can HELP the artist perform better.
  2. True: winning is important, but every girl should be praised BEFOREHAND for even making it to the competition.  Discussing that while medals are great, everyone who worked their bodies off to be there is a winner.
  3. Group breathing/mediation: Sounds corny to some, but the key to nerves for many successful performers is a five-minute relax time with eyes closed and deep breathing.  Make sure everyone gets to the competition in plenty of time to partake in this exercise.
  4. Before the competition day: Teach your dancers the benefit of SELF-TALK. During the competition, talk to yourself. Tell yourself that it’s just you and the music, you and the music. Nothing else matters, it’s just you and the music. Tune everything else out, like they are fakes made of cardboard. Competitors, fans, the crowd, and the judges. It’s just YOU and the music.
  5. AVOID sugar snacks, sodas, and caffeine: Nothing worse than adding sugar to a bundle of nerves to get a little more nervous!
  6. Focus on the PROCESS of the performance, NOT the outcome.  If you go on worrying about winning, chances are you won’t win.  Leave your goals and expectations at home whenever it really counts!
  7. Do not focus on the performances of the competition.  That is a great way to stress out any dancer.
  8. Create a pre-competition ritual:  make sure the school does something the day before the competition that is relaxing and calming in nature– not high-level rehearsals that make your team exhausted and strung out.
  9. Nerves, nerves, and more nerves: Tell your team to not to dwell on UNCONTROLLABLE FACTORS –  Far too many dancers get hung up on the “uncontrollable” right before and during their performances. Thinking about and focusing on things that they have no direct control over will make them nervous, undermine their confidence and sabotage the number. Instead, they should try to keep their thoughts and focus on only those things that they can directly control.  Whenever they’re feeling nervous, they should think “do I have direct control over what I’m thinking about right now?” If the answer is, “NO!” practice switching their thoughts to something that they can control.
  10. It will always go back to the studio and the studio instructors: the more implied pressure that comes from the studio, the more drama and nerves the dancers will feel.

Great advice! Now if I can apply that to my next Salsa Social experience, we’ll be in business.