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The Joy and Fear of Dancing

February, 2015

I recently qualified as a Cognitive Hypnotherapist and I wondered what difference the techniques and tools that I have learned could have made for my active dancing career?
From early on I suffered enormously from stage fright. The first time I remember being struck by it was at the age of 14. I was standing in the wings, waiting to go on stage to dance the pas de trois in The Nutcracker when I was suddenly overcome by a fear that was very different to the usual nervousness. In fact, I was almost ready to run away.
Stage fright, also called performance anxiety can manifest as a racing or pounding heart, hot or cold sweat, nausea, a dry mouth (which makes it difficult to smile on stage), shaky legs and hands (which makes everything difficult) etc.
It can arise spontaneously or begin a long time before the actual moment.
This created quite a conflict for me. I longed for dancing solo parts and I was over the moon when I got the opportunity, yet at the same time, I was terrified and only waited for the moment of the performance being over. A lot of the time this pattern robbed me of enjoying what in fact I loved most in my life.
Interestingly, when there was no expectation or time to build up the anxiety, e.g. I had to demonstrate a piece for the very first time, or I had to cover the last minute for an injured dancer, I experienced none of the negative and destructive emotions. Instead, I was confident, and excited, and I enjoyed the challenge.

Franziska Rosenzweig Tchaikovsky Pas de deux in 1992

Tchaikovsky pas de deux, Trento, Italy, 1992

Stage fright does not only affect performers. In "ordinary" life, it is commonly known as fear of public speaking. Most people experience it at some point in their lives, but not everybody experiences it at the same intensity. A bit of nervousness or stress can be positive as it keeps us focused, heightens our alertness, and increases our energy. But too much can inhibit your mental and physical abilities. You probably heard that some (American) studies suggest that public speaking is the top human fear, ranking above the fear of death. To quote Jerry Seinfeld: “According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” 
Fortunately, it was not all doom and gloom. The picture below is of one of my favourite roles, Tchaikovsky's pas de deux. Performing can also be a magical experience when the movements and true emotions emerge from within, and real communication with the dance partner, the audience, or both occurs.

Last year I already had the privilege to help some of my students and clients to manage their nervousness about performing on stage. Although I wish you do not have this problem, I am looking forward to be able to help more people in the future. If you think you or someone you know could benefit from support in this area, visit 

Performance Coaching or contact me directly.

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