Question: Help! I'm entering my very first pole dance competition, and even though I don't expect to win I want my performance to be as good as I can make it.
I'm practicing hard and I think my moves are looking pretty good, but I'm afraid I'm going to freeze up and totally forget my routine when it's my turn to perform.
Do you have any tips for how I can get over my nerves?
Your Pole Pal says...
Ah yes, the thrill of competition...or is that just the adrenaline working overtime?
No matter, I'm sure most of us can relate to what you're feeling Michelle. In fact, even seasoned performers often say that they still get nerves right before a show.
So to some degree, it's normal to feel a bit jittery. If you know how to harness it, you can even put that nervous energy to work for you during your performance.
But let's take a step back for a minute and see what you can do about reducing your nervousness ahead of time.
My first suggestion (and it sounds like you've already got this one under control) is to practice, practice, practice.
I often used to tell my students that you need to get to the point that your choreography is no longer brain-based, but body-based. In other words, your body needs to know what to do so it can pick up and carry on even if your brain shuts down during your show.
In order to get to that point, you need to do your routine over, and over, and over so that when your music starts, you don't even have to think about what to do next.
Think of Pavlov's famous experiment with the dogs and the dinner bell. Bell rings = food. Even once Pavlov stopped providing food after the bell rang, the dogs still salivated. You want your body to respond automatically to the music just like Pavlov's dogs did to the bell.
You can probably skip the salivating part though...to be honest it's really not that sexy!
Another tip I used to give my students was to develop a pre-performance calming routine, and do it before every practice session. This will be different for everyone, but it seems to work wonders.
There's something about going through the same routine every time that sets your mind up to expect everything to go perfectly. And we all know what a powerful tool the mind is!
Here's an example: You listen to a particular piece of music while you change into your pole clothing. Then you drink half a glass of water, take 3 deep, calming breaths, and begin your warm up routine, which should be the same every time. When you're ready to begin your pole dance routine, you take one final deep breath, smile your biggest smile, and say to yourself, "rock that pole, baby!" Then you go right into your performance piece.
Here's why it works...when you do everything the same way, your mind and body very quickly become used to the routine. So once you put your own routine into play, your mind starts ticking off the list. Hey, I know that music. Drink of water, 3 deep breaths, and we're warming up. Right, I know what happens next. And all of a sudden you're in a mode where you just know that the next thing on the list is a successful run through of your routine.
Olympic athletes all have a pre-performance routine. Next time you're watching a high-level competitive sport like swimming or gymnastics, watch the athletes just before they step onto the blocks or onto the mat. More than likely you'll see them doing the final item or two on their own pre-performance list.
And finally, knowing you're prepared for any slips ups can do wonders for your confidence. After all, a lot of our nervousness is due to our worry that something might go wrong.
So doesn't it make sense to plan for this and work out what you're going to do? Knowing you've got it covered can do wonders for your pre-competition nerves.
For example, what if you accidentally land a spin on the opposite side of the pole to what you'd intended? If this might disorient you, you'd be wise to practice how you're going to deal with this situation in advance. Can you add in a filler move to get yourself to the other side of the pole? Or can you compensate during your next trick?
The point is to plan ahead, trying to think of all the things that could go wrong with your routine, and then plan how you're going to deal with them.
I know this might sound a bit negative, but I think it actually works really well with my 2nd point about developing a pre-competition routine. When you do both together, I call it "expecting the best, but being prepared for the worst." And it does seem to work!
Michelle, I hope this gives you some ideas for coping with your nerves, and I wish you well in your first competition!
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