Pre-Performance Priming: Preparing Your Mind For The Stage
November 30th, 2018 by Elizabeth Radabaugh
It’s that exact moment right before the curtain is drawn. How can you ensure you are in the very best mindset before sashaying out onto that stage? Find out some simple techniques from the professionals to center your mind before finding your spotlight.
Finding Your Energy
It’s no secret that before you get on stage to perform, you want to feel calm, cool and collected. In order to figure out just how you as an individual can achieve this desired state, you must first identify how you’re currently feeling in that present moment.
Feeling sluggish? Psychologist Dr. Jonathan Fader, director of mental conditioning for the New York Giants, says to do a few jumping jacks or talk to a high energy friend backstage. Maybe what you need is some time alone to reflect upon the positive aspects that brought you to this very moment.
“It can be any variety of things that say, ‘This activity I’m about to engage in is something I love,’” says Dr. Kate Hays, a sports and performance psychologist who has experience working with both athletes and dancers throughout Toronto, Canada. According to her, to find the vibe you need to perform your best, try out different activities during your rehearsals to find out which approach best suits you.
Minimizing Decisions And Establishing Routine
Just as our bodies grow fatigued after a long day of dancing, our minds grow tiresome after making too many decisions. Try and avoid stressful questions such as, ‘Do I wear this?’ and ‘How do I get ready’. Thinking about making such decisions will do nothing more than make your mind weary before your performance.
Instead, try and establish a pre-performance routine that will eventually become second nature to you. Examples of such rituals include always putting on the same shade of lipstick right before a show, warming up with the same set of stretches, or taking a sip of the same color of Gatorade. Repeating predictable routines such as this will help ease your mind before taking the stage. For NYCB Soloist Indiana Woodward, this means doing her special ab routine, and having an Altoid.
We have another tip from Steve Magness, an Olympic running and performance coach, and co-author of the book Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success. Carrying out routines like this will help prepare your body, through making it understand that, if you do this, this and this, you will be alert and in-the-zone no matter what.
Choosing Positive Surroundings
In preparing yourself to go on stage to perform, you should try and surround yourself with people who you know will help you get in the right mind set you need to perform at your very best. “Emotions, nerves, anxiety—all of that is contagious,” says Magness. “Think about who is going to give you the vibes you want.”
Whether this means closing your eyes, putting in your headphones, or socializing with confident, positive people back stage, do whatever you need to do in order to best control your surrounding environment.
Using Your Nerves For Good
According to research, getting nervous before going on stage can actually be good for you—if you know how to put them to good use. In the past few years, studies have proven that the way in which we perceive our stress can change the way we biologically respond to stressful situations. “If you see anxiety as a sign that,’Hey, this means I’m excited, it means I’m prepping to go to battle,’ you get positive stress hormones that prepare your muscles to work better and your mind to be more clear,” says Magness.
However, if you perceive nerves negatively, your body sends stress hormones, which will ultimately make you even more stressed than you already were. According to Magness, you should try and harness the stress you feel. “The reason that certain people take their game to the next level in performance is because of all the good stress that you can’t get when you’re just at practice.”
Practicing Mental Repetition
While you are backstage, think about visualizing all of the individual sequences that make up your choreography in as much detail as possible. “If done vividly enough, our brain doesn’t know the difference between a physical rehearsal and a mental rehearsal,” Fader says. “You are actually connecting neuromotor behaviors, creating a closer bond between what your mind wants and what your body does.” According to Fader, this helps avoid stress, as once you are up on stage, it’ll already feel like you’ve performed your piece to your audience already.
Getting those pre-performance jitters? To combat this nervous feeling, focus on lowering your heart rate back down to a lower level through attentive breathing. Some examples of such calming breathing exercises include breathing in for two counts, then out for four, and focusing on taking inhales from deep within your diaphragm. Some breathing exercises work best for some than for others, so take some time to figure out which is best for calming your nerves before a performance.
Finding Your Best Goal
Before going on stage, finding the right goal for yourself can make a huge difference in your performance. To do this, don’t think too much about the ultimate result of your performance. Try not to think about what the critics will say. This can lead to overthinking, often times causing you to make a mistake during your routine, as you’re much more likely to make your steps forced, as opposed to what you should do—letting your body feel the movement naturally.
“You need to be completely absorbed in the moment to perform your best,” says Goldberg. According to her, to make the most out of your performance, just enjoy the present moment. Thoughts like “Here, now,” and “This is what I love” are key to a memorable performance. Now, go out there and rock that stage!
Genni Abilock is a writer for StarQuest. She loves baby carrots, SpongeBob, and playing Frank Sinatra songs on the ukulele.