Stage fright…

I really should be working, but on my morning walk, I was going over  general conversation in my head that happens in the back stage area at almost every show.  With my upcoming end of season show happening this week, it seemed like a timely topic to chat about briefly.

Do I still get stage fright?

Hmm, well, I actually only had what I felt was stage fright once. Oh wait, twice.

In grade 7, when I had to present a “speech” for the very first time, I was extremely nervous. I remember choosing to wear a skirt that day so that folks would not see how much my knees were actually shaking as I gave it.  The topic was one of a funny nature, and not to brag too much, but I actually came in second in the ranking of the students, my good friend coming in first as she chose a serious topic for her presentation. Okay, I was a good student and usually did well in class, but was actually surprised to have done so well, when I knew how much I was shaking the entire time.

First fabulous pic as a new bellydancer!

The second time was my last performance as a belly dance student – or thereabouts.  Back when I started taking belly dance classes, I totally fell in love with it, and within about 6 months of beginning, I was taking 2 classes a week, participating in the local volunteer association that was around at the time, and dancing at amateur parties as often as I could.

It was probably in early 1997, as the previous summer /fall of 96, my life started on a path of some much needed personal growth.  I was going through a lot, and dance was my escape when needed and my dance friends were my solace to get me through.

And then it happened.  At one of our amateur shows, which were taking place at a local lebanese restaurant on a somewhat regular basis, I was standing in the “back stage” area – which was the stairway to a basement changing area that those of us taller than 5’6″ had to duck the lightbulb! – and I was introduced that I would be performing next.

Now, at this time, the restaurant had been inviting some of their own regular patrons to come out and enjoy these shows, so there were some non-bellydance folk who had been booking a table and coming out for at least a few months.

Once my name was announced, I heard the words, ” Ahh, Halyma!” amidst very welcoming clapping.  and all that went through my head was > “OH Crap.”

Suddenly, my time of  relaxed and fun dancing- because I was still ” a student” -had switched.  What did it mean to have people calling my name?  It was too weird.

Really, too weird.

I danced with a flush of nervous energy that totally shifted my perspective on my dancing and made me realize that, if I was going to continue, I had to actually start to work at it.  My colleagues at the time who had begun pretty much at the same time as I had, they were working at it.  They were taking workshops and practicing and challenging themselves.  I was having fun.

So I took a break.

I stopped performing. I stopped taking classes and dealt with my personal life.  And I kept in touch with those cherished friends in my bellydance world as they had been a big part of making changes in my feelings about myself and my sense of self esteem.

I also had to come to terms with a few things before I could return to belly dance.  I had to decide what was it about the dance that was most important to me.  The fun, the personal challenge, the costumes, the community.

And I came back in my own quiet way and the next phase of my life started as a teacher and professional performer.

So, long story, without an answer – Do I still get stage fright?

No, not really. but I never did. As a student dancer, I told myself that it was okay to make mistakes because I was still a student. And once I realized I needed to smile more, something else kicked in – I developed a fabulous nervous twitch that affected the side of my face, and the only way to stop it was to smile!

These days, I get crazy hyper vigilant.  I get moments of complete blankness on stage.  I get a voice in my head that reminds me to keep smiling even when there is almost no energy to be felt from the audience. So, there is a full roller coaster of emotions attached to my performances, that I try to use to my advantage.  When I do make mistakes { this happens much more often now that I dance with a group!}, or things go unexpectedly awry { wings incident a  few weeks ago..}, I know to smile and keep going.

So, some of the sage advice from the conversations that happen backstage may help you, if you have moments of stage fright:

Don’t beat yourself up about making mistakes.

Keep smiling and laugh it off.

Warm up a bit and speed practice through those moves a few minutes before, just to refresh your memory.

And what advice has worked for you?

Post me some comments folks and share your advice for those new dancers who are making their way through the ranks!

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8 thoughts on “Stage fright…

  1. Strangely enough, I have no fear performing for strangers in public at outdoor events, where a group of us are free dancing…but choreographed stage shows in front of other dancers gives me the major willies, no matter how well rehearsed and warmed up..the music starts, and I stiffen up like a old dried out leather shoe, can’t breathe, can’t enjoy…weird, eh?

  2. Hey Laura,
    I think that’s often the case for folks – easier in front of strangers, especially a passing crowd that we may never see again!
    Thanks for adding your thoughts!

  3. I never get stage fright either. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that when I see the wave coming, I hop on a surfboard and just have fun with it! 😀 Nothing like getting outside your comfort zone to feel exhilarated. I always feel like I did better than I expected. “WOOHOO I DIDN’T FALL ON MY FACE” is a common feeling.

    I feel more comfortable with choreos which is why improv is attractive to me – it brings on some pretty big waves!! So I get to experience both and have fun either way n_n

  4. I still get slight stage fright but I developed a method of dealing with it when I did my first Belly Dance performance. It worked so well that I’ve used it ever since. Zamira, my dancer name, is another person entirely. I cannot go on stage and perform well as myself. 10 or 15 minutes before I have to perform I find a quiet(ish) spot to be alone, get in the Zamira Zone and warm up. I prefer to stay away from all the hubbub back stage right before I perform… to keep me in the Zamira Zone and hopefully nobody calls me by my real name… it messes me up.

    I agree with Laura. Strangers are so much easier to dance for. Other dancers are also good audiences… always encouraging and supportive 🙂 I stopped inviting non-dancer friends out to shows because it made me too nervous.

    I’m almost always convinced that everyone saw the missed cue, misstep or veil error. If they do, they always deny it and say “You were so wonderful” which is all I need to hear to get me back out there again. I have a horrid time remembering choreography so they terrify me but if I’m improving (most of the time) solo I’m much more relaxed.

    I never eat before performing… it makes me sluggish. No alcohol for at least 24 hours before…

    So that’s my 10 cents worth.

  5. My very first performance was at the age of 14 at the summer youth drop in centre. I was playing my guitar and flute and singing a song I wrote. Thankfully I was joined on stage by another guitarist and two more singers. When I stopped playing guitar to play my flute solo I was shaking so bad I was sure everyone could see, but they didn’t even notice. The song came off without a hitch and everyone performed so very well that I was ready for more!

    I found that after years of being on stage as a musician the stage fright had gone, but I always liked the little adrenaline kick that came with the bit of stage fright I might get on occasion.

    I played for the first time ever at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 1992 and it was a shared stage performance by some of the city’s budding songwriters (which is hilarious since I had been budding years and years earlier). It was hosted by two fabulous Canadian songwriters; Stephen Fearing and Willie P. Bennett.

    Prior to hitting the stage, a colleague asked me if I was nervous and I said yes, a little. He said I didn’t look like it at all. I hide it well.

    The biggest thrill for me that day was taking a seat on stage that happened to be between Stephen Fearing and Willie P. and SEEING that they were GROOVING to my song! Their feet were tapping and their heads were swaying in time with MY song. I mean these two guys are amazing songwriters so those tapping fee were a HUGE compliment!

    Over the years the stage fright disspiated. Stage was my second home and I was very comfortable there, especially if I was well-prepared.

    I started belly dancing in 1999 and the first time I performed was at a class recital with my friend. We had only been dancing for about 3 months and we’d spent an enormous amount of time choreographing a song we loved. When it was our turn to perform the stage fright came back and it was overpowering, but the show must go on and my friend was in a worse place than I and without her there would be no dance, so I was the strong and held her hand and soothed her so she could dance.

    It was new territory for me th is dance! I was prepared but I felt like a baby learning to walk or something! We got through it and you could tell by our smiles, we had pulled it off.

    The dance impressed my teacher and she let that be known. We were thrilled! My friend’s daughter told us that we got the loudest applause out of all of the performers including our teacher! I was approached by a classmate afterwards and she said, “How do you DO that?” And I said, “The dance?” and she said, “No, the attitude!”

    There is comfort in groups I think, but the opportunity to screw up the song or the choreography is also present. Solo performances can be even more nerve wracking but ultimately you are the only one who knows what you messed up if you are dancing solo. For singing though, this isn’t true. On more than one occasion I have forgotten lyrics to my own songs.

    At the Trout Lake Folk Festival in 1996, I could NOT for the life of me recall the opening lyrics to one of my songs. I turned to my guitarist and asked him if he could recall. He gave me a blank look and said, “I’m the GUITAR player!” So I solicited the audience asking, “Did anyone buy my CD?” A few people waved. I asked the person in the front row to open the CD and to please bring me the lyric sheet enclosed. She did while I banged my head on the microphone for effect. I laughed and read the opening lines and thanked her profusely and got on with it.

    We’re only human and I agree that humour is the way to deal with it. I have seen countless musical performances over the years and one memorable one was by Steve Earle who indeed had forgotten lyrics to his own song and punctuated the issue by a well-placed “FUCK!”

  6. I learned early to re-channel, or rather re-frame, the energy.

    In a Dale Carnegie course, they taught us that it was not nervousness, but energy, and that energy can be named in whatever way you please. Mine is called excitement and anticipation! The energy also indicates that we want to do well, so that is also a good thought.

    I tell my students that butterflies are good, and that we just need to get them flying in formation. It appears to work!

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