Dr Lucie Clements is a Chartered Psychologist of the British Psychological Society who currently lectures in psychology and dance science at the University of Chichester. She has worked with numerous dance schools and companies in the UK, Europe, USA and Asia to support dancers to reach their potential in auditions and performances.
I asked dancers to explain how they feel in auditions, and lots of them said they experience nerves.
Can you explain what nervousness is?
Many dancers say they feel nervous before performances – as a psychologist I would suggest that
this could be a sign of some performance anxiety. Performance anxiety is a psychological state which has two main symptoms. These are cognitive anxiety, which occurs in our minds and thoughts, and includes things like fears, worries, nerves and doubts. The second is somatic anxiety, which occurs in our bodies, when we feel a racing heart, sweat or need the bathroom. Not all dancers get both forms, and you might be someone who experiences each of these to different degrees. It’s important for dancers to identify which symptoms they get – writing a journal in the days leading up to an audition can really help with recognizing which symptoms need addressing.
How common is performance anxiety?
Its hard to pinpoint an exact statistic! Some research shows this to be around 30% of dancers, but my guess is that it’s much higher, although the severity will differ for each dancer.
Why do dancers get performance anxiety in auditions?
There are many different triggers, but these can usually be categorized into personal, situational, or environmental reasons. Depending on the individual’s general self-esteem and prior experience of attending auditions (in particular their previous successes or otherwise) every dancer will experience a different level of concern about auditions. Psychologists know that humans experience anxiety when the situation is an unknown, when there is social evaluation, and when the outcome is important. So auditions are full of triggers that psychologists recognize are likely to cause anxiety. From my perspective, having a toolkit of strategies to reduce or minimize those triggers is fundamental for audition success. A simple strategy is to research the space so that you feel familiar with the room beforehand. These days lots of psychologists use Virtual Reality for performers to pre-expose them to places before they go there. You can get a similar effect by looking for pictures online. The more you feel comfortable with the room, the more you’ll feel prepared.
Lots of dancers say they forget choreography when they’re nervous, why is this?
I’ve heard this many times, and I can even recall a time in my own dance training where I was so
nervous that I stepped on stage and forgot a dance I’d done hundreds of times before! Considering
that in auditions the choreography is usually new, my hunch is that it’s not actually forgetting, but
that the pressure of the situation meant that the steps were never really encoded to memory in the
first place. This is likely because your mind was distracted by cognitive anxiety, so your attention was on those thoughts of worry rather than attending to what’s being taught. That’s why its so important to minimize cognitive anxiety – to allow focus on the task at hand and retain the material better.
Dancers have told me they fear the unknown in an audition, how can they overcome this concern?
Again, this is a recognized trigger of anxiety – when we don’t know what’s going to happen in a
situation it’s easy to overthink all the possible versions of what might occur. My suggestion would be to gather as much information and as many facts as you can before the audition, to help you feel
prepared. Knowing facts helps us to stay focused and stop the mind from wandering through all the
different possibilities. You can also use imagery or visualization to prepare, by placing yourself in the situation and imagining success. This needs to be practiced regularly for it to have a positive effect.
Can you give five top tips for reducing audition nerves?
- Identify your symptoms – both when they occur and the specific details of what they are.
- Treat your classes like auditions – use trial and error to work out what’s going to work for
- Do as much research as you can on the audition – find out what the space will be like, who
will be on the panel and then use this to build an imagery scene.
- Focus on yourself – avoid using social media to check who else is auditioning beforehand,
and minimize self comparison as soon as you arrive at your audition.
- Practice positive self-talk – Start using it in the weeks leading up to your audition and
definitely use it on the day.
A massive thank you goes to Lucie for such wonderful advice and support with this blog. Take a look at her Instagram page (@thedancepsychologist) and website (https://www.thedancepsychologist.com) for more!