I don’t know about you, but no matter how many times I compete, I still get nervous. I may be fine right up until I start dancing, but that first dance – or worse, my only dance if it’s a spotlight – and I’m tense. The adrenaline rushes through my body and it’s like I’m not there. I’m not present or focused and I’m certainly not relaxed.
At this year’s Capital Swing, as I sat there waiting for my spotlight in the All Star Jack & Jill finals, I could feel a wave of panic rising up just under the surface. At times I felt like I just wasn’t in the room; at other times, I could feel my heart racing; and sometimes I would run through dance moves in my head, as if preparing somehow. I watched my peers get up and have amazing dances, some of them out of the park awesome, and I was awed and intimidated. I mean, how am I supposed to compete against dancing like that?
As more and more names got called, I started to get it together. Mentally. I sat there and had a chat with myself. I realized that I was trying too much – trying to plan, trying to prepare, trying to have an amazing dance. And that was what was freaking me out: all the pressure to have an amazing dance. My expectations for myself were huge and it stressed me out.
So I made a decision: just have a simple dance.
As Brandi Tobias said recently, “This is West Coast Swing. They’ve seen it all. You won’t surprise them, you won’t shock them, you won’t impress them. All you can do is make them feel something.” (She’s right, of course.) So I decided to adopt that mentality. My strategy shifted from trying to amaze to trying to just have a simple dance. Suddenly, I was relieved. A simple dance – I can do that.
And when my turn finally came around (I was last, so I had time to talk myself down), I went with my new strategy. And yes, I lucked out and drew an amazing partner, but all of those followers sitting up there were amazing. And yes, got a really fun song, but Beth Bellamy was DJing some great music for everyone in our division. At the end of the day, it was my mindset and attitude that allowed me to relax and stay present and have the most fun I’ve ever had in a competition. In case you missed it, here was our dance:
And the reward? Not my placement, honestly, though that was nice. No, the reward was the confidence I gained from having a great dance in front of a crowded room. The reward was the support from my peers, all of whom I have great respect for. The reward was finding a mental strategy that I intend to use over and over again. Most amazing dance ever? No. We didn’t even win the division. But for me, it was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget. And isn’t that why we dance?
What’s your strategy and mindset for competing? Do you psych yourself out trying to win or trying to have an amazing dance? How do you fight the pressure and stress of competing? Teachers, how do you coach your students to compete? How do you help them adopt the right mindset for competition?
Before a performance (and I can’t really call it a competition…I realize that I don’t, in my mind, compete. But this is a whole ‘nuther topic!) I am of the mind “what am I doing here? Why am I doing this?” So far I’m fine when on the floor and moving. I haven’t considered myself good enough to have winning in mind, but I do try to improve on the things that are difficult for me. Like looking at people…and yes digging deep enough to make people feel something. When I used to sing and play guitar, my focus was always to feel the song so that the audience would become involved. It seems like such an uphill battle, but worth it when it works.