Overcoming Performance Anxiety
Putting yourself out there can be a challenge. Performance anxiety is one of the most common phobias in the US, and if you want to perform for an audience, chances are that you will deal with stage fright on some level, at some time in your journey. Self judgement can sometimes impede our ability to find our flow. It's important to remember that we are our own worst critics-our internal hecklers can be cruel in their attacks on our self confidence. The people who hire fire dancers and flow artists, and the public at large, don't see us with the critical eye with which we examine ourselves. Here are a few tips to help overcome stage fright:
Accept your fear. Trying to fight it, or push it out of your mind will only cause it to escalate. Remember that the brain doesn't understand negatives. Example: Whatever you do, don't think about purple elephants. You are thinking about purple elephants now, aren't you?
Breathe. Slowly and deeply. This is not hippie woo-woo stuff. There are receptors in the deepest parts of your lungs that stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, in layman's terms: the feed and breed response. Deep breathing stimulates these receptors, which slow the heart rate and reduce feelings of anxiety.
Focus on the music, on your prop, and on your character. Often the symptoms of stage fright will subside once you are on stage and moving. When that becomes easy, you can work towards audience interaction.
Go with what you know. Stick with the moves you can do in your sleep, until your anxiety subsides. If you do drop your prop when you decide to "go for it," go back to the easy stuff and find your rhythm again. Don't make repeated attempts at a failed trick-your anxiety will climb and you will most likely have increased difficulty with every miss. (Also, if you recover quickly, your audience will less likely remember the one misstep)
Practice in front of a camera. It will desensitize you to being observed, and you can review the footage. This will help you smooth out rough spots, and build your confidence that you do indeed, look better than you think when you are nervous. As you become more at ease, share some clips with other fire dancers in a facebook group such as "Flow Expression." A little positive reinforcement can go a long way towards building confidence on stage.
Remember to take your time. Acceptance and self compassion are the most important elements to overcoming fear of any sort. Remember that you are doing this because of the joy it brings you, and never push yourself so hard that it ceases to make you happy. Enjoy the process, and spin on!
Fiora Firefly is a fire dancer and Flow Arts Instructor based in San Diego. She is available for performance and private coaching. To book her for your next event, or inquire about private lessons, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.