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Magazine » DanceSport » Beyond The Physical

Beyond The Physical

Daphna Locker, Ph.D. (New York, NY)
Date Published:
September 10, 2011

After dancing together for a couple of weeks, months or years, you and your partner have finally decided to compete for the first time.

What's next? Intense negotiations about how many practice sessions and for how long each session will last, where to compete, and even what to wear. After practicing routines, learning choreography, becoming musical, and improving technique, the first competition arrives.

Just before the performance you realize that your nerves are shot, your stomach is in knots and you've forgotten everything. Somehow you make it through your entire event and after it's over, your coach asks you what you danced or how you did and you realize that you don't have a clue. In fact, you don't remember anything about the competition at all.

Preparing mentally for competions allows you to enjoy your performance, in addition to being more ready for it.

Preparing mentally for a competition requires cooperation with your partner in deciding what your overall goal is in competing. Make sure your goal is actually achievable; for example, if you are a 40-year-old who has been dancing for just under a year, don't focus in on a goal to be this year's Adult National Champion.

Set smaller goals that help build you up toward the larger goals.

Break goals down into tiny steps that you can easily remember at each competition. Make a list with your partner of each step/objective that you will need to achieve in order to reach the main goal. Goals like: smile and breathe, follow an exercise program to increase stamina, chin up, etc. are the kind of small steps that lead up to larger goals.

Keep your objectives firmly in mind during your practice sessions.

Do this and by the time you hit the competition floor you aren't trying to remember why you are there. Keep in mind that the purpose of the smaller steps is to allow yourself to expand your ability without exceeding your capabilities.

If your goals are too lofty, you will find yourself getting used to telling yourself what you can't do.

If you are a bronze dancer and your goal is to become a champion dancer, if you make it your goal to only practice the open routines that you are doing in a studio showcase without working on developing your bronze technique, you will certainly find yourself thinking, "I can't do this." Instead, if you have worked hard on your bronze technique at practices, keeping in mind your goal to smile and breathe, at the competition you will have been successful if you smiled and breathed, no matter how you place. The more often you experience success, the more quickly you will improve.

Practice the unexpected.

Don't dwell on disasters, but you should realize that the unexpected happens all the time. You can't think of every possible mistake or disaster, but you can practice refocusing techniques with your partner to be prepared to recover from just about anything by the next beat of music instead of ten counts later. The moment of disaster is another time when having the simple goal is infinitely valuable: disaster strikes and you pull out a split second later saying, "smile and breathe, smile and breathe."

Finally, visualize, visualize, visualize.

See yourself doing what it is you have determined to be your goal for the competition, and see yourself doing it well. Imagine yourself dancing with your partner and succeeding in the goal you set for your partnership. Don't waste time visualizing your failure or that is what will happen at the competition when you are under pressure. Visualize yourself fulfilling your objective for all dances and in multiple rounds and you will have multiple rounds-worth of confidence.

Above all, remember that dancing is supposed to be fun, not a chore, not agony and not torture. The more you think of your practices as fun, the more fun you will have doing "the real thing" at the competition.