One of the most exciting things you can do as a dancer is participate in a stage show. There’s nothing like having the stage to yourself and giving it all you’ve got. Most dance studios offer stage show experiences, sometimes called “showcases” or “spotlight shows”. Here are some tips to help you out in planning for your next performance in a spotlight show or showcase:

Preparation Stage:

  • Practice the way you want to perform. Don’t forget to practice all the little things like smiling and looking up. Sometimes it helps to actually visualize the audience being in front of you while you practice. Practice in front of a live audience if possible. If there are other students or instructors present while you practice, ask them to watch you perform and give constructive feedback. Don’t wait until the night of the show to “turn it on”.
  • Practice without the mirrors. Dancing while looking in a mirror is great for dialing in the technique and styling of your dance, because you get instant feedback as you go along. However, dancing in the mirror can also cause a few bad habits, like relying on the mirror to see where your partner is, and orienting yourself in the space. Once you’ve gotten comfortable dancing your routine with the music, start rehearsing facing away from the mirrors so that you can get used to looking the right directions and finding your partner naturally.
  • Video yourself 2-3 weeks out from the performance. Video can be a powerful ally to help you see how you’re doing prior to a performance. Video offers a big benefit over simply looking in a mirror, because it separates the visual aspect of the performance from the sensory input you experience when you dance. When viewing your performance in the third person, you can also more easily identify things that your instructor and coaches want you to work on. (Caution: don’t get psyched out when watching yourself on video; low-quality video recorders like cell phones and flip-cams cannot capture all the emotion and power of a live performance. Use the video to identify obvious issues like posture, spacing, and expression; don’t use it to judge overall impact.) Make sure to videotape yourself long enough before the show so that you and your instructors can identify what to work on with plenty of time to fix it before the show.

The Day of the Show:

  • Follow the 80% rule. It doesn’t matter who you are, everybody gets nervous energy before or during a performance. It’s perfectly natural, and should be expected. With this fact in mind, it’s best to think of dancing at 80% instead of 100%. This is a bit counter-intuitive, but helpful to keep you under control. During practice, you’ve probably dialed in the right amount of energy to carry out your routine without getting badly off balance or off time. On the day of the show, the extra nervous energy that you’ll have can cause you to dance harder and faster than you did during practice. Plan for this extra surge of energy by mentally dialing back your energy level for your performance, and you should end up with just the right amount of energy to perform your best. Failing to obey the 80% rule can cause you to do unexpected things during your performance, and make the steps feel different. Remember, more isn’t better. Better is better.
  • Don’t watch the other dancers perform or rehearse if it freaks you out. Know thyself; if watching your cast-mates dance gets you amped up and ready to perform, then go ahead. We often find though, that amateur dancers (and most first timers) can easily psych themselves out by watching everybody else. If you find that watching others affects your focus, you might want to hang out backstage or keep busy in the dressing room. We find that listening to your mp3 player with headphones can help to keep you “in the zone” and focused on what you have to do.
  • Don’t try to “fix” things at the last minute. Once you get to the show venue, what you’ve got is what you’ve got. Keep the pre-show adjustments to a minimum, and just focus on having a good performance. Anything you change the day or night of the show will be difficult to incorporate and can sap focus away from other aspects of your performance. Also, don’t obsess about any little mistakes you had during rehearsals the day of. Chalk it up to nervousness and don’t let it chip away at your confidence. Once you’ve done your final run-through on the stage, just focus on keeping your mood “up” and ready.

On the Stage:

  • Look up and smile! When you’re onstage, it’s more important than usual to keep your head up high, since part of the audience is up higher than you are. Don’t look down to the first several rows, project your energy high into the back row (they paid good money to see the show too, ya know).
  • If you make a mistake, don’t panic.It’s better to assume beforehand that you will probably make at least one little mistake during your performance. When the mistake happens, just smile and move forward. Remember, the audience doesn’t know what your routine is supposed to be. Most of the time, the audience can’t tell the difference even if you completely forget one of your steps. If you do blank out or get off time, let your instructor or partner help you get back in the groove. Remember, you’re a team out there!
  • Have fun and soak up the experience. When you dance in a show, you’re doing something that most people will never experience. Enjoy it to the fullest! Most of us who dance never feel more “alive” than when we’re on stage sharing our craft with others. Allow the applause to flow over you and embrace your moment in the spotlight!

Do you have any tips for performing your best in a show that you’d like to share? Please do so in the comments section below!