"If you ever get to a point in your career where you start feeling nothing and walk on-stage as if it’s no different than going for a walk in the park (i.e. it’s just another day, another venue, and you’re just mailing it in), your audience is probably not going to get the best performance you have to offer."
Would it surprise you to learn that some of the most accomplished performers throughout history have incredible stage fright? Singers, dancers, actors, even athletes--you name it. But harnessing your fear and turning it into an energized and engaging performance is a skill you can learn. Being present in the moment, and channeling your desire to do well into heightened awareness and enthusiasm is the key.
One thing we do in my performance prep class is teach ourselves new words and concepts to define our feelings. What may feel like fear or anxiety can simply be a form of excited anticipation. Do you ever get anxious before getting in a car or on a plane to fly off on a fun vacation? Do you get restless sometimes when you are looking forward to opening presents on Christmas or birthdays? What about butterflies in the belly when you are going out on a date with someone you really like? You wouldn't say you are afraid of vacation, gifts, or dating would you? No, you rightfully recognize these feelings and emotions as different feelings of excitement or eager anticipation.
This method is also suggested in this article as well.:
"Reinterpret Your Stage Fright: Some stress symptoms are not specific indicators that anxiety is present in a performance. Instead, they may show up as activation (also known as arousal or an adrenalin dump). If you unfortunately focus on and worry about these symptoms, and begin catastrophizing about a negative outcome to your performance, then we call it stage fright. Consider renaming the nerves you feel as excitement, passion, activation to perform, energy, adrenalin, and tell yourself that they are indeed helping you get ready."
It has long been tradition in my troupes that we don't say we're "nervous" or "scared" when we are preparing to take the stage. Not only does this reinforce a negative emotion in ourselves, saying it to others introduces and/or reinforces the fear in those around us. We don't need to be bouncing all that around before we go onstage. So instead, we say we're "anticipatory"! Sure, it's kind of an inside joke that what we "really mean" is all those other words we are likely to say. But by using an alternate term we remove the hot-button words which potentially introduce negativity in a moment that should be part of the fun of performing, and at the same time help us laugh together in our shared joke.
So next time you want to tell your fellow dancer backstage that you are nervous, instead, try "Anticipatory!" Focus your energies on the fact that you have one of the most important traits of a great performer: caring about what you put on stage for your audience, and caring about how well you work with your fellow dancers.
As I was working on this blog post, Janet Hanseth wrote a post called "When 'Doing The Best You Can' Isn't Good Enough" in which she impresses upon we readers the importance of getting it right on stage, but the greater theme of this I felt was the idea that harnessing your fear and using it to your advantage is what brings about greatness!
Also check out 10 Tips on Beating Stage Fright. It is written with musicians in mind, but applies to performers more generally throughout.