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Chelsea: Do you feel like your dancers are focused, dialed in, and confident when it’s time to take the stage? Or do they seem nervous, distracted, or scared? As a passionate dance teacher, you might feel like you've done your best to prepare your dancers, and they still get anxious and say things like, “What if I slip?” or “What if I make a mistake?” or when they come offstage and say, “Ugh, I can’t believe I messed that up.” It’s like their thoughts are constantly on what’s wrong or every small mistake, so it seems impossible to just go onstage and fully enjoy the performance. If that sounds like your dancers, that distracted talk and difficulty letting go of any small mistake, then listen in because I have a pretty simple solution for you.
This is Passion for Dance, the show for passionate dance teachers. I’m Dr. Chelsea. My mission is to change the dance industry by creating happier, more successful dancers through positive mental skills training, and in this episode, I’m gonna share how to help your dancers stay focused and calm during competition. It’s a simple mindset mantra that allows for more success onstage because you’re focused on the movement and performance and not distracted or scared.
I know how hard it can be to just dance and enjoy your time onstage, so if you want to help your dancers let go and perform, here’s how you can calm their inner voice and allow the best performance to flow. I’m gonna speak through this one, moreso talking to the dancers. So if you want to share this directly with them, you're welcome to. I hope they find it helpful!
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Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast. I’m Dr. Chelsea, a former professional dancer and dance team coach turned sport psychologist. This podcast focuses on four main pillars: motivation, resilience, mindset, and community. Each week, you’ll learn actionable strategies, mindsets, and tips to teach your dancers more than good technique. This is a podcast where we can all make a lasting impact and share our passion for dance. Let’s do this!
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Control The Controllables – 2:11
I want to tell you all about this simple mindset mantra that I personally use nearly every day, and when I teach it to dancers and teachers, I’ve seen it make a big difference for them as well. Now, when I say simple, I mean it’s three simple words, but that doesn't mean it’s easy to follow through all the time. That takes practice, but it’s three simple words to change your perspective and help you focus on the right things during a performance. Those three words: control the controllables. It’s a reminder that when you're stressed or scared or struggling in any way, you should focus on what’s in your control and let go of the rest.
Consider the last time you were really worked up about something or really upset or just nervous. What about that situation was in your control? Well, the last time I was really nervous was when my teaching was going to be observed by a colleague to be submitted as part of this packet of information that would determine if my contract would be renewed. Now, this is in the context of being a college professor. In my situation, I have to go through that contract renewal every few years. But it would feel the same in a studio as well.
The idea is someone who was more experienced, at a higher rank, was coming to watch me teach, and for me, that creates anxiety. Being observed, having somebody who I respect watching me makes me really nervous. So I know I’m an effective teacher, but knowing someone is coming to evaluate me just causes a lot of stress. I get very nervous for weeks leading up to it, and now I’ve been through the process a few times. And so, this time — it just happened about a week ago at the time of this recording — I tried to be more proactive about my mindset, so I wasn't at this high-stress level for weeks, right? The worst is when you know that the stressful thing is coming weeks from now and it infiltrates everything.
So I tried to shift and say, “If I can focus on the aspects of the station that are in my control and let go of the rest, then I’ll be able to perform my best that day and not let any negative self-talk get in the way.” You can do the same before you perform or compete or have any of those high-stress situations as a dancer.
Every day, there are three things that are in your control: your actions, your concentration, and your effort. I use the ACE acronym when I teach this to help dancers remember. When you’re nervous before a competition, you can only control your actions, your concentration, and your effort. So let’s break down those three things.
First Thing In Your Control: Your Actions – 4:53
You can control your actions, your behaviors. Your body is in your control. For dancers, this means maybe how you warm up, how you talk to other people, what you eat and drink, how you prepare for competition and practices. Especially younger dancers who are minors, it may seem like a lot of people are in charge and telling you where to be and what to do. I’m sure there is some of that, but you can still make choices and prepare in a way that fits you.
This goes for actions leading up to competition as well, not just competition day. It’s how you show up to rehearsals, how you take care of your recovery after really long days, or where you stand in class. There are so many small choices every day that can set you up for success.
When I talk about controlling your actions, this also includes how you talk to other people and how you treat others around you. Do you clean up after yourself? Do you check in with a smile? You might not be able to control if someone says something mean to you or if you get an upsetting text. But you can control how you react. Your reactions are always in your control. You decide how best to respond. Should you let it go? Should you confront someone? There’s not a blanket right answer to that, but the point is you can’t control other people’s behavior, but you can control how you react to it and the power you let it have.
It’s easy to feel like if you're being attacked or hurt by other people’s actions, it sends you into this spiral of negative thoughts. It can make it really hard to perform your best, and I’m not saying that behavior from other people is okay, but I am saying if you're upset and it’s going to hurt your ability to perform, that’s where control the controllables is helpful. What is in your control, and let go of the rest.
If you're backstage and about to take the floor and someone makes a mean comment about you or how you look or maybe they're trying to be helpful and they warn you that the floor is slippery, if you're about to go on, you can’t control what was just said. You can't control how slippery the floor is or what shoes you're wearing in the moment. Spending the time worrying about either thing will only distract you from what’s important: your actual movement, your skills, the emotions you want to portray. So you have to let them come and go and return your focus to your actions and the things in your control.
Second Thing In Your Control: Your Focus – 7:23
The second thing under your control is your concentration or your focus. Now, I want to acknowledge that holding focus where you want it to be is genuinely very difficult for many people, so I’m not here to tell you that controlling your focus is easy. However, you can practice the mental skill of concentration and do your best to refocus on what’s important to you when other people or situations distract you.
At competition, do you like watching other routines if you can? For some people, that’s distracting. For others, it’s motivating. Do you like to listen to music by yourself before you compete or be silly with your friends? What’s important is that you learn for yourself what helps your sense of focus and do your best to make that happen. If someone is distracting you, you can control your actions and your concentration. So try to reset your focus on what’s important to you.
Concentration is absolutely a challenging mental skill. It takes practice. So remember that during rehearsals or while you're at the ballet barre, while you're getting dressed to take the stage. Practice returning your focus to what matters to you in that moment. Don't let others control what you’re focused on.
Third Thing In Your Control: Your Effort – 8:36
Finally, you control your effort. You get to decide if you're going full out or marking at 80% and hoping you get away with it. You get to decide if you show up and go through the motions or give it your all. At a competition, you can't control what the judges think – if they liked another routine over yours, if they're sick of that music or if they love it. You can control the effort you put into practice and the effort you put forth onstage. If you’ve given it your best, it’s a lot easier to walk away proud no matter the results. If you controlled what you could and had a great performance, then that’s the easiest way to walk off happy.
Other people have their opinions, but that doesn't impact what you just did onstage. When you are stressed over what judges will think or how someone else performed, there is often not enough space left in your brain to think about your own dancing – the emotion of the story you're trying to convey or the skills you want to showcase. Use that concentration to bring your focus back to your actions and your effort, and let the rest go. When we’re so worried about all this other stuff out of our control, there’s nothing left to focus on our own skills, on our own performance. So bring it back to you.
That’s how you have a successful performance you can be proud of. You let go of the things you can't control like judges, other dancers, your parents, the time of day, your costume. Let go of it all. Bring your focus to what’s in your control. Continue to do actions that support your best performance, and don't hold back. Give it your best effort without distraction. That’s how you have that performance you can be proud of.
Daily Life Mantra – 10:16
I want to wrap up by saying the mindset control the controllables is my daily life mantra. It started as a dance thing, and really it’s just a life thing. It has the biggest positive impact when you use it all the time. During practice, at competitions, in school, every day. When you are stressed or upset by something or nervous and jumpy, remember that ACE acronym and control the controllables. You can only control your actions and your reactions, your concentration, and your effort. The challenge is to let go of everything else. I get that. It’s hard to let go. But with practice, that allows you to confidently perform at your best even under pressure.
Back to my teaching example that I started with, I was so nervous, but this time, unlike the first few times I had to do this, I reminded myself to control the controllables, and I could control how prepared I am. So I took action to make sure I was fully prepared and knew the material backward and forward. I kept returning my concentration to my students throughout the lecture. Even though I kept noticing the evaluator in the room, I just went, “Okay, nope. Let go of that. I can't control her or what she’s thinking right now,” and so, I would make eye contact with students who were engaged or look back at my lecture notes to return my concentration to the material and my audience and not obsess over whether my evaluator was smiling or, “What is she writing?”
It’s just like the judges, right? If you put too much focus on, “What are they thinking? Are they smiling? They're making a weird face. They're not writing anything down,” then you're distracted, so you have to come back to your performance, your skills, your friends on the floor if they're with you, just back to what you can control. When I was being evaluated, I just kept reminding myself, “If I put in my best effort, I’ll be okay. Control the controllables. Control the controllables.” It was, again, my mantra all week leading up to it, and then right before that class started it was on repeat in my head. This simple “control the controllables” helped me calm during the time leading up to it and allowed me to stay focused and excel in the moment so that it ultimately went really well.
Join My Weekly Mental Skills Newsletter – 12:32
Again, this mantra takes practice. It’s not just gonna magically help you and be perfect right away. But if you use it consistently, you will see a shift in how you prepare for big events and your ability to perform under pressure. If you want to continue to learn about positive mental skills like this, I would love for you to join my weekly mental skills newsletter, so to speak. It’s just a way for me to communicate once a week and share more about these different skill sets that might be really helpful to you as teachers and your dancers. All you have to do is go to www.chelseapierotti.com/email. Sign up today! You’ll see that in the show notes as well. Click there, name and email, and I’ll be there every week to share more ideas and stories and connections about how positive mental skills can help us create more successful, happy dancers.
So, to leave this, just remember to take control of your actions, your concentration, and your effort. Let go of what’s not in your control because obsessing over those things will only pull you away from your own goals and values. Stay focused on what truly matters to you and your own journey, control your own effort and concentration, and that’s how you’ll have the best performance possible. Thank you for listening, and keep sharing your passion for dance with the world!
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