Chelsea: How do we improve our confidence? As teachers and as dancers, building our confidence is a big topic, and there’s a lot to it. So, I’m gonna talk about it today, but I chose to tackle this big topic with a fellow mental performance expert by my side.
Hi, it’s Dr. Chelsea, and this is the Passion for Dance podcast where we talk about mindset, motivation, and resilience in dance. And today, I’m joined by Lauren Ritchie so that we can really dig deep into confidence. We talk about where it comes from, how to build it, what to do when it’s shattered, and more.
Lauren is an established mental skills educator, a dancer teacher, and a choreographer. I’m so excited to have a fellow mental performance expert who is also a dance expert. Her areas of expertise include sport and performance mental training and the intersection of wellbeing and mindfulness. Her work has led to the creation of international teacher training programs, dance and sport conventions, The Pioneering Show, The Dance Podcast, and mental performance-based curriculums for dancers, athletes, and coaches. So, who better to talk to about confidence?
This is a bit of a longer conversation than I normally share, but there is a lot in it. So, stick around for the end. We talk about how fake it ‘til you make it is a life hack that neither one of us are a big fan of, and, of course, we share those concrete tips that you can use for your own confidence or to support your dancers. So, listen in for advice and stories and tips about confidence from two mental performance experts. I hope you enjoy!
[Motivational Intro Music]
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!
[Motivational Intro Music]
Chelsea: Hi, Lauren! Thank you so much for joining me today!
Lauren: I am so excited! You and I have talked about this for so long, so the fact that it’s happening —
Lauren: — I am thrilled.
Chelsea: That’s what I was thinking. This is a long time coming, and I’m so grateful to have you and to be able to talk to another mental performance expert who understands dancers is such a treat. There are not that many of us in this space, and it’s so amazing to have somebody to talk through this with who has a similar approach to all of this. So, I’m grateful to have you here.
Lauren: I love talking about concepts with the mentality, with something like confidence, you know, like we’re gonna tease it apart and play with it. That, to me, is part of the process and what I love doing. And so, it’s like let’s take an idea or something that swirls around on social media or in pop culture and just pause with it and rumble with it and challenge it in so many ways because that, to me, is how we become more intimate with it and we’re better able to use it or to do something with it.
Chelsea: Yes, oh, well said. So, yes, we’re gonna dive into confidence because it is such a huge concept and just, as you said, thrown around like, “I just want to be more confident,” or, “How do I get more confident?” or, “My dancers are never confident on the stage. They look great in rehearsal, and then they fall apart,” and we use that word constantly. But then it’s hard to dig into. What does it really mean? How do we get it? The myths around it which I think is a great place to start.
We were brainstorming before. I know you have shared these great ideas. There are these, frankly, myths about confidence that come from who knows, quotes, folklore, old versions of what we think confidence is that can be really misleading. So, I’d love to just kind of riff off this with you and think about how we look at confidence as mental performance consultants and then hope that that can help the dance educators and the dancers listening take something away from this about how they can boost their own confidence.
Confidence Myths: This Idea That Confidence Comes From Success – 4:19
So, I think one of the big ones we can start with is the idea that confidence comes from success, that you have to do the thing first in order to ever feel confident about it or those big moments are when you're gonna feel confident. And I get the sense from dancers I talk to that they're like, “Well, I’ll be confident when…,” and they're waiting for that thing to happen in order to be confident. Do you see that too? How do you feel about that?
Lauren: Oh, my gosh. My heart races, and I get sweaty because it’s just —
Lauren: [Laughs] And also because I have such an intimate experience with that framework, right? It’s also the culture waters that we swim in with this overextension of external validation. And so, we can start hooking the belief on that, “Okay, well, if I win this title, if I get this mark, that’s gonna cure everything. That’s gonna solve all my problems. I know that I’ll be ‘worthy’ or ‘worth it.’”
And so, for me, when I look at this idea that confidence is gonna come through big moments, it’s — I mean, okay, let’s be clear. When working with children and adolescents, absolutely, that is going to help contribute to the self-talk, to the building of trust, and I always go back to that with confidence. If you break the word apart and you look at it from its Latin roots, it is con-with-fid-trust. And so, this whole process of building confidence, stable confidence, to me, has been how can we build in self-trust.
Chelsea: Love that. That’s so well said, and I was just talking about this recently, about perfectionism, which you and I have shared about a lot, too, and that desire for perfectionism is rooted in that same issue of it’s all about external validation, and the only way to start to get rid of it is to turn internal, to start validating yourself and knowing that you’ve done your best. I love that you tied that with confidence. It is absolutely that root of self-trust.
The Moment You Realize You Need More Than a Big Moment – 6:27
Lauren: Yeah, I’m curious, because two things can be true. We can have a moment that gives us a boost of feeling good and changes our self-talk, and also, we build it on the daily. We build it in the very small mirror moments where we’re looking at ourself asking ourself, “Have we been integral? Have we done the work?” But for you, have you had a big moment or a moment when you realized you need more than a big moment in your own process, and it could be through dance, it could be through academia, like you have so many different parts of you.
Lauren: But I am curious if you’ve had sort of that experience?
Chelsea: Oh, that’s such a good question. You're gonna flip it on me. Let’s see. I’m trying to think of a dance one. An academic one comes to mind right away. I don't know about a dance one. I’m sure it was there. Now it just feels like a different life sometimes, right? [Laughs] The last time I was there.
Lauren: I would love to hear your academic one because we know we spent just as much time in academia. [Laughs]
Chelsea: [Laughs] So true! So, I think the one time I did have a really big moment that actually was like, “Okay, maybe I belong here. Maybe I can do this,” was the dissertation defense of having that big presentation moment and having that I could answer their questions, and I felt confident in what I was doing, but that was a thing I’d been preparing for literally for years for that one moment. And I think in comparing that into the dance world, we’re looking for those moments to happen when you’ve been working on a routine for a month or we don't think about the moment that, yes, that big confidence boost might happen, but it could be years from now, and don't wait for that. Don't wait for that thing to happen that long.
But that was one moment where I walked out of there, and I was like, “Okay, maybe I do belong,” and imposter syndrome still comes back, but if I had to pick a moment shift, that was it.
Lauren: Yeah. I love that you’ve brought up imposter syndrome because I think another myth of confidence is that it means you don't have self-doubt.
Chelsea: Right. Yes.
Lauren: And this idea that you're not gonna feel like an imposter, and that’s when you know that you're confident. [Laughs]
Lauren: And from my experience, it is just this beautiful little dance of little characters in my own brain because what we know about imposter syndrome is also usually those who feel it have a heightened sense of awareness which is a very positive thing.
Confidence and Self-Doubt – 8:53
Lauren: So, I don't know. I’d love to hear your perspective when it comes to confidence and self-doubt because I’m gonna say most dancers, at some point, are going to enter into an audition, they're going to go into the finals, they're gonna go into some kind of high-stakes moment, and maybe there are a few whispers. Maybe it’s a loud scream. But how do you guide both dance teachers and dancers to not let it be a reflection of their confidence?
Chelsea: Right. I think exactly what you said. It’s the both/and. That they can both be true, and the presence of a negative thought doesn't mean the absence of confidence. Having those moments, as you said, sometimes. They're always there, and I think dancers feel like the goal, if I’m gonna be confident, is to silence all of those thoughts, and that’s, to me, not the goal. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, too, when you're working with dancers. But I don't think the goal is to make those negative thoughts stop because it’s not how our brains work. We can't, and then as soon as you are mad at yourself that that negative thought is happening, now you're just piling shame and blame on top of the negative thought.
So, I try to approach it as they are separate things, and that negative thought isn't a sign of a lack of confidence. How do you see it?
Lauren: Totally. Yeah, it’s that sign of it doesn't mean you're not ready, it doesn't mean you haven't put in the work. One that we’ve been talking about is just the cell phone, [Laughs] as in now when the cell phone rings, we’re very discerning about what call we answer, like, whether or not we’re gonna give it energy, whether or not we’re gonna entertain it, and then whether or not we decide to pick it up, it’s like do you have a conversation with it and how much time do you give it. And so, for me, when self-doubt shows up because, again, when you're doing big things, when the risk is high — and I’m using most of my own life as that experience of like, yeah, you're doing something that you care about, that you want to do well. I think that that’s the piece, too.
Lauren: Like yes, of course, there is that deep yearning, and also, the way the brain works is just like psst, like, little negative critic. So, to me, it’s always, yes, that shows up, and what would you like to do with it? How much time are you giving it? Often, it’s that part of ourself that is looking for just a little love and compassion because you want to do well, the stakes are high, and it’s going, “I don't know if we can do this,” and it needs sort of that higher self (the motherly self, the prefrontal cortex) just to say, “Totally get it, and we’re gonna be okay.”
Chelsea: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Lauren: And this is a bit of that perfectionist mentality of, like, I wasn't good at speaking kindly to myself and that part of me, and so, I know that that is a skill to be practiced. I know many people will draw out their self-doubt or their negativity monster. I have a full name for the amygdala/fear part of my brain. It just helps give it a little bit of space and distance to know that just because you think it doesn't mean it’s accurate.
Gaining Awareness – 12:19
Chelsea: When did that awareness get better for you and heightened for you where you were able to say, “This is a part of who I am, and I can acknowledge it, and I need to care for it rather than trying to shut it down”? Were you still dancing? Was it much later than that?
Lauren: Yeah, for me, it came later, but only because, really, the conversation was never had when I was dancing.
Lauren: And I don't say it with any kind of blame, you know? Look, it was a different time. teachers didn't have the tools. These kinds of conversations, these podcasts, they didn't exist, right? So, I think I would have, had I known.
Chelsea: Had I known, right.
Lauren: Yeah, and that’s the beauty of I think where you and I share. So much of the skills we share or so much of the support that we’re trying to offer is because we know it can be helpful and useful sooner. [Laughs]
Chelsea: Right. Yes.
Chelsea: So, when you talk to dancers, what’s your framework, your approach to help them if they say, “Every time I’m sitting backstage for my solo, I start freaking out.” What’s the go-to approach for them?
Breath – 13:23
Lauren: The go-to approach first is always breath and normalizing that that should be your first step. [Laughs]
Lauren: Right? We know it from a brain perspective, like a functionality of your amygdala is firing. If your fear center’s high, if the emotions are high, that prefrontal cortex and that thinking brain just isn’t there for you.
Lauren: And so, it becomes a little bit of me saying it over and over and over again, particularly to dance educators, to normalize the breathwork, to normalize the pause, to do it as a group. When I walk into studios who the dancers refuse to close their eyes, like we’re sitting in a circle, and there’s a refusal to close your eyes, to me, that signals that we’re sort of in a high-judgment, high-fear environment.
Lauren: And so, the more that we can normalize breath, that is the gift for dancers when they’re taking tests, for educators and choreographers when things aren't going well on stage, and it is not in our control, let us prioritize this from a brain functionality space, right?
Chelsea: Yes. Oh, that’s so great. I love. I want to clarify, because I know you and I can talk brain so easily, and I want to just clarify for the people listening that we’re talking about amygdala and prefrontal cortex and using those terms just because you and I both can. But the amygdala is, as you said, that fear center. It’s our threat response. If we feel threatened, that’s what gets activated. And so, for a lot of dancers, the behind-the-stage moment feels like a threat, and then your emotion center is going crazy. The prefrontal cortex is the part of our brain that can make a conscious choice and decision, can plan things out, can have some impulse control, and when our fear center is heightened, the decision-making, slow-down-and-think-about-this part is what’s shutting off.
And so, everything you said is correct. I just wanted to take a second to clarify and think through that that’s why breath is so important, and people will just say, “Oh, just take some deep breaths,” but I think it’s valuable to understand what’s happening. We really are trying to kind of regulate that heightened emotion piece and, exactly as you said, normalize it so that, “This is what your brain’s supposed to do. It’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with you.”
Lauren: Yeah, and I think you nailed it as in somebody says, “Take a few breaths.” If you are in high emotion, yes, take a few breaths, but this is where it’s like try not to be in the drama when you're trying to access the skill, and that’s where the more that we can incorporate it and very specifically integrate it into our training and into the studio space, it’s like they have that tool, and they’ll use it. It’s autonomous. It’s all theirs to access at any point.
Lauren: And so, when I look at that piece around self-doubt and confidence, it’s like, okay, you're not able to access all of the knowledge and the truth in all the ways that you're prepared and all the support that you have if you're just in a bit of that high-emotional, at times, panic state. I sometimes play with the fear versus emotion because I would say that I wasn't an overly fearful competitor, but I was an emotional competitor, as in regards to my intensity was high, my drive was high.
Yeah, and so, I just feel like breath is gonna be number one when I work with the dancers, and then it’s important — again, so much of this is front loading — that you have your little bullet point or your little data checkpoint list of all the ways that you are ready, right? All of the accurate, truthful ways that you are ready for the stage, or you’ve done all the work that you can do, and often, coaches say that, right? It’s like, “You've done everything you can do. Just get out there. You've trained for this.” But I’m a big advocate that the dancer needs to own and trust and embody that, and it’s not just something that the coaches are saying.
Chelsea: Right, and yes, I love that also, as you said, you have to practice it. It’s gonna build up to. If you don't talk about it or practice it until competition time or until audition day, you can't fix that. But being able to use it in small moments, because I think we are, hopefully, taking classes, learning choreography, doing things that are challenging us emotionally, causing mild stressors and learning how to do it there.
So, will you speak a little bit more to how would we do this in the small moments that are gonna help build towards the big?
Small Moments that Build Towards The Big – 18:15
Lauren: I mean, there are so many ways to play with this, particularly, depending on the ages that you're teaching and coaching, but, I mean, one way is just quite literally do a five-minute brainstorm of just have them write down, I call it their “do-difficult data.”
Chelsea: I love that!
Lauren: But it’s things that they have actually done, right? And it’s all them, and your parents couldn't do it for you. Your coaches couldn't do it for you. These are the ways. Or you can also do a little brainstorm of all the ways that I have put in the work and that I am ready. And so, for me, it’s a matter of you get it clear, because it’s like, “Oh, I know. I know. I know.” Nuh-huh. I want all your “I knows,” the invisible “I knows,” visible and out on paper so that you can actually reflect on them —
Lauren: — and also call them up. And I think the big part of this is they have to be true.
Lauren: For each dancer or for each coach who — because, I mean, I feel like all coaches could do this too, right? Ooh!
Chelsea: Right. Yes.
Lauren: It’s those moments of, “How have I done the work. I know this to be true,” or, “We’ve done the best that we can, and it’s not gonna be perfect,” and I still can stand strong in this was the best that we could do to prepare for this event. So, there’s some of that. I also really love the calling it out in the moment and overly celebrating when we are on track or that was a big growth moment or, I mean, I’ve heard you speak about this so many times, right, of just the vocalized celebration of what is going right. [Laughs]
Chelsea: Yes. Yes.
Lauren: Because that data, when you look at the ratio, the actual coaching ratio of corrections to celebrations or momentum or growth, it’s not great.
Chelsea: No, it’s usually terrible. Absolutely.
Lauren: So, from that aspect, it is a little bit where you don't have to change your class plan. You just have to be much more mindful and conscious of letting the dancers hear it, embody it, see it, celebrate it, so it also becomes true.
Self-Doubt Practices – 20:21
Lauren: Do you have any specific practices that you guide dancers or coaches through with self-doubt?
Chelsea: I think — let’s see. I agree, I should say, that that kind of calling out and celebrating the small wins because you're trying to shift their awareness. Back to why this works, it’s not just like, yay, give them a little boost and happy feeling and dopamine. Yes, that’s great, but it’s also making them aware of all the good things they’ve done because their brain is just telling themselves all the things that are wrong. And so, we need to interject some of that positive more often, usually, especially for the perfectionist dancers or the self-critical dancers. So, yes to that and more of that.
But also, as you were saying, it has to be self-referent. At some point, they have to see it for themselves. And so, being able to, as the teacher, not just constantly telling them, but helping them find it within. And I think just like we teach a physical skill, I can tell you to pull up in your pirouette 50 times, but unless you remember to do it in the moment, you have to own it, and you as the dancer have to embrace that. I think working with this confidence stuff, remembering how to take deep breaths, and remembering how to call up the things that I have done well that I can lean on, that has to eventually be something that they do for themselves which only happens if you're doing it constantly, which, I guess, is back to my original question about does confidence only happen in those big moments. And this is why I think that’s such a myth. It’s not true that, yes, you might get that boost in the big moment, as we were saying, but mostly, confidence is gonna come in just doing this every day. Doing something hard, taking on a challenge, and then seeing yourself be successful in that moment.
Chelsea: So, tangible things I love to tell coaches. I’m like pick something like the strength training thing you're gonna do for the day, the combination, your petite allegro combination’s gonna be particularly fast or reversed or something that’s gonna be challenging, and tell the dancers, “I’m intentionally challenging you with this today because I think you can do it, but let’s try. Let’s go for it,” and making them aware of, “Here’s a challenge, and you did it!” And if they didn't do it, that’s fine. “We didn't get there today. We’re gonna come back to this combo and try it again tomorrow,” and helping them know that challenges are good, know that mistakes are okay in that moment, and then through noticing the wins along the way.
Lauren: And when I hear you speak like that, I just give a giant hug — [Laughs]
Chelsea: [Laughs] Aww.
Lauren: — and permission slip to the dance educators who are doing that and coming up against dancers that just refuse to see it.
Lauren: And in that moment, acknowledging, yes, we are part of their world; we are not the only thing of their world. And so, depending on other adults in their world and the voices and the language they use, the recognition that they are so bombarded with perfection and messages throughout social media and just a cultural context, that we are still — I’m cheering everyone on to stick with it and stay with it and stay with them, and also recognize that there are maybe going to be some dancers that are double downed. I actually had a therapist say this to me once.
Lauren: This is revealing, but she was like, “There’s nothing that I can do if you are committed or always just a little more committed to hating yourself.”
Chelsea: Oh, wow. Yeah.
Lauren: And you're just like —
Chelsea: You're like, “Aww.”
Lauren: Whoa. [Laughs]
Lauren: But I understood what she was saying because it’s like if I am putting on my glasses of sort of that perfectionism that only see my flaws, that only see the ways that I am falling behind, that I am not good enough, that I am not keeping up with XYZ, and all the ways in which I don't look like that or I don't have that body — and, let’s be honest, dance is an embodied experience, and so, that compare and despair can come on. But if I am gripping to those glasses, and I’m like, “Nobody is taking these away! I am so committed to finding all my flaws and just hating everything,” there was nothing a coach could do in that moment.
And so, it’s like always coming back to that place of just we give as much as we can and also recognize that, yeah, there’s a give and take or sometimes people are gonna take a lot longer than what you think you should. Because you see they're wonderful and they're brilliant and they're awesome and they're all the things, and so, yeah, I give a lot of compassion because I think we’ve all had relationships with some of those dancers who you wish you could just give them your eyes, like, “I wish you could see me through your eyes,” and it’s just like that’s not how it works. [Laughs]
Chelsea: Yes. [Laughs] Right. Oh, that’s so well said and important for people to hear because if we are coaches and teachers, we’re here because we love them and we want to help them, and when we feel like we’re not getting through or we feel like, “I keep trying, and I’ve had this dancer for three years, and she still won't hear me,” it feels like we’re doing something wrong. There are two things. If that dancer is either not ready for it or there are too many other louder messages in the opposite direction, you may not be able to get through for a while. But that doesn't mean to stop. As you said, just keep going, and I’ve heard from some dancers, in the time that I was with them, I didn't think much changed, but then I might hear from them four years later they’ve graduated college, they’re out in their first jobs, they're a mom, and they come back, and they're like, “I’m thinking about things differently now than I did, and I couldn't hear you at 16, but I hear you at 26.”
Chelsea: And that’s what I try to hold onto. As the educator, when you feel like you're not getting through, your work still matters, and you may be one positive voice in a sea of negativity but keep doing it.
Lauren: Yeah, and I mean, I think that also loops into a coach’s confidence, right? Because you're searching for an outcome or a result. You want this dancer to be more confident, and in those moments, yeah, you're starting to attach it to things that just aren't totally in your control.
Confidence and Values – 26:57
And so, when I look at — I had a moment where I was kind of reflecting on my own confidence journey, you know?
Lauren: Just because it’s not stable.
Lauren: Maybe that’s another thing!
Chelsea: That is!
Lauren: Maybe that’s another myth, right? [Laughs]
Chelsea: Yes, agreed. I think the myth is once you have confidence you always have it.
Lauren: Yeah. [Laughs]
Chelsea: Like, that’s just wrong. [Laughs] I will just be blatant and say I think that’s just wrong.
Lauren: I think we can make that claim, right?
Chelsea: [Laughs] Yes.
Lauren: And it’s situational, and it can be conditional, and I know, for me, certain people I feel really confident around, and then someone walks in the room, and I can feel my energy shrink a little bit, and I’m just like, “God, agh.”
Chelsea: What is that, yeah.
Lauren: “What is that?” And so, when I look at my own sort of — if I’m looking through myself with love, it’s like, “Are you in your values,” right?
Lauren: First and foremost, am I in my values? This would also insinuate that people have taken a moment with their values —
Lauren: — and that they're clear on [Laughs] those pieces. But it’s like, okay, am I clear on my values? Are my intentions — I’m not even gonna say good, but just like I always want to be helpful not harmful.
Lauren: And there are times where I’m gonna get it wrong because I think I’m being helpful, and it’s like that’s not helpful or you're actually — [Laughs]
Lauren: That approach doesn't work for them? Okay, cool, cool, cool. But my intentions are ones to be a contributor or to be generous or to be helpful, not harmful.
Lauren: So, I think there’s that piece. I think there’s also a piece around knowing that how I’m showing up is authentically me. I’m not proving. I’m not pushing. I’m rooted in that integrity. I’m rooted in that sense of self. And so, from that aspect, that is where I can sort of stabilize my confidence and not let it be so rocked by other people’s opinions or other people’s experiences, but, again, it’s like even as a coach, it’s gonna fluctuate.
Lauren: And we can only sort of come back into ourselves and go, “Am I still being true to me? Does this still feel right?” [Laughs]
Lauren: I don't know. What are your thoughts? That’s kind of my rambling, but…
Chelsea: Yes, no, I love it, and I agree. I think I was reflecting on my own as you were saying that, that I think I got much better at understanding my values, being able to articulate them, and then being able to use that platform when my confidence is rocked. I got there, but in my late thirties. [Laughs] This was not something I could do as a dancer at all or most of my time as a coach. And so, I think there are two sides to that.
One, can we help the younger dancers and young coaches get there faster, please? I think that’s a lot of the work that you and I both do, and I talk about values so much. I won't set goals with anyone unless we’ve talked about values. So, on the one hand, yes, do it sooner. Find your values. That is your foundation when everything else comes at you. When any of the negative self-talk happens, when the comparison happens, when you are not outwardly successful and get pressure, all of that comes back to having that foundation of values.
But the flip side of that is I don't think it’s developmentally appropriate for a 15-year-old to have solid values and an understanding of themselves. They're not going to, and that’s okay, and as a coach and as a teacher and as a dancer, understanding that that process to define your values is fluid, and it’s gonna take time, and you can start thinking about it, and you can start working on them as a teenager, but it’s going to change, and that makes a lot of this confidence stuff harder because you're looking for, “If I look like her, if I act like her, if I behave the way he does, I will be confident,” because we can't yet look inward.
So, it’s, yes, you can do it sooner, but also, it’s supposed to take time in your life, and that’s okay.
Lauren: Yeah, I love that! I love that, that age that you just said, I’m like the whole point is to be messy and figure it out, right?
Chelsea: Yes. Right.
Lauren: That’s the whole point, whether it’s your identity, the music you listen to, the boys you date. This is, again, all my story, right? But it was just my outfits changed depending on the boy I was dating because I literally was like, “Who am I? Who do I want to hang with? What are the conversations? What lights me up,” you know?
Lauren: But I think that we’re sort of circling around another one of those myths that action requires you to be confident, right? And what you’ve just described through all of the value exploration, through the identity exploration, it’s like, no. You get to be in a messy middle, and you don't have to feel confident in order to try something, in order to go in a new direction, in order to peel a little armor off and get a little bit more vulnerable, right?
Lauren: It’s like confidence, you don't have to wait for that. Through your actions, through your exploration, through the messy middle, we start to cultivate a little bit more of that self-trust.
You Don’t Have to Feel Confident to Try Something New – 32:08
Chelsea: Yes. Absolutely. Did you find that in your own dance journey, academic journey, consulting journey? I guess I’ll speak for myself, the first few times you do anything. You know, the first time I record a podcast, the first time I sit with a team, all of that, I’m like, “I don't know what I’m doing. How do I possibly?” If the confidence doesn't come — if I had waited for the confidence, I never would have started.
Lauren: One hundred percent. The funny story this week was I have a friend who’s also a dance educator and a dance program director, and she sends me this little voice note, and she was like, “Okay, so I show up to my son’s high school fashion show.”
Lauren: “This team of well-intentioned teachers has all these LED lights, and nobody knows how to set them up.”
Lauren: And so, she rolls up her sleeves, and she is now lighting the fashion show, and she just laughs and goes, “I didn't know I had that skill,” or, “That was such a skill I had developed so much confidence around,” and I was like this is how it works, right? It’s like you don't know how to do something. You have to figure it out a bunch of times, throw yourself in, I don't know, wrestle with it, do it poorly, but eventually, there’s a moment where you're like, “Oh, I guess I do know how to do this!”
Lauren: Or there’s just that slow, slow build. For me, what was interesting, and I reflected on it this morning in my journaling knowing we were gonna explore confidence, is that I had a very high level of confidence as a dancer. Now, I had to pause and go, “Was it over-confidence?” Which I would actually link to some naiveté of just, like, really thinking I could do anything, you know? And I had to get real with myself. Was there also arrogance, right? Sort of just like that inflated sense of self. I’m sure that there were both at different times, at different ages, in different stages.
Lauren: But I did have a strong sense of self-trust that I definitely took action before I was probably ready or felt confident, but I was willing to toss it in there and to go for it. A lot of my initial memories that come up have to do with me singing because I’m not a super confident singer or not super trained, but I was willing to get up and give it a go.
Lauren: But what was interesting is when I transitioned into the professional world, literally within weeks shattered.
Lauren: And not only did I lose confidence, I think I lost all confidence. For me, I’ve shared it with you before, it was an athletic identity crisis. It was, “I have no sense of who I am, my worth, my value,” and when we’re looking at self-worth, I mean, again, you can see it on Instagram, and it’s a concept which, “Hey, that sounds like a good idea.” But the more and more I deep dive into any kind of mental skills or any kind of just healthy sense of well-being from the inside out, it tends to come to this, right? This sort of sense that I don't have to be perfect or that I do have worth even if I don't win a competition or work with a certain professional company.
So, for me, a large part of my twenties, even early thirties, I would say because I went back to school a little bit later [Laughs] and just everything that’s happened over the past four or five years, I will say, “Oh, this thing just keeps going.” But I will say I felt like I had it and I lost it.
Lauren: And so much of this journey has been how do I reconnect or find it but in a way that’s true and stable and not dependent on the keynote speeches or the magazine articles or the social media followers, because that’s a tasty little trap, right? It could be so easy to want to hook self-worth onto those again. And so, for me, confidence is so curious to me because I’ve had so many different experiences with it and what rattles it or what makes it super fragile.
Lauren: Again, I go back to — yeah.
Chelsea: No, I was gonna say that I appreciate you sharing that and being open with it because I think it brings up the point that confidence is domain specific or it changes depending on our context in life, and we, again, assume, “Oh, if I’m a confident person, I’m confident in everything I do,” and we’re just usually not. Even think about academics. If somebody’s like, “Oh, I’m just not good at math, but if we go into English, I’m great. I’m gold. I’ll raise my hand, and I’ll talk, and I’m fine, but in this other class, I can't do it,” or in dance, “I’m super confident if we’re doing hip-hop, but as soon as we go do a contemporary, I shut down, and I’m totally not.” That is normal, and that, as you were saying, when your context shifted to something that was completely unfamiliar, that’s when confidence is often shattered. I think, for me, it’s the first time you do something in a new context, you have that sense of, “I have never been here before. I’ve never done this. How could I possibly have that self-trust?”
Even on a micro-level I was talking to dancers just a week ago who were getting ready to go to the national championship for the first time, and they were like, “We’ve never been here. We have no idea how to do this. We can't compete at the national level.” Just talking about, again, going back to where have you been successful before or what can you lean on, it’s like, “You have done something new lots of times. You haven't done this new thing, but you’ve done something new, and you’ve been successful in that moment lots of times. What are those things?” That’s something that’s helped dancers, and I think that it helped me in a lot of those moments of, like, “No, I have never lectured to 400 freshman college students. Okay, this is terrifying. How am I gonna do this?” But I can also be like, “What else have I done? I have given big speeches before. I have taught before. Being able to lean into the things that you have done, building the self-trust even when you're in a new context.”
Lauren: Love that, and I think that you're also getting at another myth that extroversion is confidence. [Laughs]
Lauren: You know? I am an extroverted human. I came out of the womb leaning in that direction.
Chelsea: [Laughs] Yes.
Lauren: There are VHS tapes that point to purity, and what was really, I’ll say, painful, it caused a lot of suffering is that I think a little bit through dance and, again, another myth of fake it ‘til you make it —
Lauren: — I don't think people had any sense of how much I was struggling on the inside because I kind of went into that fake-it-’til-you-make-it type outer portrayal. Maybe it was a perfectionist armor, for sure. We can call them whatever we want, but that’s another piece. I think we assume, and I know a lot of dancers, when they get into the rehearsal hall or when they're in class with maybe new dancers, it’s like if there is a person who is extroverted, loud, aggressive, it’s like, “Oh, they're confident.”
Lauren: And what you and I know is that some of the most confident human beings and dancers are the most quiet.
Chelsea: Yes, and some of the loudest are the least confident. It’s both sides. Agreed. Yes.
Fake It ‘Til You Make It Hack – 40:02
Lauren: Yeah, so, I would love to explore the fake it ‘til you make it because I think this is an interesting one in the dance community specific, because there is an element where it’s like, well, if you don't have it, you’re in the audition. It's happening. Put that smile on, right?
Lauren: The time is now.
Lauren: But I would love to hear how you, perhaps, pull apart that philosophy or that very quick and easy thing that many dance teachers have said.
Chelsea: Yes, okay, you're turning this on me, and it’s wonderful! And I’m gonna turn it right back to you and see if you feel differently about it. I think you're right. It’s so easy to say, and, on one hand, there is some research about body language and how that can actually change things in your brain. So, we do know things. That power stance, the putting a pencil in your mouth to force the smile, triggering the same neural response. So, yes, there is some element to take the stage with your chin up, no matter how you actually feel. That can make a small difference, it really can. Not only in how you feel, but how a judge sees you take the floor primes them for what they're about to see.
So, yes, there is a grain of truth to that thought that you should, like you said, put the smile on, and being in such a performative sport, you have to put that shield up, that face on. But I think where it gets dangerous is it becomes the thing you say when I don't know what else to say or do or I don't know how to train you to be confident. And we’ve been saying so much that confidence comes from doing the work and recognizing the work and recognizing the effort that’s been put in, and fake it ‘til you make it feels a little bit more like the Band-Aid of, “Well, you didn't put the work in yet, so just fake it.” It’s like but if that’s the message, that’s terrible! [Laughs] That’s not what we want to focus on.
Lauren: I just know in my personal experience [Laughs] going into auditions where I haven't put in the work to sing, I don't have that credibility within myself, there is not a credible source of self-talk that says, “You've got it, Whitney,” you know?
Chelsea: Yes. [Laughs]
Lauren: “Just go for it.” It was like, “Okay, there is no choice but to fake it ‘til we make it right now because I haven't done the work.” And so, I think that there is a sense of your brain knows.
Lauren: You can't fool yourself. And so, absolutely, yes. When the time comes, and it is the job interview, it is the performance, it is the you need to get on the stage and speak to hundreds of people, whether or not that confidence is there, it’s like we know that a performance is required. [Laughs]
Lauren: And also, it’s just not sustainable. And I think it’s a little hack-y, right?
Lauren: Like you're hoping that there’s a hack. You're hoping that there’s a loophole. You're hoping that your enthusiasm is gonna pull you through.
Chelsea: Right, yeah, it’s the crutch when you haven't done the work, which, okay, sometimes you really haven't done the work, and that’s all you’ve got, but that’s not gonna be a source of confidence. I think that’s where it gets thrown around is if you just keep faking it, you will eventually make it and be confident, and that, no, it might be a Band-Aid and a crutch in the moment that, to your point, is not sustainable. It’s not gonna actually help you feel more confident. It makes you more aware of, “Wow, I was not prepared for that at all.”
Lauren: I think that that’s where we hold all of these myths or we explore them with so much curiosity and compassion and gentleness, or at least that’s how I explore them, because when I go into that place of self-judgment or there’s a right or a wrong way to feel or a right or a wrong way to be or I’m seeing things through that compare and despair where it’s literally like they look confident so that must mean I’m not.
Lauren: They are inaccurate ways of thinking. Usually, we’re falling into some kind of thinking trap, cognitive distortion, thinking error, whatever you want to Google to find out. “What are those?” But they are specific ways of thinking that are inaccurate, and I said that to a group of pre-professional students a couple weeks ago. I said, “Your brain is not built to make you happy. It is built for survival.”
What Confidence Really Comes From – 44:45
Lauren: “Your brain is built for survival, not accuracy.” And so, in these moments, can we challenge ourselves or what we thought to be true about confidence, and can we really come — and I think that when I teased apart where does confidence come from, I wholeheartedly believe it comes from a source of love.
Lauren: You have enough love and self-respect and self-trust that you don't have to be perfect, you don't have to be “ready,” you don't have to do that. You can just do the work. You can invest in yourself. It breaks my heart, and I hear it a lot how dancers have hard times accepting compliments.
Lauren: Or believing them.
Chelsea: Believing them, right. Just nodding and saying thank you, but not taking it to heart.
Lauren: Or you actually think people are lying, you know? [Laughs]
Chelsea: Right. You're like, “Oh, you're just saying that!” Yeah.
Lauren: And, to me, confidence is gonna come when you can just hit pause and start to find all the spaces and the places that you can get on your own team, you know? You can give yourself that same respect and love and support, and also, what I know to be true is that truly confident people, they never go into that fear, attack, jealousy sort of, “I need to put somebody else down to make myself feel better.” That’s not confidence. And so, for me, it’s like if you can do the work as a dancer or as a team or as a coach, to really find that individual self-talk and source and credibility, you only float all boats, right?
Lauren: The tide only rises. It’s in the fear, the scarcity, the favoritism, the insecurity that it just crumbles. It turns into just an absolute confidence earthquake, and whether or not we mean to do it with our teams or ourselves, it’s what’s happening, and so, we need to be able to, I think, hit the pause and reconsider.
Chelsea: That’s so well said. I was gonna ask you for summary thoughts, and you just beautifully did it. I think that it is that self-love, and it has to have — you have to do the work, and you have to love yourself through it. And then for us, as coaches, we have to do that. As educators, we have to continue to do that, but then our role in helping our dancers do that. You can play a role in helping them get to that place, but it’s a different approach rather than just trying to say, again, “Why don't you believe me when I tell you how good you are,” and you're just trying to pour compliments versus speaking in a way of, like, “Are you proud of what you did,” or, “How have you felt successful this week,” and helping them find the internal, and that shift that we’re all still fighting for and trying to figure out how to do that.
Lauren: And it’s messy, and particularly if you're going after excellence or you’ve worn the lens of perfectionism, you know, you've worn your little perfectionist glasses for a long time, it can feel soft, it can feel elusive, it can feel very new, and yet — I think when I look at it from the coach’s perspective because I do always remind dance teachers and educators and coaches, you’re not a therapist or a counselor or a psychologist, nor is anyone expecting you to be. And actually if you feel yourself leaning into that role, you should probably hit pause, right?
Lauren: So, remembering that we influence the confidence of the team through the thoughts, words, actions, very intentional exercises, purposeful challenges, right? That’s our domain. And so, we have to be able to, whether it is recording your class, recording your voice, quite literally asking dancers, “What is it like to be coached by me,” or, “How could I help your confidence,” or, “Is there something that I do that diminishes the confidence,” and it can be anonymous, right? We can tell pretty quickly are they searching for external validation, right? We can give them a little bit of that, but also like, “Okay, yeah, we’re working through it.” But the amount of dancers that have shared how devastating favoritism is, we can do all these things, and if we are not clean on our side of the street, if we are not mindful of how we are setting these systems and this structure and these conversations up, you can say, “Oh, my gosh, I think you’re so great,” but literally if they’ve only ever seen the back corner and you don't pay attention to them —
Lauren: — that’s not effective.
Start with Self – 49:50
Lauren: So, I know how many coaches and dance educators listen to your podcast, and I think that that’s the invitation that you share all the time: start with self. With a curious and compassionate eye, can we re-explore this topic in some of our own practices, and we’re not gonna be perfect. Nobody expects you to be perfect. It is messy. When I was integrating mental skills into studio spaces, I played with it for 14 years, and there were sometimes I’ll walk away from a class, I was like, “That wasn't it,” right?
Chelsea: Right. Yep.
Lauren: Like, “Good attempt, not it.” So, I think being able to give ourselves the same sort of grace and space that we offer the dancers, but also the same commitment level to it that we want everyone to subscribe to.
Chelsea: Yes, well, I want to leave us with that thought: start with self. That that’s all of this confidence conversation to lean into how this feels for you and then how you can bring that into your dancers.
Thank you so much, Lauren. We could talk forever, and I love that we are so always in line. Thank you for sharing. Will you share with our listeners where they can find more about you and the work that you have done bringing mental skills into dance studios?
Lauren: Absolutely! Well, I cannot not express how grateful I am for you and your consistent generosity with what you share through your wisdom, your experiences, your education. I am always inspired as a fellow comrade, and here, and I am even more grateful that you and I have been able to become friends from a distance.
Chelsea: Mm-hmm. Yes.
Lauren: And we’re gonna count this as a big win for Instagram and online work, right?
Chelsea: [Laughs] Yes!
Lauren: So, I mean, I am on Instagram. It’s @lauren_m_ritchie. www.withlauren.ca is my website, and it’s dot C-A because I’m sure most people can hear now I’m from Canada. [Laughs] My accent just creeps in, and I’ve always just ooh.
Lauren: [Laughs] But those are the two main spots. As you know and you've talked about before, I have The Dance Podcast. It is a seasonal one, and I’ve been on a break for a little bit because it actually started with the intention to help dancers transition from their competitive studio spaces into the professional world, hence my mess became my message, right?
Lauren: It was just like, “What’s the information I didn't have? What are the conversations?” And thanks to Liz Gilbert, she had a podcast and described it in the most beautiful way of it gets to have seasons, and it gets to have pauses, and we get to make stuff and then decide whether or not we’re picking it up again. And so, for me, The Dance Podcast is there. There is nothing more that I love than, obviously, this, talking to each other.
Lauren: And also, I’m very intentional with each season, and so, for right now, there are not new episodes, but that’s because I’m waiting for that next fire to start within my heart.
Chelsea: Yeah, you’re walking the walk of everything we talk about, that to do it the way that is right with your values and your intentions, and the podcast is still there! All the episodes are there. If you haven't found it, go listen! So many great things in there, so I appreciate that. So, thank you, again, Lauren. I love chatting with you! It’s a pleasure to have you!
Lauren: Thank you!
[Motivational Outro Music]