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There are a lot of things that can hamper one’s self-confidence, both from within ourselves and externally. Here, I am going to try to focus on improving your confidence levels, or your internal mindset, if you will, in preparation for a performance.  A lot of these factors are efforts you need to make on your own or seek out actively from others, so this is not just an easy panacea.

  • ~ Know Your Music ( or your lines or ????).  The better you know your music the better off you are at knowing where you are in your number and what you need to accomplish before the end of the song ( i.e. I still have to take off my skirt and twirl my pasties). Knowing the music well allows you the ability to hear cues and effectively react.  There may be weaknesses in doing this when you are performing to live music as tempos may change and mistakes can be made.  However, if you know the music well you can recognize changes and adjust your routine accordingly.
  • ~ Know your choreography (or stage cues).  Know your movements well. While you can always change things (if, and only if, you are doing a solo), having a well shaped choreography or stage plan can save your patootie when you get nervous and your mind goes blank.  Besides, some of my best flourishes, expressions, and added moments of stage bliss come after I am safe and sound in the knowledge of that original choreography. Although it may sound counter-intuitive, the better I know my choreography, the more comfortable I feel making a change or adding movements when performing based on how I feel or how the audience is reacting.
  • ~ Do movements/stuff you can reasonably do. We all want to be impressive and do our best on stage, but we also need to feel comfort in our abilities to do what we are planning to do. If you want to do a cartwheel in your number but you can only accomplish it 50% of the time, now is not the time to put it into the number you are doing tomorrow. Of course you can practice until you get it down and then put it into another number or add it to this one later on. Don’t set yourself up for failure before you start!
  • ~ Practice, practice, practice. Practice is good. Practice is how you know what you know and get better at what you do. People can practice in different ways. For me, my initial “practice” may be just going over the music with choreography notes or in my mind on the train, in the car, or walking through it in my house. Then I may physically practice it, then later add costuming, then I may only work on sections or segments where I feel uncomfortable or don’t remember as well. I also practice things that can go wrong. Sometimes those things happen inadvertently when I am trying to get it right – my zipper gets stuck, my bra hooks onto my fishnets, or I whack the person next to me because I am standing too close. How I cope with that and adjust for those incidents can help me prevent the same issue from happening on stage or at least help me gain a plan of attack if it, or something else, happens onstage. Sometimes I even choreograph “accidents” in… If I can mostly unzip my dress in 12 counts but sometimes it takes me 20 counts, I may come up with an interim move to do if it comes off timely and save my big “pow” movement for the 20 counts when I know I will have it off.  If I am mentally prepared for divergences in my number I am more confident because if I do have one, I know how to deal with it.
  • ~ Stand up straight and smile. You probably heard these adages from your mother or grandmother or someone else, but it does help your self-confidence.  Looking more confident makes you feel more confident and it gives other people the impression that you are confident, which can ALSO make you feel more confident. Having a confidence upward spiral is so much more satisfying than the lack of self-confidence downward spiral.
  • ~ Workshop or get feedback on your number. If you have the forum to workshop a number it is a great, supportive way to get good comments as well as feedback for improvements. If you don’t have that luxury it is still a great idea to get the opinions of others on your number. Don’t ask your friend who is negative about everything and don’t ask your mother who thinks that anything you do is spectacular, but try to find someone who will give honest and constructive comments while being positive and supportive.  Also, don’t wait too late in the process for this as you don’t want to be asking for comments 10 minutes before you go on but you have no time to incorporate any changes. Also, if your friends or community are willing, go back for more than one bite at the apple.  Ask for feedback at the development stage, the choreography stage, etc.  The act (and you) grow through-out this process and different feedback may be appropriate at different times.
  • ~ If you can, do a run through on stage. It is not always possible, but I highly recommend doing a run-through on the stage you are performing. You can get a feel for the size of the stage, entrances and exits, location of the audience in relation to you, pitfalls or obstacles (such as mics and speakers or holes in the stage). If you can’t run through your number on stage, which is often a luxury for burlesque shows, at least get a feel for the stage. Go early and walk on the stage, walk through your number and figure out if there are any components of the stage that might give you problems. In my first ever burlesque performance I tripped on a rug on stage because I had no chance to go on stage and I was so busy looking out at the audience when I came out on stage (don’t want to look at my feet) that I never knew it was there until I kicked up the edge inadvertently and then tripped.  Much better to bypass those sorts of incidents!!
  • ~ Contact ( or not) with the audience. Contact with the audience is great but sometimes it is best to minimize that if they make you very nervous. Look over the heads of the audience – it gives them the impression that you are looking at them without you having the scary issue of actually making eye contact.  If you wear contact lenses, you can also diminish the scary audience issues if you go on stage without your lenses in. If you use this tactic, however, just make sure you can function on stage without them – no running into dance partners or falling off stage!  If you can see well, there are other solutions. Plant loved ones or supporters (other performers, family, etc.) in key spots next to the stage where you can connect with them and get a warm glow from their smiling faces!!

Finally, a couple of last tips to remember: if it is a group number, connect with your co-performers by watching out of the corners of your eyes (aka your peripheral vision) for cues, choreography, and communication purposes! It helps you feel more connected to the group and helps you maintain choreographic unity with the timing/tempo of the music. Even if you are the one who ALWAYS does the number right, if everyone one else screws it up the same way except you, you are the one who looks incorrect.  Second, remember that if you are doing a solo, the only way the audience knows you made a mistake is if you let them know. The audience doesn’t know your choreography and can’t tell something went wrong if you keep smiling. Recently I went on stage all ready to do a choreographed band number in costume and with props.  The music started and I realized that I screwed up and had reversed my two numbers. I was left to improv to both numbers since the costume and props for one number didn’t mesh with the choreography of the other. I kept my cool and since it was a solo, the only one that knew was me – even the band had no idea.

So, hopefully this will help. Keep practicing and being positive about yourself!  Until my next column –

Hugs, Red Velvet

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