Getting ahead of myself is a huge problem for me. One new piece of information and my mind sees the dominoes start to fall. Suddenly, I’m worried about something that may or may not happen 10 dominoes down, assuming those are the 10 dominoes that are tapped to fall and no new dominoes or paths are added and…and…
“They” say living in the past is depression and living in the future is anxiety. Since I live with both, I guess that makes me a time traveler! Dance is one of the few things that really pulls me back into the present. Focusing so completely on what I’m doing and feeling in this specific moment helps close the doors to the past and future.
It’s not foolproof though. The anxiety especially is crafty in the ways it distracts me with “what ifs” and falling dominoes. It can also distract me with the dancing itself. I like to be prepared, i.e., I like to know what’s coming. It helps me feel like I have some semblance of control. Knowing my routines satisfies this itch. As a follow though, it can backfire because sometimes I’ll anticipate the next step and move before my partner leads me. My nerves have me worrying about what’s coming instead of what’s happening now.
You don’t have to be a time traveler to experience this. I think it’s very common for dancers to get ahead of themselves when they’re dancing, especially in a higher pressure situation, like at a competition. You might feel so nervous that you just want to get the dance over with, so you start rushing. You hear the music to a faster dance, like Viennese Waltz or Samba, and your brain goes “oh shit!” and sends you into high gear because there’s no time. Unfortunately, it probably also blocks out the rest of the song, so you don’t have a chance to really hear the timing and recognize that you actually do have time. You didn’t learn dance steps that don’t fit the timing of the music after all!
So what do I do when I do briefly return to the present and realize that I’m ahead of my partner and the music, potentially creating even more panic?
Seriously, that’s my main strategy. Slow breathing, mind you, no panting or gasps for air. Forcing myself to take a slow breath brings me back to the present, helps calm my nerves and the frantic chatter in my head, and gives me a chance to reconnect with my partner and the actual timing of the music (not the accelerated timing I thought I heard). I mentioned this last week when I wrote about dealing with stage fright. There is a point when I just need to stop trying to control and just breathe. As the follow, I need to let my partner lead me. I also have my one or two focus points that I can check in with to help ground me in the present even more.
The main thing is still to breathe. I’m a thinker, frequently an overthinker, but when it comes to a dance performance, thinking is death. When I start thinking, I immediately get pulled out of the flow. I’m ahead or behind, I don’t stay connected with my partner, and I can’t tune into the music. My mind is too full of other things! I have to slow the thought process and limit it to my one or two focus points. Breathing is like a reset button for my brain.
So if you have an anxious, analytical mind like I do, keep it on a short leash when it’s time to dance. All of the analysis is done in the studio and during your practice time. When it’s time to perform, you have to surrender to what you know you know, what you know your body knows, and of course, the music. There is no need to analyze. There is no time. There is only time to dance. And breathe.
To everyone competing at Embassy Ball and/or USDC, I wish you the happiest of dancing! Be present, enjoy each moment, and don’t forget to breathe!
P.S. – Heat lists for Embassy were posted while I was working on this blog post! Mine kinda freaked me out, which I shared on a livestream. Watch it here.