ASK EMMA - Where did my confidence go?
Q: 19-year-old female, full time dance student
I find that ever since I became a fulltime student, I've become much more self-critical. Looking back at old videos, I can see that my technique isn't as good as it is now, but I can also see a strong confidence in my dancing that I seem to have lost. How can I find this confidence again?
A: Dear Dancer,
When we get older we become gradually more self aware and self critical. When I was 16 years old almost nothing intimidated me in the studio or on stage. Suddenly, at around 17, I started to hide at the back of the room behind my peers, something I’d never done before. My technique was definitely getting stronger. But with each day came a growing awareness of the dancers around me – all of whom seemed “better” than me, more experienced and more confident. It seems that as we get older we look more to our left and right.
Once we’ve developed this self-awareness and ability for self criticism (most of us do at some point in time) it is hard to shake it off. And, as you’ve noticed, it can have a negative impact on your confidence.
Self criticism, however, is not all bad. It can play an important role in striving to improve. We need to be aware of our strengths and weaknesses. But keep in mind that self judgment is very one sided and it must only be allowed a voice at certain times – never in the studio or during performance. So, here’s what I suggest you need to do to get your confidence back:
Make the decision that the critic inside your head is not allowed in the studio or anywhere near a performance. At these times, make it just you and your unique body and soul, listening attentively, working hard and giving your all.
Confidence at this stage of your career is no longer simply blind ambition. It never will be again. Now it requires trust and belief in your training and in your teachers that all your hard work and consistent practice will take over when you need it to. So my second piece of advice is:
Build faith in the very act of doing, of dancing. Let the practice itself take over. And let yourself shine through that practice. Your job is to do. Your teacher’s job is to correct (and they do!).
Confidence also requires some fraud. Rather like the way in which yoga power poses endow you with feeling of fortitude because you have adopted a powerful stance. So my third piece of advice is:
Adopting a confident demeanor and attitude eventually infuses that feeling through the body. The pretence has in fact tricked you into confidence. You would be surprised at how many people employ this tactic!
Personally, I used to pretend I was Sylvie Guillem walking into auditions. It made me feel strong and assured. And that is the first step.
I hope this helps. Let me know. I am sure all Dance Australia readers will want to know any other techniques you discover along the way.
-- EMMA SANDALL
Emma Sandall danced with Bejart Ballet Lausanne, the Royal Ballet, Scottish Ballet and West Australian Ballet. She teaches for companies in Australia and overseas. She welcomes your questions. Send them to email@example.com with 'Ask Emma' as your subject.