Lights, Camera, Distraction!
Competitions are full of distractions. There is a screaming audience, judges on the side of the floor, other competitors getting in your way, tight costumes with strips of fabric or stones flying everywhere, perhaps a new venue with a different sized floor and maybe even bright lights and cameras. Not only do you have to fight off your nerves, but you also have to deal with trying to show your best quality performance in the midst of all this mayhem!
You watch all the more experienced dancers at the IDSF competitions and wonder just how they do it! Well, many of the International dancers in Europe have competitions scheduled every weekend. Because there is so much more dancing going on in Europe, and it is much easier to fly from country to country, the International dancers get a lot more practice on the competition floor. For us locals, on the other hand, it’s tough to get the experience we need, with only 4-6 competitions held in Vancouver per year.
So what can we do here in Vancouver, to hone our skills and fight all these distractions?
Practice during practice. Compete during competition.
Competitions are not the time to be working on specific things. Make sure that you have practiced enough, so that the actions or concepts that you are currently trying to achieve are committed to your muscle memory. Then, during competition, you can let go; allow your body to do it automatically, and dedicate your energy to expressing the music and dealing with the distractions around you.
I distinctly remember dancing Snowball at the Hyatt one year. Between each heat, we had to walk off the floor, go all the way around a huge set of bleachers and then back to the marshalling area. During this time, my partner Joel thought it would be a good idea to go over all the things we had to do for the next dance. He would go and recite everything we’d been working in that particular dance during the past month. It was driving me crazy! By the time the Foxtrot came around, I just had to tell him to stop!!!
If there’s anything we’ve learnt over our years of competing, it’s that you can only handle one or two key words, and that’s about it. Don’t think about a hundred different things as you dance. Take it from me: that can be even more distracting than the lights, cameras and other dancers on the floor!
Participate in as many competitions as you can.
In the height of our competitive career, we went to a competition almost every 2 weeks (which is not even close to what the International competitors do)! During that time, we certainly learned a lot. We improved our floorcraft skills; we got better at avoiding people, better at adapting to different floors, and therefore less nervous and more confident overall.
Some things you can only learn through experience, and controlling your emotions in a high-stress situation, like competition, is definitely one of them. Practicing in some quiet little community gym with no one around you is often effective for practice, but it will not give you the pressure that you need to handle the real-life situation. You need to be thrown into the wild, to see if you can really survive!
Create your own distractions.
So what if you still can’t get enough experience on the floor, because you just don’t have access to enough competitions nearby? No problem. Create your own high-stress environments. Change venues for practice, so that you’re forced to deal with different floors. Do demonstrations whenever you can, so that you practice in your costumes and have an audience watching your every move. Go to your local competitor practices, and force yourself to keep dancing even when you bump into your fellow dancers.
At JC Dance Co., we really emphasize the importance of floorcraft, distraction and performance to all of our competitors. That’s why we designed PEAK, our Performance Enhancing Approach to Kompetition, which offers students a weekly testing ground in order to improve their ability to handle distractions. Each week, we monitor their improvement as they become more proficient at handling floorcraft situations and distractions, and can therefore concentrate on other aspects of performance, like maintaining confidence and expressing the music.