Mental Rehearsal: Get In Extra Practice Training Using Your Mind!
The world of dance is beautifully unpredictable. One day your turns may be perfect and the next day you’re falling out of them. Dress rehearsal can be full of flaws but the final performance is amazing. You are the art form and humans cannot be perfectly predictable, as much as we might like. Not to mention that you may have to perform on stages that are slippery, in front of judges who are extra critical, or your music could stop mid-performance.
With all of these “what-ifs” dance can become quite stressful! But rather than ignoring these possibilities, or getting worked up over them, you can prepare for competition and performance by using mental rehearsal.
Mental rehearsal, also called imagery or visualization, is using your mind to create or recreate experiences. You’re basically using your imagination, and with a purpose. You can create experiences you haven’t yet had, such as walking onto a brand new stage to perform, or completing 4 fouettes in a row when you finally connected 3. You can also recreate experiences you’ve had, such as reliving that amazing performance from last weekend or reviewing the dance you’ve been working on before you compete.
When you use your imagination, you want to try to perform exactly as you would want to in real life: with correct form, hearing the music, seeing any other people in your routine, in the same timing as your dance, and feeling the movement as much as possible. When you use imagery to practice your dance technique and routines, you strengthen your muscle memory.
Mental rehearsal can also be used to help you prepare for your competitions and performances: you can think about what worries or “what ifs” you’re concerned about, and then use mental rehearsal to work through those challenges. For example: If you’re worried about your music stopping mid-way through your routine, you can mentally rehearse seeing yourself perform but continuing without music (You could even have your music playing in the background and have someone stop it while you do your imagery). If you get nervous because the judges watch so intently, then run through your routine many (many) times in your head, experiencing the judges looking right at you, making note of every deduction. This way, when you get to the competition, you may be less nervous because you’ve experienced it so many times before.
Mental rehearsal can help you prepare for the uncertainties of competition, but also help you get more practice. You may only get one dress rehearsal on the actual stage before a performance, but you can go through it in your mind as many times as you want. If you’re at an audition, you might not have as much time to do the choreography as you would like, so instead, imagine it!
While imagery is a great skill for dancers to use, it can be a bit tricky. If you find that you don’t see yourself performing well, or your skills don’t go the way they should, then start simple. Pick one skill that you do well in dance and imagine that until you see it exactly how you want it to go. Then, add on from there. Work that mental imagery muscle with basics and drills and you’ll get better at more challenging ways to mentally rehearse. Just like our physical skills, we need to practice our mental skills regularly!
Sara Robinson has a BFA in Theater from New York University and an MA in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University (CA). She has worked for over a decade with dancers, performers and athletes helping them develop their mental skills for practice and performance. Sara is a regular contributor to Inside Dance Magazine, Inside Cheerleading Magazine, SportingKid Live, Huffington Post, and Reality Moms. Busy moms looking for balance can find her blogging at Get Mom Balanced. When she’s not working, writing, or teaching, she can be found hanging out with her family, oftentimes having dance parties.