How Dancers Can Build Their Own Confidence
By Michelle Loucadoux
I remember standing in the middle of a chaotic audition waiting room. I don’t belong here. I’m never going to get this job. These people are way cooler than I am.
It was a month before my season at New Jersey Ballet was about to end and I was auditioning for my first big professional musical — My Fair Lady. Oh, and I was terrified.
My best friend Tyrone had triple-dog-dared me to show up for a massive non-equity open dance call for a theatre called Papermill Playhouse. “It’s literally a few miles from your ballet studio. And it runs almost the entire length of your summer layoff. You have to try out,” he said in my New Jersey apartment the night before the audition.
I shook my head. He knew he needed to up the ante. Tyrone then bet me dinner at my favorite restaurant that I wouldn’t do it. He knew he was speaking my language.
Fast forward to the next morning and…there I was — wearing a black leotard, pink tights, and ballet shoes and toting the sheet music of “Think of Me” from Phantom of the Opera (the only musical theatre song I knew).
I was surrounded in the waiting room by dancers wearing crop tops, short skirts, and sporting LaDuca character shoes. And apparently, everyone knew everyone. I felt like I stuck out like a sore pink-tighted thumb. As the audition monitor began calling dancers in, I felt all of my confidence leave my body.
Anyone ever feel like this in a class or audition? Or how about when you’re about to go onstage? Confidence is such an important skill to have in dance. And I say skill for a reason. Confidence isn’t something you’re necessarily born with. It’s something that is made. Here’s one way you can start to build your dance confidence today.
How to be more confident while Dancing?
Take your power back
Do you ever go into an audition with the sole goal to get the job? Or how about going into a class wanting to be “called out”? How about going to a competition and only wanting to win the highest score? While these types of motivation might seem appropriate for the situations, there is one fatal flaw that all of these motivators share.
None of them are under your control.
You have no control over whether you get a job or not. You can do your best, but you can’t make someone hire you, you can’t make a teacher recognize you in class, and no matter how prepared you might be, you don’t know if someone will score higher than you in competition.
When you don’t have control over your own success or failure, do you know what can happen? Your confidence can wane. Confidence is built upon our own belief in ourselves that we are capable, resilient, and under control. So, how can you regain authority over your own destiny? Well, a lot of it depends on your motivation.
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
Setting our sights on things that are outside our own control takes the power to succeed away from us and puts it into someone else’s hands. This is called extrinsic motivation. Kendra Cherry, in VeryWellMind says, “Extrinsic motivation is when we are motivated to perform a behavior or engage in an activity because we want to earn a reward or avoid punishment.”
When we have extrinsic motivation, we’re seeking validation from the outside world. Now, wanting to get a job or win some attention isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But if it’s the only thing you’re thinking about, it’s not really the healthiest mindset.
But, what if we chose to shift our motivation from extrinsic to intrinsic? What if we chose to focus on something we can control?
Instead of heading into a competition thinking that it’s “platinum or bust”, you could set a goal that you’re going to try to be as connected as possible on stage with your fellow dancers. Now, that is something (awesome) you can control. And every time you set a goal that is within your power and you accomplish it, you put another rhinestone onto your glowing crown of self-confidence.
A study in the Journal of Human Sport and Exercise says, “self-confidence was found to be positively and significantly correlating with intrinsic motivation to know and to accomplish things.” So, when we enter a situation with an open mind with the goal of learning from the experience, we grow as a person and we often become more confident. Because why? You and you alone are in charge of your own learning.
Getting the job
As I stood, waiting to go into the dance audition for My Fair Lady, dressed in my ballet gear, sticking out like a sore thumb, I made a quick decision. I was going to take Tyrone’s bet and earn myself a dinner at my favorite restaurant. I couldn’t change who I was (and I didn’t even have any other clothes to change into), so I decided to just do my best. In that moment, I released my goal of getting the job.
My new goal became: Do my best at this audition and then go out to eat with my best friend.
Long story short, I ended up getting the job anyway. My Fair Lady was my first large professional musical and I fell in love with the theatre. I soon bought my own pair of LaDucas, I learned some musical theatre songs for future auditions, and after that summer away from New Jersey Ballet, I never ever went back to dancing for a ballet company again.
Letting go of my desire to get the job in that audition wasn’t the only thing that got me hired. They happened to specifically be looking for a ballet-dancing coloratura soprano. But guess what changing my motivation did do. It got me out of my own way. It gave me the confidence to be myself, in all my weirdness. And yes, it did get me the job.
Dancers, do you want to keep working on training your brain as well as your body? Click here to check out Danscend’s course on self-talk for dancers.
Dance educators, do you want to learn how to best support your dancers in the classroom? Click here to learn more about Danscend’s ongoing group for dancer educators.