Before an especially nerve-wracking performance, I listen to Eminem’s Lose Yourself. I’m not proud of it, but when I first began competing at Youth America Grand Prix in 2004, Hailie was 8 years old, 8 Mile was still (sort of) relevant, and the rap anthem’s carpe minutam memorandum wound my nerves into sanction. What can I say? Slim Shady did and does provide my chill. Everyone has their rituals, and today we’re peeking into the pre-show mind of The Joffrey Ballet’s Mahallia Ward to spy on hers…
MW: Before my first performance of the season, as I was reacquainting myself with pre-show rituals and jitters, I became highly aware of the annoying and almost comical amount of nervous chatter occupying my mind. I alternated between fruitless attempts at calm, and moments of amused observation:
“It’ll feel so good to be on stage again. Dress rehearsal was bad so…that’s good right? Whatever, don’t think about it…What to eat…? Just relax, you got this. You’re a pro…yeah right…no you are. Shut up.
“Ugh! Adrenaline my old friend, I don’t like you. What use are my legs in a fight or flight situation if they have melted into puddles of jelly??! C’mon, strength, energy…Just breathe…ahh yes…oh this would make a cool blog post! This is what you love. This is the fun part! Enjoy it! Just rip up the stage! But take it easy. No stress. But it’s normal to stress, everyone’s stressing inside. So don’t worry. You should probably reinforce the ribbons on your shoes one more time though, just to be sure…
“Ok these shoes only have to last one. more. show. Crap they’re buckling. Grrr. Time to plank…60, 59, 58, 57… Nice. Remember just breathe…this is no. big. deal. Just pretend you do this all the time, like you have something way harder to do tomorrow. This is nothing. A breeze! A breezy breeze. Should I pee one more time?
And on and on…
The nerves come with the gig, but I find performing much more enjoyable when I am able to relax and quieten this high strung inner dialogue.
Here are some ideas to help de-stress and prepare mentally for the stage.
1) Take a nap. During the break between rehearsals and show time, one can find a number of Joffrey’s dancers sprawled out beneath their dressing tables, zipped to the chin in warmups, refueling with some zzz’s.
2) Get out of the building. After rehearsing in a dark theater all day, a dose of fresh air and natural light help me clear my mind and feel energized.
3) Pull out your favorite mindless craft. During our run of The Nutcracker one can find dancers sitting on the pt room floor, make-up half finished, surrounded by crayons and Nutcracker themed coloring pages. Sometimes it helps to focus on staying within the lines rather than worry about (enter favorite performance nightmare here). Crocheting also does the trick. And these coloring books are awesome.
4. Take a shower. A hot shower before a show is like magic. It’s warming, relaxing and makes hair easier to twist. It’s a great way to “reset” and freshen up before going on stage.
5) Give yourself lots of makeup time. For me, putting on my stage makeup is like a meditation. Doing a clean job helps me feel prepared and beautiful and centered in my character. Allowing lots of time minimizes smudges and spills and the stress of sticky eyelash situations.
For more tips and tricks, head over here.
all photos by Mahallia Ward.