Words of Advice: Performance Solutions

Published in the February/March 2009 issue.

Q: How often should I practice in a tutu before a performance?

Joan Latham, ballet mistress at Miami City Ballet: As often as you can—especially if you’re performing a pas de deux. It helps your partner because once you’re in a tutu, he can’t see your legs and it will get in his way during lifts. He needs to get used to that. Also, wearing a tutu will force you to hold your arms differently, and get you into the role. Classical tutus also highlight your legs, so you have to be very aware of how you’re working technically. Our dancers will learn the ballets without a tutu, but once they know a piece, they’ll wear practice tutus for every rehearsal. Then they wear the actual costume at least twice, maybe three times before performing in it.

Q: I get really anxious before perfor­mances. What can I do to calm my nerves?

Audra Johnson, dancer with American Repertory Ballet: During my first year at ARB I used to get really bad stage fright. Our director even had to sit down with me to talk about it. I realized that it was coming from a lack of confidence in myself—and it started before I got backstage. I’ve found that the more I push technically in rehearsal, the less I’ll have to worry about when I’m actually performing. Being able to trust my technique is the best way to calm my nerves. 

Before going on stage now, I get rid of my anxiety by practicing once or twice any technical challenges I know I’m going to have, and then simply letting them go. I’ll say a prayer and trust that whatever happens is going to happen. And I remind myself that if I weren’t capable of dancing this role, I would not have been cast. If I start to get nervous once I’m already onstage, I’ll take a deep breath to calm myself and get back into the role.

But don’t be afraid of all your nerves. There’s anxiety, and then there are the good nervous jitters that leave you on edge so you’re more likely to be on top of your technique. You can actually feed off of that energy and give a better performance.

Q:What is the best way to warm up before performing?

Tina LeBlanc, principal with San Francisco Ballet: First off, make sure to take a morning class on performance days. It will make it much easier to warm up the second time in the evening.

Every dancer needs to find what works for his or her own body. Think about what you do for class or rehearsal. It should be the same for performance, only you’ll have more adrenaline. For me, it’s mostly stretching on the floor. I always begin with crunches to
get my blood going and start to sweat. I will sometimes go on the stationary bike because of my knee injury. I do things that get
my whole body warm before stretching my hips, hamstrings, and everything else. Some people do Pilates or use other machines. Then I do a regular barre. (The more classical the piece the more strict I am with my technique.) Then I’ll make sure my pointe shoes are okay, I get in costume, go on stage and go over any parts that give me trouble in the ballet I’ll be performing.

I find that the process of getting ready—the makeup and hair—is incredibly focusing for me. It’s my mental warm-up for getting into character. That’s my time for putting on not just the outside but the inside.