Performance anxiety

dancehealthier, on this fine Sunday, wants to present a question to you?  As dancers, students, teachers, fans – do you feel there is enough dance research being done?

If your answer to the question was No, than you are correct!  One strong indicator of this truth is that much of the limited dance research journals start with a sentence similar to this one.  “Performance anxiety research abounds in sport psychology, yet has been relatively sparse in dance” (Walter lJ, 2010).  dancehealthier advocates for further research, education and greater concentration of material.  Honestly, internationally there are way too many talented athletic aspiring and/or professional dancers that deserve the proper amount of research so we can further educate the best preventative, coping, and evaluative methods.  There is need for growth.  dancehealthier is hopeful!

Dancer: Kristi Capps – Former Principal dancer of Cincinnati Ballet. Photo by: Peter Mueller

For now, dancehealthier feels that it is important to spread the word on the current research out there.  The National Institute of Health published an article titled, “Performance anxiety experiences of professional ballet dancers: the importance of control” by Walker IJNordin-Bates SM.  The study interviews 15 elite dancers representing all ranks of one company to evaluate qualitative data on ballet dancers’ experiences of performance anxiety in relation to: 1. symptom type, intensity, and directional interpretation; 2. experience level (including company rank); and 3. self-confidence and psychological skills.  Results showed that cognitive anxiety was more dominant than somatic anxiety.  Interestingly, a certain level/amount of somatic anxiety (butterflies in the stomach) were interpreted as facilitative or beneficial to performance.  The highest amount of anxiety was felt and experienced by principal dancers vs. corps de ballet members.  When asked what caused most of the inflicted anxiety, the idea of not being in control of the performance dominated (speed of music, partner falter, plainly the idea of “anything can happen”, etc.)   As a result of the study, “dancers may benefit from education about anxiety symptoms and their interpretation, in addition to psychological skills training incorporating cognitive restructuring strategies and problem-focussed coping to help increase their feelings of being in control” (Walter lJ, 2010.)


3 thoughts on “Performance anxiety

  1. What an informative and extremely relevant topic! Thank you so much for bringing this to the ‘headlines’… I think it would be great for all dancers to read, learn and relate to.

  2. I think sports psychology has developed in response to the needs of professional athletes whose success translates into millions of dollars for their teams (or, in the case of events like the Olympics, great prestige for their countries). There is not as much money riding on the physical and mental health of dancers – except perhaps for a handful of the truly famous – so there is less emphasis on delivering these services to dancers. That said, the best ballet schools train their teachers not just to teach a syllabus of steps but also to address the needs of young dancers at different stages of their physical and brain development. I do hope that more research goes into addressing the mental health needs of dancers, but unless there is a well-funded organization leading the charge, I doubt that much progress will be made.

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