Your First Dance Performance
If you're a typical ballet student, then you've been appearing in your school concerts since you were a tot - but there comes a point where the audience isn't thinking "isn't she cute?"any more, and you really have to start delivering the goods as a dancer.
Whether that's as a twelve year old or as an adult, that first "real" performance is a scary prospect. Don't worry if your legs are like jelly - if you weren't scared, there'd be something wrong! In fact, nerves can be good: they trigger adrenalin, which heightens your awareness and gives you more stamina.
But of course, nerves can also make your mind go blank, and make you trip over your own feet, unless you're thoroughly prepared. So let's go back a few weeks and examine what you need to do to ensure a smooth and successful performance.
Practice Like a Professional
Professional dancers have two, and only two, ways of dancing a routine. They are either "marking" or they're dancing. Nothing in between! When you're in class, you must dance your routine exactly as you intend to do it at the performance. If you get into the habit of practising at half throttle, you won't be able to step on the gas in performance. Lift your head and smile at the audience (even if the audience right now is the mirror). If you can't remember to smile while you practice, you'll forget on stage.
The thing is, once you step on that stage, any little thing you change will throw you off. You may think you don't have to paste on a smile or give it your all till the Big Night - but even lifting your head from its usual position can throw you off balance, and reminding yourself to smile will distract you from steps you thought you knew by heart. Practicing for a performance means practicing correctly in every single detail. Once you've got the detail down pat, start practising without the mirror. It's surprising how much you rely on it to remember the steps - you don't want to discover you can't dance without it when you're in front of an audience.
If you're dancing in a group, it's absolutely critical that you attend all rehearsals. A group of dancers looks awful if everyone is doing their own thing, dotted haphazardly around the stage. You can't practice keeping in sync and holding your formation if there are people missing all the time!
A common rule is that if you miss the dress rehearsal, or attend without your full costume, you won't be allowed to perform. So mark the dress rehearsal date in your calendar now!
The Final Week
OK, your first performance is looming - time for some final preparations.
If you haven't got used to dancing without a mirror already, get used to it now! Dance the routine facing in different directions and in different places, so a strange venue won't throw you (you may not have more than a quick run-through at the theatre).
Rehearse in full costume more than once, so you discover if anything is going to break, fall off, tangle or restrict your movement. That includes your hair - and remember, freshly washed hair doesn't hold pins well, so make sure you use enough to stand up to movement (unlike the girl in this clip!). I've lost count of how many hair combs I stood on when I was dancing in my flamenco troupe for that very reason.
In the few days before the performance, make sure you get enough sleep.
The Night Before
If you're an adult, don't drink alcohol the night before your performance - it affects your flexibility. Keep hydrated.
Don't "carb load" like athletes do, either - you don't want to look bloated on the day, and your performance won't be long enough to need it.
Get everything together - not just costume and props but also make-up, hair ornaments, safety pins - ready to go. You're going to be nervous in the morning, and you don't want to waste time searching for hair lacquer or toe pads. Work out how you're going to carry it all to the venue and what you'll wear to get there.
Don't assume you're just going to put on your street clothes, load everything into a bag and get ready at the theater! Changing facilities are usually cramped (or non-existent) and you'll end up having to fight for the mirror (if there is one, which there often isn't). The dressing area may not be all that private - I've had to dress in toilets and utility rooms, and one memorable time in a glass-fronted office - so at least, make sure you don't have to change your underwear.
So, it makes more sense to do your hair and face before you go - and if your costume isn't too outrageous, you can even wear it to the venue (perhaps with a coat over it). Decide what approach you're going to take, and lay out your "stuff" accordingly.
Now, off to bed for a good night's sleep!
On the Day
Your last meal before the show should be high on protein - good for mental alertness. Make sure you eat at least a couple of hours beforehand. If you need an energy boost within the last hour, eat a banana - it's the one thing that won't feel heavy on your stomach when you're dancing.
I know some dancers who swear by a shot of brandy just before the show, but it only makes them THINK they dance better. Just like I think I speak great French when I've had a drink or two, but no one seems to understand me any better!
Arrive at the venue earlier than you think you need to. It really is worth getting ready as much as possible before you leave home – at least your hair and make-up - because you never know what hitches you may face when you get to the gig.
Once you're ready, make sure you know where to go when it's your turn on stage. A well-organized show will have a stage manager to call you when it's time to perform, but don't assume – at amateur gigs, you may be expected to watch for your cue yourself. I've known dancers completely miss their performance because they were chatting away, blithely assuming someone would call them when it was time!
Place your things (and any props you'll need) tidily out of the way, so others won't trip over them and possibly damage them. Now do some warm-up exercises. If you can find enough space, do a quick run-through - but don't stray too far away, in case you miss your call.
When you're called, go straight to your designated spot. Take a few deep breaths and think about your entrance. When you hear the music, lift your head, grow several inches, smile with your whole face and - you're on!
Dancers in the Wings by Chris Hays Photography. Dressing room by Jorge Franganillo.