Exams, performances and competitions are all part of a dancer’s life. For all three, proper preparation will reduce stress and help to make the experience more rewarding. Think beyond the steps: preparation extends to more than simply the dancing.
1. Ensure students are familiar with and comfortable in their costumes. One should never perform an exam or competition in a costume or leotard without practicing in it first. Material can move and stretch (or not stretch) in unexpected ways and can distract a dancer from her performance.
2. Familiarity with music is key. Sometimes in the moment of adrenalin rush, a well-known cue can suddenly sound different. The balance on different sound systems can also distort the music and confuse performers. Have students listen often and well to the different layers and tracks within the music.
3. If the exam or competition will take place at a nearby location, encourage your students to visit the space. Small things like knowing what the studio looks like and where the washrooms and change rooms are can help make the overall experience less intimidating.
4. A great way to prepare for exams is to stage a mock examination at your home studio. Place a table at the front of your studio and sit behind it, perhaps with another teacher from your studio. This will help your students become comfortable with the experience of performing steps in a studio without their teacher moving among them. Also familiarize them with having their viewers write while observing, as this can be unnerving on exam day.
5. It is always helpful to communicate with students in advance to set realistic goals and expectations, and build positive energy. Share some techniques – such as breathing deeply or inventing a personal performance ritual – for handling nervous energy before a performance.
6. Another important focus in the process of preparation is emotional readiness. Discuss ways to deal with unpredictable events during the performance itself. Mistakes happen. Encourage students not to let this derail their focus. Just as in any performance, the important thing is to keep going.
7. As a teacher, one of your key responsibilities is to equip your students with coping mechanisms for the results of the exam, performance or competition. Perhaps the most helpful skill to impart to your students is the ability to remain easy-going and calm, particularly if they will receive their results in public.
8. Remind your students that the process of undergoing an exam or performing in a competition is a journey. Although there is one final day that will provide results, what they should take away from the experience is what they learned through the process. Reflect with students afterward on how things went from their point of view. Reviewing the results together can help to ease disappointment if that’s the case, and begin building confidence for the next exam or competition to come.