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Crash course in confidence

Dancers are often very good at listing their perceived flaws and weaknesses, but not so good at recognising what they have done well. Understanding what we need to work on is important in order to develop particular skills, but focusing solely on the negative can undermine our self-confidence which can, in turn, affect our performance. Many dancers believe that confidence is ‘fixed’ and not something they can change, but the good news is that that isn’t the case. There are some fairly simple ways to enhance your self-confidence – read on for my top 5 tips.

What is self-confidence?

Self-confidence refers to our belief in our abilities. It is situation-specific, meaning that it changes and fluctuates according to the situation. For example, you may feel very confident in technique class, but less so in choreography workshops. Or perhaps you enjoy the challenge of learning new rep, but lack confidence when performing it on stage. Confidence levels can also be affected by other factors outside of dance, including our general health and wellbeing. You may feel more confident if you have slept well, eaten a nutritious breakfast and had a good laugh with your family or friends before coming to class.

Self-confidence is important because it influences how much effort we put into tasks, how motivated we are, how much we can concentrate, how much we persist at challenges, how willing we are to take risks, and the extent to which we participate in different situations. All of these things can then affect our performance. For instance, a dancer who is low in confidence may not want to try out a challenging new movement because she is worried about getting it wrong in front of others. As a result, she will not learn how to problem-solve the movement and will progress more slowly. This can then further undermine her self-confidence, leaving her less motivated, more anxious, and stuck in a negative cycle.

We may also fall into the trap of believing that we will only feel more confident “if…” and “when…” Have you ever said things like this to yourself: “I will feel more confident if I get into this school”, or, “I will be more confident when I get an ‘A’ grade in my assessment”? Although these events may have a positive effect on our confidence, they will only be temporary, because they are external indicators of our ability, rather than an internal sense of self-belief. These factors can certainly contribute to self-confidence, but won’t truly build it, because we may not believe that they are a true indicator of our ability (we might think, “Getting that ‘A’ grade was a fluke, it won’t happen again”). So, we want to work on developing our internal belief in our abilities, which will help to protect us against those more fickle external indicators and will feed into our self-esteem, which is a more stable indicator of our self-worth.

Top 5 tips for building self-confidence

It can be difficult to get a realistic sense of our abilities in an aesthetic activity like dance, which does not always rely on objective markers of performance but instead often depends upon the judgements of others. But if we build our confidence from the inside, it will give us more self-belief, making us more willing to take risks, persist when the going gets tough, and feel good when we are dancing. Here are my top 5 tips for building self-confidence. Remember, as with any new skill, it will take time to put them into practice consistently, but the results will be worth it.

1. Recognise your accomplishments

As I said at the start of this article, dancers are often experts at knowing their weaknesses, but rarely acknowledge their strengths. So try to start actively noticing what you are doing well, and write it down so that you can look back on it. What have you done well in this class, on this day, across this whole week? It doesn’t just have to be related to movement skills – if you helped a peer rehearse an exercise, or did some deep breathing to calm your anxiety before a challenging situation, write those down, too. Recognise all of your accomplishments, big and small, and you will start to see that you are more capable than you realise.

2. Set goals

If there is something particular you want to work on, set a goal for it. You can use the SMART goal tool for doing this, to make sure that your goals are specific, relevant and achievable. Once you have set a goal, keep this as your focus until you have reached it. Then, set another, and keep progressing. Monitoring your goals is also a great way to help you recognise your achievements!

3. Think confidently

We typically have a running commentary going through our minds, which reacts to and evaluates situations and events. Often these thoughts are automatic and subconscious, and it is not uncommon for them to be negative, particularly in situations where our confidence is low. This self-talk can influence our behaviour; for example, if we tell ourselves we will not do well in this class, we may put less effort in for fear of ‘failing’, and as a result will not perform at our best and will reinforce the initial negative belief. But remember: our thoughts are not facts, they are simply interpretations of an event or situation. So the next time you start telling yourself, “You always mess this bit up”, actively stop the thought and replace it with something more positive. Create some positive statements you can use in different situations and repeat them like a mantra, to override the automatic negative commentary, and create more positive thoughts to boost your confidence. If you are struggling with changing your internal voice, try and find some cheerleaders – people whose opinion you value, who can give you a lift when you doubt yourself. Sometimes it can be easier to believe the words of others than those of ourselves when we are starting to work on our confidence.

4. Stop comparing yourself with others

It’s natural to compare ourselves with others, and to an extent, comparison with other dancers can give us inspiration and ideas. But when we use comparison as another way to reinforce low self-confidence, it doesn’t serve us well. If you have started setting your own goals, try and make them the focus, rather than how well other dancers are doing. This can take a lot of work, so I have dedicated another blog to it here.

5. Try something new

When we are low in confidence, we tend to stick to what we know because it feels safe, non-threatening and poses little to no risk to our self-belief. However, over time this approach undermines our confidence because it offers few opportunities to grow and develop. Try and get out of your comfort zone and try something new. It doesn’t have to be dance-related, and it doesn’t have to be a solo activity – bringing a friend or partner can make it even more fun! Trying new things expands our sense of self; who we are, who we could be, and what we are capable of doing. We grow in confidence when we get out of our comfort zone and push ourselves out of our usual boundaries. So join a club, learn a new skill, go to a workshop or gallery, and enjoy how it broadens your horizons.

Conclusions on confidence

Nobody feels 100% confident, 100% of the time, and remember that confidence fluctuates depending on the situation and other circumstances like sleep and, if you menstruate, where you are in your cycle (more on that in a later blog). But by working on your inner self-belief, you can stop relying on external events like successful auditions to boost your confidence, and build a firmer foundation that will carry you through a range of scenarios. Think positively and you will act confidently, and when you have found that confidence, the sky really is the limit!

If you have found this article useful, you may want to have a look at the Building Self-Confidence course. This two-week short course goes into more detail around confidence, what it is, how to build it, how to create a more positive mindset, and how to deal with criticism (including your own inner critic!) through a series of videos and worksheets.

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