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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