On my way home from The World Championships, I wondered how all the dancers would be feeling with their results. As one dancer's dream came true another may have felt heartbroken. Some had achieved their goals or shocked themselves when placing higher than expected. Others disappointed as they didn’t get the result they anticipated, and then some who were ecstatic because they had made it there!
I believe all dancers should ask themselves why they dance? Is it for the incredible feeling you get when you move across the floor? Maybe it’s that pride you feel when you are rewarded with the result you’ve been striving for? More likely it’s a combination of both. Think back to yourself as a beginner learning your 1,2,3’s, and I’m guessing you will remember that you dance first and foremost because of the way the music makes you feel and the friends you are surrounded by.
I feel so fortunate to have fallen in love at a young age with an art form that brought me discipline and happiness each day. In trying to advise you how to deal with the highs and lows of results, I want to remind you that although fantastic results are what we strive for, in the end you will discover that the joy, friendships and lessons you’ve learned along the way are what matters most. I promise you the results are second to everything else that Irish Dancing brings to your life.
I absolutely understand how it hurts to receive a result less than what you wanted. An unexpected placement can be shocking and confusing and happens to most dancers, so you are not alone. I encourage you to use this moment as a learning lesson. You must believe you can achieve your goals in the future and there is no better time than now to put a plan in action to make that happen!
I feel it is vital not to focus on past performances and look toward the future. However, of course you should take the time to review what went well or what didn’t go well directly after each competition by writing down a complete analysis of your day. Think back to how you performed on stage along with your mindset, your attitude, your warmup, how well you ate and hydrated, your concentration level and even how well you slept the night prior. Question yourself; was that really my best? Did I really work as hard as I could? It is ok to make mistakes in your preparation and on stage. The late, great Winston Churchill astutely said, “all men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes”. I love that quote because I believe learning is something you should strive to do every day.
One thing I believe most dancers do not focus on enough is their mindset with regards to competitive Irish Dance. I truly believe mindset is connected to your results. Are you a dancer who recently experienced a slump in your placements or maybe you keep getting the same result? If so, it is time to evaluate your mindset before, during, and after a big competition. After joining ‘Riverdance’, I was inspired by those around me and I discovered I needed to work on my mindset each day. Doing so made a massive difference to everything I do and not just my dancing. I believe if I had worked harder on my own mindset whilst competing it would have made a significant difference. I could write and write about growth mindset and how it will help you but instead I’ll advise you to read two books that made a difference for me “Commit” by Enda McNulty and “Mindset” by Dr Carol Dweck. Just know that it’s all about making conscious decisions every day to do something and learn something that will make you better.
Another important aspect to peak performance on the competitive stage is lifestyle. Are you working out to condition yourself? Is your diet helping with your energy levels? If you’ve recently had a slump in your results maybe, it’s because you are not on top of your game. Irish Dancing is a sport along with being an art form. The top dancers go the extra mile to condition themselves like athletes. They stretch every day, as well as strengthen their core and other muscle groups. They have a diet plan to ensure maximum energy to help them constantly grow and improve. You must keep hydrated and get adequate hours of sleep so you can bring your best to each dancing class, work out and performance. But you also should build in down time to enjoy your friends and family. Recovery and downtime are a vital part of your preparation for competition and aid in ensuring you don’t burn out physically or mentally.
Whether you achieved your goal at the last big competition or not, you should ask for feedback from those you trust, beginning with your teacher. Ask what you can do to improve and bring a book to class and write down every correction. Read those corrections before each practice.
Visualisation is a fantastic skill. Imagine your steps danced to the best of their ability and do this at least once a day. Also remember to celebrate your little accomplishments and the improvements you’ve made along the way. Striving to improve every day can be even more gratifying than results. Set small goals for every practice and do everything in your power to make them happen.
When dancers focus too much on results their performance in class is sometimes so much better than what they put on stage. Nerves! They creep up on us all at the most important times. I still get nervous every night as I prepare for a show, but I’ve learnt to refocus them to help get me in that excited, energetic zone I love! So, find a way that suits you to control your nerves. Try challenging yourself more in ways that provoke that nervous feeling, perhaps dancing for friends and family that don’t usually watch you dance.
One final piece of advice I have for you is to remember you dance for fun, so enjoy those moments on stage rather than fearing them. One day you won’t be a competitive dancer and you will miss it! I’d like to stress that you should not let a bad result haunt you or get you down. Believe in yourself, learn from the competition, develop an action plan and shoot for the stars! With the right mindset and a proper plan and effort, you can achieve your goals and dreams!