Gigging as a Pole Dancer: How to Handle Stage Fright

“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.” -Alan Watts

You can have every detail worked out. You can train your routine for months. You can spend hours glueing hundreds of tiny sequins on your costume. You can prepare your music, props and lighting cues. But then the day of the actual performance comes and suddenly you can’t stop worrying about what may go wrong during those five precious minutes you have on stage. You agonize over details… that move that isn’t quite 100%, your shoulder that’s been acting up. You stress over things you can’t control, the temperature of the venue, what the spin pole will be like…

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Backstage with the ladies before Schtick a Pole in It in NYC

This past Saturday night I found myself backstage in a dressing room with a group of very talented
pole dancers. Some were stretching and some were adjusting their hair and make-up. We all commiserated over the collective nerves we were feeling. We laughed about it, wondering why we put ourselves through all this stress.

If you are anything like me, you get serious nerves before a performance. (If not, consider yourself lucky!) Whether I’m pole dancing in a small showcase or a major competition I always get nervous before I hit the stage. I listen to my song on repeat and visualize my routine out of fear I may forget the moves. Butterflies drive me sick to my stomach. My palms get sweaty. My heart beats fast. I feel weak in all limbs. It’s torture.

And then some how I get on stage and am able to perform intricate and physically grueling pole combinations. The entire struggle becomes worth this moment of absolute one with the present moment. I step off stage in sweat with my breath heavy and my muscles swelling. It is a euphoric feeling.

With a major performance in Pole Theatre coming up, I have been thinking a lot lately about the best way to deal with the inevitable nerves that come. I will admit it does get easier with time. But there is always some level of uneasiness no matter the occasion. I think that will always be there and the day when it isn’t will be the day I stop pole dancing.

Here are some tips I have to offer for helping your nerves before a pole performance…

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Backstage at Schtick 

Be Prepared
This applies to the days leading up to your performance and even the morning of. Try to prepare on every level possible. Know your moves. Be able to perform your routine in full. Know your music. Be comfortable in your costume. Eat healthy food, especially the day of your performance! Get rest so you don’t injure yourself. On the day of, pack your bag with everything you need. Stretch and warm-up safely. Prepare everything you can leading up to your moment on stage. And in that excruciating time when you are waiting for your name to be called… let it all go. Know you have to stop preparing because you can’t anymore! There is no need to worry about it. You will need to work with what you have at that point. As the Serenity Prayer goes, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

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US National Pole Championships 2015

Meditate
This can calm nerves and help regulate your breathing which will help your body do its thing when it’s go time. If you don’t have a meditation practice you can just close your eyes and focus on your breath. YouTube offers some great options of meditation music as well as guided meditation through a simple search. You don’t want to do this right before your performance necessarily. This is more to instill an overall calming effect. You actually want to use the nervous energy in a way which brings me to my next tip…

Use Fight or Flight Mode
Fight or flight is the body’s natural response to stress. Think about if you were in the wild and came into contact with a bear. You would be pretty freaked out. Your heart rate would increase as well as your breathing. Blood flow would increase to the muscles. These and other physiological changes provide the body with more energy to exert in an emergency. That means more power. This is great for pole dancers! So on a certain level you should be comfortable with this natural reaction your body is having and embrace it. Use it. Go with it. Staying in this heightened state too long can cause overexertion of energy and make you tired though. So be careful of staying in fight or flight too long. For example, going into fight or flight in the wings is helpful. But waking up and having this reaction all day is not. Research this reaction. Understanding it should make you feel more comfortable with experiencing it.

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US National Pole Championships 2015

Be Present
This should be the case throughout the entire process from the spark in your mind to create the routine to the moment you step off stage. It is most difficult and crucial to feel this when waiting backstage and of course, when performing your actual routine. We can only be at our best if we soak up the moment and are fully aware of our body and its relation to the world around us. When you are sitting backstage and your stomach is doing flips, don’t fight it. Go into it, accept it and relish in it. Be happy you are able to feel that level of awareness. This brings me to my last point…

Be Grateful
One of the best pieces of advice about handling nerves I have ever heard was from champion pole dancer Natasha Wangbe grateful for your body. We often think about what we don’t have and where we are lacking. Through doing this we don’t appreciate all the great things we do have. When you are moments before a performance, you have to love where you are at. Coming up with a long-term training plan to transform your body may be something you want to think about afterwards if you want change. But this isn’t the place to worry about that… be where you are at, injuries, insecurities, weaknesses and all. Be grateful for your body’s ability to perform amazing feats of strength. Think of all the people who are not able to use this form of physical expression. Be proud of how strong you are. Look back to that person you were on the day of your very first pole class. They would be in awe. Be proud that you have the guts to get on stage in your underwear and share a piece of your heart.

~~~

As pole dancers we pursue a highly physically demanding activity. We push our body to its limits. All this work is rewarded with minimal financial gain and a general lack of respect, understanding or appreciation from the mainstream. Maybe that is the very reason why we do this: for the pure love of it despite the struggle. The larger the hurdles the more our passion for this amazing, athletic art form shines.

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All done! Photo by Sam Harris from Schtick a Pole in It, NYC 

2 thoughts on “Gigging as a Pole Dancer: How to Handle Stage Fright

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