Competition Confidence

Competition dancers work hard to polish their routines. But when they’re finally backstage on the big day, even the veterans can start to doubt themselves. Below, nine professional dancers (all former comp kids!) share the tricks they use to keep cool in these crucial moments.

Joey Dowling at NYCDA in 1995

Joey Dowling, master teacher/choreographer

“Focus on the things you can control—it will make you feel more powerful. When I was competing, I tried not to watch anyone else. I’d go in the corner and only worry about what I came there to do. I would listen to music that put me in a good mood, like Cyndi Lauper or Madonna. Then I would lie on the floor and envision my solo and how I wanted it to go.”

Corey Snide performing at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals in NYC

Corey Snide, Juilliard student

“Whenever my friends from my studio and I got butterflies at competition, we would make butterflies with our hands on each other’s stomachs, then slap them away and say, ‘Bad butterflies! Bad butterflies!’ Silly as it is, I’ve done it since I was 6, and it works.”

Dusty Button as Queen of the Dryads in Boston Ballet’s production of Don Quixote

Dusty Button, Boston Ballet

“I remind myself that everyone in the audience and on the stage is in the same position. In life, everyone is a person first, before they’re a dancer, a judge or an audience member. The audience is forgiving most of the time, because they’re people, too. They are there to enjoy your performance, and it’s so much more fun watching someone who is enjoying herself than someone who is worked up.” 

Maggie Darlington at the Western Region Oireachtas world qualifiers in 2009

Maggie Darlington, Riverdance

“Having good company backstage eases my nerves, whether it’s a friend or a teacher. When I competed with teams, we would feed off of each other’s energy—jumping up and down, talking to each other and giggling—instead of thinking about the competition.”

Jason Luks, tap dancer

"I do push-ups and big jumps right before I perform to get my blood pumping. The moment you step onstage is a huge rush—it’s great to get a head start on that energy.”

Haylee Roderick (center) with Center Stage Performing Arts Studio

Haylee Roderick, commercial dancer

“Right before we went onstage, my team and I would get together and say a prayer to remember why we were there. We were so close, like a family, so we would dedicate our dances to each other. Dancing for one another instead of a gold medal made the performance feel much more worthwhile.”

Neil Haskell in Bring It On: The Musical

Neil Haskell, Bring It On: The Musical

“I don’t run through routines or sing lyrics beforehand, because I know if I forget them backstage, it will freak me out and then I won’t be able to remember them onstage. I just try to relax and trust myself. And I know if I do mess up, there are other people onstage who have my back and will be able to cover for me. Knowing that makes me much more comfortable.”

Alison Preston, Boston Celtics dancer

“My mom is my biggest supporter, and she told me to tap my foot three times if I got nervous. When I was standing in the wings waiting to go on and heard them call my name, I would get really anxious. But then I would tap my foot three times, and it would calm me down.” 

Cameron Adams, Nice Work If You Can Get It on Broadway

“As a kid, I was superstitious. I would do a really good warm-up by myself, and then I’d take a moment with my dance teacher to go over anything that was giving me trouble. My teacher and I had our own special handshake, too—a little routine we would do right before I went onstage.”

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