I want to write a whole post on this because I totally understand the performance-anxiety thing. As a kid I used to perform in piano recitals and would literally be shaking in fear as I approached the front of the room. Once I screwed up so badly I had to start the whole piece over again. Somehow though, the prospect of dancing in front of people no longer makes me nervous – at least in the competition setting. If my heart is pumping faster than normal, it feels more like positive adrenaline that will help me perform my best.
Remember that you are not alone. Your partner is there to support you and will (hopefully) fill in the blanks of your routine if you suddenly forget what comes next. (By the way, this happens to me more than it should…whoops.) Even if something happens, your lead and following abilities should kick it and it’ll work out fine.
If you forget your routine completely, you can always fall back on lead-follow. That is the essence of ballroom dancing, isn’t it? Good technique and practice should take care of it.
There are tons of other couples on the floor! No one will notice if you screw up. And even if you do mess up, no biggie. No one is perfect. I’ve even seen a video where Riccardo and Yulia had to do a balance check.
Even if you screw up and fall on your face, it’s okay. Really, it is. Trust me, I’ve wiped out at least twice on the floor (literally, my butt was on the floor, dress flying up all around me, and I had to find my shoe that had popped off) and it’s okay! You get back up, you start where you left off, and often the audience applauds you. It happens. And if and when it happens, you know that probably the worst possible thing happened, and you moved on with your dancing and your life.
I don’t do this as much as I should, but just really feeling the music and translating it into movement of your body is really part of the essence of dancing, isn’t it? So really get into it, feel the music in your bones, and the rest of your body will take care of itself – that’s what those hours and hours of practice are for. Don’t overanalyze your technique and worry about what your feet and arms are doing. Just think about being big and showing the music in all that you do.
Play with your partner and the audience! Easier to do when you’re apart, but you can still do this in standard, even. You can catch his eye and slip him a coy smile when you shift from closed position to promenade. In a corner, flirt with the audience. Find someone to connect with and try to make them smile. If you’re ballsy you can even play with the judges, but tread with extreme caution.
Express each dance’s character. That means, don’t just plaster a smile on your face. Let your face be expressive but not cartoonish. Be romantic in waltz and rumba, sassy in samba and smooth foxtrot, and cold and bitchy in tango. Reflect these characters in your movement as well, and your performance will be that much better for it. Figure out what story you want to tell for each dance and narrate it with your body and face. Sometimes the music is atypical and has a different feel from what is typical – the best couples can embody that.
Just letting go can do wonders for enjoying yourself, and often it makes your dancing even better than when you’re thinking about everything you’re doing. Good luck!