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Building Confidence #7—Visualization

Ariel Bennett, ADCRG, is a teacher and judge who has been Irish dancing for 30 years.

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 10.14.00 AMOne of the keys to dancing with confidence is knowing your steps so well that you can do them correctly, and with good form, no matter what—even if you’re tired, nervous, or competing for the first time at a higher level.

To get your steps to this point, you need to practice them every day. Getting your shoes on and drilling with the music is essential, but you can also use a technique called visualization as part of your practice. Visualization is a powerful tool in remembering and perfecting your steps.

Here is a visualization exercise you can try:

1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, preferably in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.

2. Pick one of your dances to visualize.

3. Close your eyes and do several deep breathing exercises (Read it here: Building Confidence #3—Deep Breathing Exercises)

4. Imagine yourself walking onstage at a feis. You can imagine yourself from the audience’s point of view, like watching yourself in a movie, but it’s even better if you can imagine what it looks like (and feels like) from your own point of view, through your own eyes.

5. Picture as many details as possible: the way the stage looks, the judge sitting in front of the stage, the audience behind the judge. What are you wearing? Where is the musician sitting? Are there other dancers on stage with you? Imagine not only the sights around you, but also sounds and smells.

6. Imagine the music starting. Let the music in your mind play the 8 bars of the intro—you want to visualize every detail as close to real time as you can. Imagine yourself pointing your toe.

7. Now visualize yourself dancing your first step. Picture where you move onstage and how it feels to do each part of your step. Imagine yourself doing each movement perfectly, with energy and correct form. Remind yourself about anything special you need to think about for this step, like getting all the way around on a spin or crossing your feet on a leap. Again, try to imagine the step as close to real time as possible—don’t slow it down or speed it up.

8. Do the same thing with your other step(s) for this dance.

9. At the end, imagine yourself bowing and walking off.

10. Sometimes when you visualize, you will accidentally imagine yourself making a mistake. If that happened, go back at the end and imagine that step again. Go slowly if you need to, making sure that you picture yourself doing the step (and your form) perfectly. Visualize the step the way you want it to look.

Just like with the steps themselves, visualization takes practice, and the more you do it, the better you get at it. You should visualize at least one of your dances every day. Doing visualization on a regular basis will help you remember your steps, improve your technique, and commit the steps to muscle memory so you can focus on form—and all in a way that does not put stress or strain on your muscles, or require a large space. Visualization is an excellent way to practice if you have an injury or don’t have room to dance at home.

Visualization will also help you with the mental aspects of your dancing. When you visualize, you feel more confident with your material, which makes you perform better. It also helps focus your mind on you and your dancing, rather than fears about things outside your control (Read it here: Building Confidence #6—Know Which Factors You Can Control).

When you train your mind to perform as well as your body, you will dance your very best, and you will find yourself achieving your goals faster.
Photo credit: Flickr User Cyril Rana

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  1. I was doing this for skating without realizing it. When I applied it to Irish dance, it helped me memorize steps faster. It also helps with speed if you mentally work through the steps with music.

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