Ten Tips for Relieving Competition and Exam Stress

Performance anxiety plagues even the pros! Ten competition alumni share how they deal with the inevitable pre-show jitters.


The audience wants you to do well

‘Remember all the people who have enjoyed watching you dance and imagine everyone that is in the audience is wanting you to do well and dance your best. I find this helps me recover from any little mistakes or falls, and always finish with a confident flourish!’ – Sean Bates, Junior Soloist with Northern Ballet (Silver, 2010)

Simply, do your best

‘My mantra for preparing for the Genée was ‘do your best’. I flew to Hong Kong knowing that I had rehearsed my variation thoroughly and that I had done everything possible to prepare for my performance. I tried as much as possible to trust in that hard work! To this day, before stepping on to stage, I like to remember that I am prepared and ready and that all I can do is try my best.’ – Alexandra MacDonald, First Soloist with The National Ballet of Canada (Finalist, 2006)

Keep grounded

‘When I perform I like to play it down, keep grounded and turn the energy from the audience into warmth. I like to remind myself how fortunate I am to be dancing and to be able to do what I do.’ – Lana Jones, Principal Dancer with The Australian Ballet (Silver, 1999)

Don’t think about the steps

‘When I do get nervous, I try to focus on the performance side of things and get my attention off the technique. Often steps work better if you don’t think about them; your body has an amazing muscle memory which you build up in rehearsal.’ – Valentino Zucchetti, First Soloist with The Royal Ballet (Gold, 2006)

Deep breathes

‘I somewhat enjoy the pressure, but I take quite a few deep breaths to calm down my jitters and then I think about how much I enjoy the performance aspect of it. Once I’m on stage, all the nerves usually go away’ – Alex Wong, Dancer, singer and actor (Bronze and Audience Choice Award, 2003)


‘Dealing with pressure is part of life but we can all try to take control of those pressures. Self-belief and trust in the hard work you have put into preparing for that competition or performance are important. We are always trying to do our best in everything we do. Trying to do your best is ultimately all you can do!’ – Steven McRae, Principal Dancer with The Royal Ballet (Gold, 2002)

Channel the butterflies into energy

‘I love being on stage and love dancing so I always try and channel those butterflies in my stomach into an extra burst of energy while I perform rather than worry about it throwing me off. I also try to do some deep breathing mini mediation sessions as I get ready to clear and calm my mind a bit; listening to soothing music before the show always helps with this!’ – Isabelle Brouwers, First Artist with English National Ballet (Silver, 2013)

Take time to yourself

‘I must say I never enjoyed the feeling before a competition variation. I feel much more at home preparing for a full-length ballet. Preparing the story and character takes away from the high expectations a 2-minute solo places on yourself. I find being well prepared, not running late and having time by myself before a show is the best way I can prepare.’ – Amber Scott, Principal Dancer with The Australian Ballet (Bronze, 1999)

Make friends

‘It’s quite scary at first going into such a big competition. The thing that helped most was that we were all in the same position, and in the days leading up to the actual competition day we got to know each other, made friends and showed each other our variations in rehearsals. So, when it got to the final it was much easier and my confidence had grown throughout the week. I try to stay as calm as possible and remember everyone is feeling the same and we can all help each other.’ – Tierney Heap, Soloist with The Royal Ballet (Bronze, 2010)

Envisage the moment, use the nerves

‘I think a little pressure is a really good thing as it prepares you for life in a major classical ballet company. Also, I always say to myself that without any nerves there would be no adrenaline and it’s that rush that transforms dancing in the studio to putting on a show! The high I feel after performing is something I love, so if I’m really nervous I just envisage that moment and before I know it, the show’s done, I enjoyed and can enjoy that feeling of satisfaction.’ – Elizabeth Harrod, Soloist with The Royal Ballet (Finalist, 2003)