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Learning to Love Nerves

Learning to Love Nerves

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Dr Daniel K. Robinson on Jun 08, 2011
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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Djarts Voice Coaching ~ www.djarts.com.au
© Daniel K. Robinson - 2011Page
By Daniel K. Robinson
Performers love to perform. Performers don’t always love the nerves thataccompany performance. Recently, while watching a student performance I wasreminded of the levels of anxiety that can accompany new performanceexperiences. One student, in preparing for his first ever public performance,reported that the anticipated concert had left him sleepless the night before.Nerves, clinically known as ‘performance anxiety’, do not randomly choose theirvictim. Scholars estimate that between 50% (Tree, 2004) and 69% (Wingate,2008) of performers experience some form of stage fright. Anecdotally, I believethe figure to be much higher. David Roland (1997) in his book
The Confident Performer 
writes “Every professional artist I have spoken to confesses toexperiencing some anxiety before performing, even when they have had manyyears of performance experience” (p. 5). The point is, regardless of thestatistics, you are not alone in your experience of performance anxiety.Before discussing some strategies for managing performance anxiety lets definewhat constitutes as ‘nerves’. Sharon Tree (2004), in her article
Performance Anxiety: What Causes the Singer to ‘Choke’ and How to Overcome SuchProblems
defines nerves as “a form of social phobia…that is experienced by arange of people in a range of fields on any occasion in which one must presentoneself before others, with or without scrutiny” (p. 38). Tree goes onto describethe ‘fight or flight’ of performance anxiety as a “cognitive-physiological-behavioural chain reaction” (p. 38). Roland (1997) simplifies the description byasking his readers,
Do you ever experience tension, ‘butterflies in the stomach’ or nervousanticipation? You might be relieved to know that all artists experience someanxiety about performance. Artists who experience anxiety to a severe extent callthis ‘stage fright’. Whatever word you use, some self-doubt about your ability toperform is perfectly normal and understandable. In fact, most experiencedperformers become concerned if they don’t experience some nervous anticipationbefore performing. (p. 3)
I resonate with the last sentence of the above quote. I have been referred to asan ‘adrenalin junky’. I love the heightened sense of awareness that comes withmy performance anxiety; but it hasn’t always been that way! In the early daysof developing my craft as a performer my performance anxiety would oftenescalate to a point leaving me dry in the mouth, seemingly incontinent and withno memory for the lyrics. These are not the only symptoms of ‘out-of-control’ nerves. Other physical signs can include increased perspiration, nausea and anaugmented heart rate. This is not an exhaustive list, but I am certain you will beable to identify at least one as a symptom resulting from your experience of nerves.

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