Overcoming Fear in Colorguard

As I was biking to work this morning, I remembered the summer I learned to ride a bike (the big-kid kind with no training wheels). I believe I was eight at the time, and we were on a family vacation at the beach.  I remember starting the week off with an unreasonable fear of attempting to balance on two wheels, and ending the week with a feeling of blissful freedom and accomplishment.  This memory made me think, "how do we overcome our fears to reach our goals?"

As a performer, learning something new can be scary for a lot of reasons. I have experienced fear over learning new tosses, over looking ridiculous, over doing something wrong, over what my staff and peers thought of me, and yes, over hitting myself with my equipment.  Despite spinning for nearly 20 years, and dancing for nearly 30, I still experience all these fears.  What changes, as you mature as a performer, is mostly your ability to identify when your fears are largely irrational, how to adjust your practice to avoid the risks that cause rational fear, and to overcome your fears in a way that allows you to succeed. 

I am certainly no expert on overcoming fear, but here are a few of my personal tips and experiences:

Fear of Looking Ridiculous - As an instructor, this is the fear I have had to help my students through most often! At some point (probably during those awful middle-school years), we start really caring what other people think of us.  I wish I could say there is an easy solution to that! (I think I'd be rich if I knew one!) In the context of performing, this may be a case of surrounding yourself with supportive people.  Especially as beginners, it really helps to have friends who you know are going to like you regardless of how silly you look, and a staff who is going to encourage you.  If you're learning a new exercise or choreography that makes you feel awkward, focus on simply giving your all for those people who believe in you. Terrified of your stone-cold instructor? Find a mentor in your ensemble.  When I was first learning sabre, I made friends with an age-out who was really friendly and encouraging.  He was a great mentor to me, and helped me get over a big hump in learning sabre!  Also remember that colorguard is inherently unnatural.  No one is born with a flag in their hand, and dancing around with a pole with fabric taped to it is kind of a silly (albeit very enjoyable) thing to do.  Embrace the awkwardness! 

Fear of Doing Something Wrong - I hate to tell you, but you are going to screw up at some point.  It is unavoidable. This is the beauty of live performance! It's what makes the performing arts so amazing! The potential for everything to go wrong makes all the things that go right more impressive! Yes, we work hard to minimize the mistakes, but the imperfect, human element of creating Art is what makes it so appealing. Take a deep breath, and focus on all the things you can do right! Try to end each practice on a positive note; think about something you did really well and how you can repeat that in the future.  Also remember, that If you're continuing to practice and work hard to get better, then you have already done so much right!  Maximize your strengths, keep improving on your weaknesses, and you'll learn to recover from your mistakes.  I mess up choreography regularly, but have gained the experience to correct my mistakes quickly and without drawing any attention to them.  I also frequently experience a brief moment of panic before performances when I think, "do I even remember how this starts?!"  Then the music begins and my body remembers what to do.  Trust yourself! You know more than you think! 

Fear of Injury - Ok, dealing with this fear is really hard! First, you need to address the two fears I have already discussed.  If you don't have someone you can trust teaching you that new and terrifying toss, or that fancy new leap, you're not going to trust yourself to do it right.  If you don't understand the mechanics of the scary choreography, ASK FOR HELP from someone YOU TRUST! Injuries happen for two reasons: bad environment/equipment or bad technique. 

1) Bad environment/equipment: Don't learn a new toss in the dark, if it's really windy, if the ceiling is too low, if your rifle butt is splintered and needs to be re-taped...just go ahead and eliminate that environmental/equipment factor.  Don't practice turns on a slippery floor, don't jazz-run into a gopher-hole...These are all sources of completely rational fears that you have the power to fix.

2) Bad technique: Learn the mechanics of something before you do it! If you don't understand it, have someone break it down in a way that you do! Know where your release point it. Know on what plane your equipment should be. Know where your hands should be. Find a way to relate this choreography to something you already know.  If you can say, "oh, this is just like that other toss, but with this one change," then you will probably feel less frightened.  Once you understand the proper mechanics, you have to apply them...every time!  I have suffered plenty of guard-related injuries by going on "auto-pilot" and neglecting to use the technique I already knew.  

I hate to say, that just knowing these two things probably won't prevent you from EVER getting injured, but it should help to minimize the frequency and severity.  This is colorguard, and you're likely to suffer a jammed finger at some point, but practice smart and hopefully that's the worst you ever experience. 

Remember that fear is totally natural, and it doesn't make you any less of a performer.  Performers at all levels experience fear.  Becoming a mature performer means you learn how to listen to your rational fears and utilize that information to minimize your risk for injury, and you learn how to overcome your fears to achieve your goals.  You can do it!