Mental training teaches how to focus on the task at hand. The skills used in mental training can be applied to learning better, making practice sessions more effective, or preparing for a performance.
Mental training skills—also known as sports psychology—can be used in any situations where one must perform under pressure. For example, a couple on the dance floor performing for a huge audience in a banquet event or in a dancesport competition. In such situations, mental training is often the difference between performing well and performing “as well as possible.”
Mental training skills comprise of two categories: skills of emotional control and attentional control. Emotional control means that the individual has achieved the right combination of mental activity and physical arousal consistent with his or her ideal performance state. Under pressure or tense situations, our blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, blood flow to the muscles and metabolic rate all increase. This does not enhance learning, practicing or performing. Thus, we see performers freeze under pressure, experience a lapse in concentration and forget their choreographies.
Emotional control balances relaxation with arousal to permit better concentration. Emotional control uses “controlled breathing” to relax muscles, and “positive self-talk” to build confidence and correct errors. More specifically, four methods are used to evoke the relaxation response: “mind-to-body” techniques, “body-to-mind” techniques, combining physical sensing and mental imagery, and combining controlled breathing and stretching. Competitive dancers must work with their coach to determine which methods work best. To be effective, the coach must teach the dancer to relax on cue.
Once emotional control is achieved, attentional control helps the dancer focus on the task at hand. Attentional control involves concentration, visualization, and refocusing. Concentration is the state of being relaxed and alert to the changing environment. Dancers experience this on a crowded dance floor often—if someone gets in the way, a dancer must react while staying focused on the performance. Visualization involves rehearsing a positive, mental image of the performance. It can also be used to anticipate problems that may impede performance. Finally, the dancer must be able to regain composure when distracted. This can be achieved by simulating adverse situations in practices.
Ultimately, not only in dancing, but also in all forms of sports, mental training skill must help the individual achieve his or her ideal state of relaxation and activation which results in a peak performance. In sports, dancing included, this is called the “ideal performance state” or the “zone.”
Whether dancing recreationally or competitively, regular use of mental training skills will improve learning and practicing. But in competition training, it is essential to develop mental training skill in conjunction with perfecting dancing skills. The next step is to integrate these skills into a seasonal or year-long practice schedule which will improve practicing and prepare the competitor physically and mentally.
For dancers who have other professions, this mental training helps in their true professional as well; and more importantly, this mental training prepares all dancers to cope with the stresses and demands of routine daily life.
CARnHAL, performing to "I'm Alive".
CARnHAL, Carmelita Bravo Dance Group, audition video for
Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show.