Richard Gleave; The Psychology of Competing

Dancers who reach the heights of physical and artistic achievement have invariably more than just technique, skill and muscular ability at their command. They possess a high degree of mental toughness as well.

richard-gleaveSomebody once said, “Attitudes are more important than facts”. Well we know that the mind can be educated to overcome all sorts of discomfort. The attitudes of the competing dancer must be positive and the dancer must have the will to succeed, to be the best, to win or survive when the competition is difficult, the going tough.
Motivation can be many things; ambition, fear, anger and pride can all play a part. No matter how hard the couple have practiced however, if they are apathetic towards victory, then they will not capitalize on the assets that they may possess in the form of skill, ability and muscular and musical interpretation. The dancer who wants to compete well and be successful must find a driving purpose, and inspired reason for winning. He must have a goal.
To give an example of this, I remember at the 1978 British Championships final. Two or three weeks prior to Blackpool, I had decided my goal for the British that year would be: to dance a fantastic Tango and Quickstep in every round. This I had written down and read so often that the mind accepted this idea and subconsciously had become saturated with the idea of a fantastic Tango and Quickstep in every round.
In the final halfway through Quickstep, I lost my concentration and felt tired. Then the goal to dance a fantastic Tango and Quickstep popped immediately into my mind and sure enough this thought released the adrenalin to give me the strength and determination to dance a fantastic Tango and Quickstep.
The goal must be realisable for the mind to accept the idea and then translate that goal into action. It would be foolish for instance for a couple normally placed 151 in the British Championships to have a goal of being British Champion in one week. It would just not be realisable, therefore, the mind would not accept it. The goal must be realisable and the mind must be saturated with the idea. And from this, coupled with desire, hard work, and persistence, the thought will be transformed into action and success will be forthcoming.
The type of goal is important.
For example, to write down I want to be British Champion is not specific. Better would be, I want to dance well enough to be British Champion. I want to dance a soft, lilting Waltz, a dynamic strong Tango, a classically elegant Foxtrot, a scintillatiing Quickstep. Every dance must have superb crystal clear line and powerful rhythmical movement.
These are examples of goals that are specific, and therefore much clearer to the mind, which has to accept and translate them into action.
The thought is the first thing, and if you think as a competitor that the floor is terrible, the music too slow, the judges against you, your partner heavy, then you are filling your mind with negative thoughts and the performance will be adversely affected. Half the battle is won when the mind believes that the body is capable of the goal that has been given, and more.
In the history of ballroom dancing there have been dancers who succeeded, despite glaring deficiencies in their repertoire of technique, and it is difficult to be dogmatic when discussing the relative importance of all factors which contribute to, or impair a skilful performance in dancing.
We know that the techniques of foot and leg action, body swing, style, musicality, coaching, practice, environment and natural ability are all important, but most important of all is motivation.
We know that the above technical factors can usually be improved when the desire, goal and motivation are strong. The influence of the mind, the motivating force behind all others, cannot be overestimated. This will to succeed, the motivating drive, the desire to be the best, is the greatest single factor upon which top-class competitive performances depend.
Richard Gleave