Scared but still performing
I have been performing since the age of five. Until college, that involved singing in choirs and attending a capella singing competitions. I started performing dance three months after I began to dance in college. I performed dance throughout my master's degree in dance. I also continued performing as a singer.
I have been terrified of performing most of that time. I know all of the tricks to calm the body: deep breathing, pretending that everyone not on stage is in their underwear, ignoring the audience, etc. None of them work for me. I get through performing, and then I retreat to a corner and shake for a while.
I try to avoid performing.
I recently performed twice in one week: five dances. That is the first time I have performed in several years, and I was even more nervous than before.
It was a peak experience. I danced the best I have ever danced in my life one of those nights. Even in video, which takes away something from the real experience, it looks pretty good. Even to me, the perfectionist. It was better than perfect: it was fun.
What made it work for me?
What made me survive performing? A good partner. A partner who said, "Look at me, you are dancing for ME!" and didn't give me time to think about whether people were watching.
I have know Jose for almost 20 years. He was one of my first teachers. When I visit Buenos Aires, we always have a coffee together and chat for a few hours. I trust him. I knew he would not sacrifice me to looking good, to showing off, or to showboating for himself. He took care of me, just as a good leader does on the social dance floor.
Jose was so busy before we performed that we didn't practice. I didn't get a private lesson fitted in or anything. In other words, I had to wing it 100%.
On the way to the performance, Jose played a song on his phone and asked if I liked it. I asked to perform to it the next performance, as I had never heard that version before. He played a few more, and we agreed on a tango. Three blocks from the venue, he said, "What about this milonga?" and played Azabache. "Fine," I said. That was it except for one tanda to warm up.
Not having a plan and not having practiced (and not having danced together for about ten years at all) meant that I needed to pay attention. I didn't have extra brain space to really freak out about performing.
Twenty-one years of tango training kicked in and. . . it was wonderful.