Most people have heard about the fight or flight response when faced with a threat, real or imagined…
… but there’s another “F” of particular interest in our discussion about stage fright: the freeze response.
In an instinctual attempt to hide from predators by becoming quiet, small, and motionless… we tend to stop breathing, curl into the fetal position, and tense our muscles in preparation to fight or flee in case we are discovered.
But while freezing might have saved our lives in the distant past, doing so today is devastating to a performance in at least three ways:
- It causes stiff, awkward, and unmusical body motions.
- It narrows our field of attention.
- It reduces our sensory awareness.
To illustrate that, let’s do a simple experiment: Sit at the piano with your hands suspended above the keyboard as if you are about to play something, then freeze your entire body.
It’s a horrible feeling, yes?
Notice how all your muscles tense, how your awareness narrows, and how the sensation of what your body is doing almost disappears.
Now allow your entire body to be free… totally unconstrained… from your head down to your toes. Give yourself permission to wiggle and fidget… and notice the heightened sense of ease, freedom, and awareness.
[Aside: Would anyone like to see a video of this in action?]
Notice how the sense of where your body is in space and time (known as proprioception) is activated not so much by absolute states, but by changes of states. In other words, a body in motion is very aware of itself, while a body at rest becomes blind to itself.
In summary, freezing is the enemy of fluid technique, the enemy of attention, the enemy of sensation, the enemy of musical rhythm, and the enemy of enjoying our performance.
The antidote, of course, is to learning how to thaw ourselves out.