Psychology and Magic in Dancesport – How They Can Increase Your Performance

As a dancer, you go to as many competitions as you can, sometimes every weekend and most of them are all over the world. Maybe this week you’re in Asia and next one you’re waking up in Europe. Unfortunately, frequent travel can take its toll on your mind and body. How is it possible to reduce the fatigue caused by jet lag and increase your performance?

What if we told you that there are certain techniques from psychology and from magic that can help you reduce jet lag, improve your performance and change your mentality towards your goals?

In our podcast with Jay Olson, M.Sc., a Ph.D. candidate at McGill University, we discussed how we can use concepts from psychology and magic to overcome fatigue and perform better.

Jay Olson – the magician and the psychologist

When he was 5 years old, Jay Olson was amazed by a worker at a furniture store who  did the famous coin trick; he pulled a coin out of his ear. That was the moment he realized he wants to perform magic. By the age of 7, he was already a magician.

One day he signed up for a friend’s psychology class and discovered that often, magic and psychology speak about the same things. For example, if the magicians talk about misdirection, the psychologists refer to the same action as diverting attention. If you’ve probably never heard about the term forcing, as magicians call it, you have for sure heard about persuasion or social influence – they are basically the same thing. This is how Jay observed that there is an overlap between magic and psychology.

He went on applying what he knew from magic and what he discovered in psychology to create new strategies for the effects that the mind can have over the body. He specifically focused on things like suggestion, hypnosis, placebo, and fatigue.

Paying attention to your sleeping habits

Do you want to perform at your maximum? Sleeping is an essential player in recovering. OK, so then how can we use knowledge from psychology to make the best out of your sleep?

First of all, you need to understand that your body has its own clock, scientifically called circadian rhythms. You can notice these rhythms when you stay up all night and you realize at around 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning that you can’t focus anymore and your body temperature decreases.

Paying attention to your circadian rhythm will also dictate you the amount of sleep you need and the hours that you need to fall asleep at. Isn’t there the 8 hours per night rule?

Well, not exactly, because people have different rhythms. Yes, morning birds and night owls is actually a thing! Some people are more energetic and alert in the morning, whilst other can focus more at night.  

Once you know your body clock, you can influence your sleep by playing with the light exposure. If you want to have a good and healthy sleep, Jay Olson highlights the fact that the room needs to be completely dark. Also, it is very important to reduce the light you receive from your devices about one hour before you want to go to sleep.

Getting a good a good night’s sleep with some help from devices

From Jay, we found out that there are certain tools that come in handy if you want to play with the light exposure. Our bodies are programmed to sleep when it’s dark outside. So you can encourage that process by easing into nighttime.

With their soft light candles can be perfect for inducing sleep. Also, blackout blinds or sleep masks will help you get the necessary amount of darkness for a healthy sleep. In terms of technology monitors, you’ll need to shift them into “night mode” or tone down their brightness.

The main idea is to block-out any blue lights because they have the biggest impact on your circadian rhythms.

Beating the jet lag to the curve

Besides the long travel distances,  dancers, usually need to perform the next day they arrive. Therefore, jet lag  is not an option when you want to give your 100%. But how can you get over that groggy feeling?

Here is when psychology and magic team up!

You basically need to trick your mind using light exposure – more or less of it – depending on which way you want to shift your body clock to. For example, if you expose yourself to light at night time, it’ll help you to stay up more, or will make you wake up earlier if it’s morning.

Jay Olson created a website – jetlagrooster.com – about 7 years ago, that will help you calculate how much to shift your body rhythms using your flight details and the usual time you go to sleep.

Go ahead and do not hesitate to use his website! It makes miracles.

Tricking your mind for your own good  with the power of suggestion

Another cool thing that psychology and magic teach us is the placebo effect or the power of suggestion. Dancers always need to be always physically incredibly well prepared, but also it’s very important to be mentally powerful.

Of course, that sounds like dancers have to be these super-humans, but really we are all people and sometimes we have insecurities. The funny thing is that you can apply some of the things that we’ve learned from Jay so that your brain will think what you what it to think: I came here to win!

His studies really focus on how much of an impact placebo has on your mind. He and his team did a study on children with different diseases, in which they put them into a brain scanner and told them that the machine was a placebo one and through the power of their own mind it can help their brain heal the disorder. The effects were really surprising.

Also, hypnosis by suggesting what someone should or should not do is very powerful. You can actually trick your mind or body into doing or thinking something that you would normally think otherwise. For example, you can induce yourself to relax your breathing.

Why not applying this when you go to dancing competitions? You have autosuggest positive thoughts to your mind: “You look beautiful!” or “You will love the music!” and make that happen.

Overall, magic and psychology combined can teach us how to influence our mind to believe things like it’s daylight, or that you can conquer a disease. Why not use that in every aspect of your life? …especially when you want to achieve good results at a dance competition.

Make sure that, before you fly to your next big competition on the other side of the world, you check Jay Olson’s website – jetlagrooster.com and apply all of his suggestions. And once you arrive there, transform yourself into a magician and hypnotize yourself into believing what you want to believe.

Craving for more information? Listen to our interview with Jay Olson about sleep hygiene, jet lag, and placebo effects.

If you want to find out more about Jay Olson’s projects, visit his webpage here.


I've started dancing when I was 9 years old and it has been a part of me ever since. I love to surround myself with everything dancesport related. Now I get to experience the world of dancing through a writer's lens.


Tags: dancesport Jay Olson jet lag magic performance suggestion

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