New year, new me: 4 key steps

Happy New Year! It’s a little hard to believe it’s 2019, right? It’s the time of year when people are thinking about “New Year’s Resolutions” – specific goals toward self-improvement. On the whole, dancers are always consciously working toward self-improvements, it does seem like.

Nevertheless, the turn of the year might be a good time in which to formalize a process to create self-improvement – in technique, in artistry, in aspects such as professionalism and building one’s network. Let’s look at four main steps for initiating self-improvements for yourself as a dancer.

#1. Reflect: Where are you now? How was this year for you?  

It’s hard to make beneficial changes without being clear about what you want to change. Where are you now, after this year of dancing? Do you feel creatively fulfilled? Do you wish you could explore more stylistic diversity and/or challenge yourself more? Are you satisfied with how much you got to class? Did you perform as much as you would have liked to? Technically, what was your greatest achievement? Did you wish you had achieved something technically that you didn’t manage to? Did you delve into other creative avenues, other art forms or artistic approaches? What was most difficult for you in your dancing life? What’s a special dancing memory, or two, or three, you may have from the year? What are you most proud of?  

These are simply guiding questions that might be useful points of reflection for many dancers. Other considerations may be more useful for you. It might be useful to think about these things in a calm, quiet atmosphere, making yourself comfortable and closing your eyes. You might benefit from journaling about it. Maybe set up a call or a coffee date with a dancer friend, and you can reflect together. What you know about yourself, and thus what will be most effective for you, can help guide how you choose to do this reflection. An important thing is to try not to judge yourself. Judgment is different from critique; it holds blame and negativity. Critique is more objective and won’t as easily create unproductive regret or fear within you. 

#2. Set goals: What do you want to achieve over the year? 

Given what you noticed about where you are, and the year you had, what do you want to have achieved one year from now? This can be in technique, in performance quality/artistry, professional viability, building other skills and more. With technique, it may not be wise to shoot for 32 fouetté turns en pointeif you’re working on hitting 12 on flat shoes. You might only get significantly discouraged. At the same time, don’t be afraid to aim high! There’s a balance to be struck – for instance, how about 24 fouettés on flat and 16 en pointe? Another example of a technique goal may be to nail a very difficult variation (if you’re getting there with it) or a difficult leap such as a switch leap (if you’re at, say, a strong saut de chat). 

Things like artistry and performance quality can be harder to define, yet certain factors can be measurements. One is subjective experience – how do you feel about how you express yourself as an artist, in character roles and in more abstract work? Another is feedback from choreographers, directors, fellow dancers, audience members and reviewers. An example of a goal here could be experiencing a time when you perform and it consciously hits you that you’re pleased with your performance quality, how you may have danced a certain role apart from technique. Another could be getting a positive comment from a reviewer (if you may have the opportunity to dance in a show that’s reviewed), audience member or from a fellow dancer or choreographer. Whatever they may be, it might be useful to write these goals down in a place where you can come back to them (in a special notebook you keep on your bookshelf, for instance). 

#3. Set steps toward those: How are you going to get there? 

Writing out or thinking about goals is one thing, and putting in place actions to achieve them is another. Let’s take the fouetté example – how, in very concrete terms, are you going to achieve 24 fouettéson flat and 16 en pointe? A realistic step might be to practice fouettéturns for 10 minutes after every class. Something perhaps a little less concrete, but nonetheless valuable, may be to let your teachers know of your goal, and to ask if they might have guidance for you (you, as a very unique dancer, in all your abilities and growth areas) toward achieving it. 

Regarding artistry goals, perhaps be diligent about really regarding this deeper aspect of your dancing – including musicality and movement quality (often according to style and/or piece at hand). Ask questions of teachers and choreographers to show that you’re thinking in these more nuanced terms. A concrete step there could be asking two meaningful questions per class or rehearsal. With growing your professional viability and network, perhaps a goal you have is to network with more choreographers and improve your auditioning skills. Concrete steps toward achieving those goals might be to network with two new choreographers per month (through social media, fellow dancers), and to audition from once a week to twice a month, every month (practice makes perfect!). 

#4. Check in: Are you moving in the right direction? 

When you write out your goals, also set a time when you’ll check in on them – in one month, in two months, on a significant other date (your birthday or after a certain planned show run). On that date, think objectively about what you have or haven’t achieved. How are your steps toward achieving your goals going? Might there be a need for re-evaluating those steps? Reframing how you work toward goals doesn’t mean you’ve failed; it just means you’re being mindful about your process. There’s nothing wrong about setting new goals either; in fact, it might be the right answer! This step is a way to hold yourself accountable, as it can be all too easy to let the work toward your goals get forgotten and left behind. Through it all, don’t forget to enjoy the process of self-improvement – and every moment you get to dance! That’s what it’s really all for. Don’t forget to congratulate yourself for your mindful hard work as well. You deserve it! 

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.

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