Happy New Year, dancers!
2019 was a strange one for me- mainly because I spent 9 months of the year out of dancing due to injury, eventually undergoing ankle surgery. My main goal for 2020 is to get back to full fitness and back to dancing fully again (at the moment I’m only managing a tentative barre). Not only that, but I want to be even better than I was before the injury.
I know that at this time, people will be heading back into their classes after the Christmas break, and contemplating their goals for the year to come. Perhaps you’ve already set some New Year’s resolutions. Whether you have or not, I recommend that you take a little time right now to reflect on your own dance practice, and think about how you can really become a better dancer this year.
Below are some simple habits that will make a big difference towards your dance goals.
1. Set Some Goals
In order to make progress towards your goals, you need to know what they are! It is very difficult to hit a moving target.
You might think that you have goals that you are working towards; for example, “improve my flexibility” or “get a solo in the summer performance”. However, you need to be way more specific!
For a start, actually take a few minutes to write down your goals. Putting them into words will help you to see them more clearly (you might find you don’t really know exactly what your goals are, or that you have too many going on at once and need to narrow your focus).
Now, get specific. Let’s take the example of becoming more flexible- that could be changed to “get flat in the splits”. Otherwise, how will you really know when you have achieved it? Getting a solo in the summer performance is more specific- you’ll know if you achieved it or not- but ultimately, the casting isn’t in your control. Therefore, think about what you need to DO to help you to reach that goal. Maybe you need to improve your pointe technique, your artistry, or move into the level above in your school. Therefore you could change this goal to “be able to dance a classical variation en pointe”; “spend 2 classes per week focusing specifically on artistry” or “take dance exams in the spring session & move up a level”.
It can also be helpful and motivating to add a timeline or a deadline to your goals, e.g. “get flat in the splits by October”. If you choose to add a deadline, make it realistic, and be flexible about it. Just because you said you’d pass your exam in the spring, don’t give up on it if you get there and aren’t quite ready after all. Adapt it, and work towards taking your exam in the summer session instead.
The next thing to do is to list out some actions you will take to help you to achieve your goals. So, if you want to get flat in the splits by October, some actions could be to stretch your hamstrings and hip flexors at the end of every class, when you are nice and warm, and to take a progress photograph of yourself in the splits every 2 weeks to see how far you are getting. If you want to be able to dance a classical variation en pointe by the end of the Spring term, your actions could be to add some foot strengthening exercises to your daily routine, to sign up for some additional pointe classes, to ask your teacher for advice, and to keep a diary monitoring everything you did each day to work on that goal.
Don’t forget to keep checking in on your goals. Life is not perfect, and often things don’t go the way you thought they would. Those who succeed are not those who stick doggedly to the plan they set out in January, but those who are flexible and adapt their plans to fit their life situation.
More reading about Goal Setting:
2. Write down your corrections
I have said this one before and I will say it again! This is the number one habit that will take your dancing to the next level! After every single class, write down all of the corrections that you can remember. Write your own corrections as well as corrections given to the whole class, and even to other people, unless they really don’t apply to you.
The reason that this works so well is because the things your teacher is correcting you on are your weaker areas. The faster you can fix those, the faster you fill in all the little ‘holes’ in your technique, eventually adding up to massive progress.
This is a time-consuming habit for me simply because my teacher gives SO many corrections, but making the effort to do this consistently has helped me so much. You very quickly see the things that you get corrected on the most- don’t get disheartened about that, we all have areas we’re constantly corrected on! But seeing those patterns helps you to turn those things around.
For maximum progress, follow this formula:
- Get a notebook especially for writing down your corrections. It doesn’t have to be fancy, although if having an extra-nice one motivates you to get it done, then go for it!
- Bring your notebook and a pen in your dance bag every day. Find time after class (as soon as you can) to write down your corrections. This will depend on your schedule. When I used to take class in the morning, and the studio was available for over an hour after class had finished, I’d stay to stretch and write my corrections immediately. Now I take class in the evening, so I write my corrections on the train home. Maybe you can write them at home before bed. Some teachers may even allow you to make some notes during class, in between exercises.
- Before class, spend a few minutes reading your corrections from the day before. During class, try to keep those corrections in mind. This is a very important step! If you only write them down and don’t review them before your next class, you’re only going half way.
- Once a week, look back at your corrections and highlight any that you received multiple times, or any that you felt were super helpful.
- If you keep getting a correction that you can’t seem to fix, ask your teacher for advice, and maybe even seek out anything extra you can do, like strengthening exercises.
Further reading about writing corrections:
3. Check your attitude!
And no, I don’t mean the position! The mindset with which you turn up to class makes a huge difference.
I am someone who comes to class ready to learn. I love to be there and I want to work hard. I would never disrespect the teacher, break rules on purpose, or put other people in the class down. I’ll assume, as at Dare to Dance we’re a positive and inclusive community, that none of you would do those things either!
HOWEVER, I bet I’m not alone in saying that I am sometimes guilty of coming to class with a less than great attitude. By that I mean that I come in tired, or stressed out, or not in the mood to be there. Not often, but sometimes. On those days I might be guilty of complaining about being tired and sore, of moaning about having rehearsals on a Sunday morning, or feeling irritated at my class mates if they get in my way when I’m doing a floor combination because they’re practicing on the side.
We can’t all feel great every single day, and part of being a good dancer is being committed to showing up to train even on the days that you don’t feel in the mood. Whilst you can eliminate some of these feelings by making sure you’re at a supportive and positive studio, and looking after your health, sometimes you just have to show up. On those days, be aware that every time you complain about something (even a harmless-seeming “I’m so tired today!”), you’re spreading negativity to your fellow dancers and bringing down the energy in the room. If you react to something annoying instead of letting it go or laughing it off, you only perpetuate your own bad mood!
Be the person that cheers everyone up when you’re called in to rehearse on a Sunday morning. If it turns out you came in for nothing, it’s a good opportunity to observe, to do some conditioning on the side or have a nice stretch. Be someone who is always ready to work. Allow yourself to feel proud for showing up even when you didn’t want to. Think about that extra practice you’re getting in. Know that you’re showing up alongside your classmates as if you were a family. And treat them kindly, even if you’re annoyed.
Take this approach and you will find that you learn more, you usually feel better a few minutes into class, and your teachers will appreciate you as someone who is always positive, always ready to work, and can be counted on to always be there (note: those people get the roles!!). FYI, this is something that I’m really inconsistent with, so I’ll be working on it more this year as I get back to dancing again.
Further reading about a positive attitude:
4. Give yourself a health MOT
This new year, take some time to check in with your body. Trust me, you DO NOT want to be taking the best part of a year off to investigate an injury once it gets too bad to continue!
Firstly, if you’ve been having niggling pain or any injuries, book yourself a physiotherapy session or a consultation with a sports doctor. Try to find someone who has experience with dancers. It might seem over the top for something that isn’t bad enough to stop you from dancing, but it is always best to catch a potential injury before it takes you out of action! It can also teach you things about your technique, e.g. any bad habits like sickling en pointe or areas that need strengthening. Seeing a professional and getting any ongoing pain sorted will also put your mind at rest.
If you have been struggling with any other kind of health problem, go and see your GP about it. Some things we put off and put off until they become serious. Don’t put your health at the bottom of your agenda. If you needed a kick up the bum to make that appointment, this is it- do it today!
Make sure you’re taking care of yourself in other ways, too. Are you getting proper nutrition? Make sure you are only following advice from nutritionists and registered dieticians! It is a minefield of conflicting advice out there, and it is not worth confusing yourself, ultimately making choices based on misinformation. You can get advice online from reputable sources like Rhiannon Lambert’s Instagram and Podcast, andTo The Pointe Nutrition. However if you’re planning any significant changes to your diet in 2020, or you’re struggling with nutrition in any way, the best thing is to make an appointment to go and see someone in person, to get proper personalised advice.
Also make sure you are hydrating properly (go and get a glass of water right now!), especially on busy dancing days, and that you are resting enough. It is easy to forget rest at this time when we want to hit the ground running and get a head-start on our 2020 goals. Look at your upcoming schedule; do you have rest days? Is there space in your daily schedule to relax and unwind a little, and to get to bed at a good time? If not, make some changes. How much rest you need will vary from person to person, too, so if you have one rest day and still feel tired, consider changing your routine to allow for a little more recovery time. Listen to your body! Even if you end up sacrificing 1 class or gym session a week, if it means proper recovery, your strength and technique will be better for it!
Further reading about health:
5. Educate Yourself
My last tip is to educate yourself. It’s not enough to just show up to class every day. There are SO many areas of dance worth exploring that will help you to grow and develop as an artist, and athlete and a performer.
- Look into dance science. Get some books and learn about your bones and muscles- where are they? What to they do? What do experts recommend for healthy dance practice? A great resource is One Dance UK.
- Find cross-training, conditioning and technique tips and tricks. Sometimes one exercise or trick can really change things for you. Work out what you need, do some research, and put together a short list of things you can do each day, or a few times a week. I love Claudia Dean’s YouTube channel.
- Find out what you like. It’s amazing how little time dancers spend watching dance. Watching dance exposes you to all kinds of things, it keeps you inspired, and it helps you to appreciate a broader spectrum of dance art. Go to live performances whenever you can, especially ones that are different to those you’ve seen before. If you always go to see 19th Century classical ballets, try modern and neoclassical ballets, contemporary pieces, dance film screenings, flamenco, hip-hop battles, musical theatre- whatever you can get to! You can also watch dance online- again, if you normally just watch “top 15 female classical variations” try digging a bit deeper and finding rehearsal footage, interviews with choreographers, and examples of dance from history.
Further reading about education for dancers:
Obviously, I don’t suggest taking on all of these things at once! Choose the things that you feel will make the most difference in your own dance training, and find a way to work them in as a regular habit. If you are smart about your own dance practice, and work to correct the areas you’re not so great in, you will definitely see progress this year.
Bonus tip: for some great advice on making new habits stick, I highly recommend the book Atomic Habits (also available as an audiobook!). It has helped me so much, and I’ll be re-reading it this month to maximise my chances of success this New Year!
Let me know if this helped you and how you get on. Here’s to a great 2020!