February 19, 2014 by Nicole
Dance training is a complex endeavor. It takes commitment, drive, focus, time, mental and physical energy, motivation and so much more. You constantly want to grow, both as an artist and as a technician. Class gives you the workout, but where do you hold yourself accountable to your own goals?
A great answer to that question is the dance journal. Or diary or notebook or whatever you want to call it. That part doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re actively keeping a record of your dance experience, complete with your questions, thoughts, frustrations, goals, progress, corrections and whatever else you need to make this an effective tool for you.
Why write it down?
There’s a reason why “to do” lists are so popular…they work! Writing something down can be very powerful. The act of writing is another way to engage your mind in your training by stimulating your brain cells in a slightly different way. The act of writing helps to clarify your thoughts, assign importance and intent to what you’re focusing that mental energy on and remember things better. There are certainly productivity experts and some evidence that suggest committing your goals to paper (or computer screen) improves your chances of reaching them. (Even more if they’re SMART goals. Not sure if your goals are SMART? Find out here.)
What should I use for my journal?
In short, what works for you. If you can’t wait to write in a gorgeous, leather-bound journal with your favorite pen, then do that. If you’d rather keep a blog or use an app, do that. And if you’d prefer to write yourself an email every night & file it away in a folder, then do that. The format isn’t important and shouldn’t be a barrier to you keeping it up.
What do I put into the journal?
Think of your journal as a record of your dance experience. My personal opinion is that your goals, how you’re tracking toward them and your corrections are some of the most important pieces of information you’ll want to include. Because it’s going to really jump out at you when you see on paper that your goal from 6 months ago hasn’t changed at all…..or if you look back over 3 months worth of class corrections and realize it’s the same ones over and over.
But it’s your journal – include what makes sense for you. If you’re choreographing, that might mean notes or inspirations. You might include questions you want to ask your teachers. It may be that you need to write out some of your frustrations, because that’s a natural part of dance training as well. Or an in-depth analysis of an awesome variation or short piece you watched on YouTube, taking care to describe what you saw & why it inspired you from either a technical or artistic perspective. Being able to articulate it on the page will help you apply it to yourself.
Here are some additional ideas for what you might want to write down:
- Class or rehearsal corrections
- Goals for your next class
- Strategies for accomplishing those goals
- Weaknesses or opportunities for improvement you’ve identified
- Strengths or where you’ve improved
- Any correction or coaching you didn’t understand and what specific questions you can ask your teacher for clarification
- Strengthening or cross-training goals
- Inspiring quotes
- Photos or other media that move you
- Movement that you find interesting or want to replicate
- Your reactions to those things – describe why you find the quote or photo inspiring. (This helps connect your dancing to how you experience the world.)
- What you’re finding frustrating
- What you’re finding exciting
- Any “aha!” or breakthrough moments from class
- What you like and don’t like in class, rehearsal or performance
- Long term goals, like 1-5 years away
- Assess your progress – is what you’re doing today moving you toward them?
Dance Informa suggested this one & I love it: assign a color and a temperature to your dancing during a particular class or rehearsal. Reflect upon why you felt this way about the work you did and what you may repeat or do differently next time.
Your journal isn’t set in stone – experiment with it and find what works and what is meaningful to you. This is the approach that The Center for Contemporary Dance takes with their students. They ask students to keep a journal but are not given any specific requirements so that they can find a format and a system that supports them as a dancer and an artist. Taking that same approach with yours will help make it a part of your life instead of a chore. It’s like a diet – you’re never going to stay on an all-green smoothie diet if you don’t really love green smoothies. At some point, you’re going to fall off the wagon. Make it a diet that you’re going to want to eat.
Then review regularly and reflect. If you’ve taken the time to input the information, take the time to think about what it all means. A quick skim of your last class notes before your next class can help set the tone and the intent for that time. It becomes both a reminder and a mantra for you – there’s a reason that yogis set their intent for their practice. By calling your mind’s attention in that direction, it sets a subconscious standard for yourself and that work.
In my experience, growth is almost always intentional – you have to want it. Your dance journal will help you figure out what you want and how to get there.
Do you keep a dance journal? What do you write about?
Image courtesy of freerangestock.com