A Blythe Coach

Goal-Setting for Dancers

Having worked with hundreds of high school, college, adult and graduate students in ballet and modern dance classes, I have learned to balance the stated objectives of the dance course with the expectations and personal goals of the individual students. 

We all come to dance (or whatever artistic practices we pursue) for diverse reasons, and our intentions and desired results therefore also vary. One thing that we all share is that if we don’t have clearly-defined objectives, we have no chance of achieving them.

So, the first thing to do is for us to articulate what we are seeking in our dancing practice, and strategize how to accomplish that. This is helpful in any dancing context, and applies to other life practices as well.

Why write down our goals?

Research demonstrates a connection between formulating and writing down goals, learning, and accomplishing them. “The process of writing is a continual loop among the the hand (or body), eye, and brain, and ‘it marks a uniquely powerful multi-representational mode for learning’ (Emig 1977, 88).” (Writing about Dance** p.3)

The books Write it Down, Make it Happen** and The 5 Second Rule** both discuss the efficacy of recording our objectives in helping us fulfill them. Robbins states: “According to research by Dominican University of California psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews, by simply writing down your goals, you are 42% more likely to achieve them. Having them written in my planner means that I’ll see them throughout the day and be reminded to act. Having the ‘why’ statement reminds me of why these goals are important and gives me an added push.” (The 5 Second Rule** p.137)

Pie charts for a former student, evaluating Personal and Physical areas for growth

How can I identify meaningful goals?

Goals with regard to dancing can fall into a couple general categories, including what is important to dancing, or general goals with regard to the topic, and what is important to me as a dancer, or personal goals. Once we have a history of training and performance, we can evaluate our “Glows & Grows” (from one of my mentors, Cheryl Treiber-Kawaoka), or strengths and weaknesses, on an ongoing basis. To get into action when we get stuck, we can ask ourselves: “What happened, what’s missing, what’s next?”

Psychology of Dance** provides pie charts for dancers to complete in order to identify areas of strength and weakness, evaluating them on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being a weak area in need of improvement and 10 indicating an area of strength and existing accomplishment.

Such charts can be used to consider personal attributes (Focus, Imagery, Understanding, Mental Skills, Performance, Communication, Social Support, Adherence, Training, Confidence, Motivation, Intensity), physical indicators (Timing, Flexibility, Agility, Balance, Pain Tolerance, Recovery, Health, Sleep, Diet, Strength, Stamina, Coordination), or specific technical attributes identified by the dancer or teacher. Using this sort of visual model, dancers can clearly see in which areas they are accomplished and which areas are in need of improvement. (p.9-12)

Through this process, dancers identify strengths in weaknesses in the domains of physical (strength, flexibility, stamina), mental (motivation, confidence, concentration), technical (turns, jumps), and lifestyle (sleep, diet, school/work, social) and turn these into long-term, “ultimate dream” goals, performance season/this year goals, and performance goals for specific performance situations, identifying specific methods to attain each.

Some possible areas of dance technique training to look: 

  • Posture & poise
  • Balance & stability
  • Coordination
  • Strength & endurance
  • Personal well-being, sleep, nutrition, stress-management
  • Footwork
  • Port de Bras/Arms
  • Jumping: amplitude, speed, accuracy, energy
  • Turning/Pirouettes: alignment, spotting, accuracy
  • Adagio: control, strength, flexibility/extension
  • Quality, timing and expressiveness
  • Improvisation, choreography, and performance

So, how can I formulate my goals for dance in order to achieve them?

There are endless options for setting dancing and other types of goals, so here are a few proven methods for your consideration. Writing about Dance** provides a variety of prompts for reflective letter-writing and  journaling, such as these submitted by Elizabeth Cooper and Kitty Daniels:

Statement of Course Goals: “In one to two pages, please discuss your dance background and the reasons you are taking this course. Identify your strengths as well as your personal challenges in relation to dance. In particular, explain what you hope to accomplish in this class–your personal goals. Finally, please lay out a strategy for achieving your personal goals.” (Writing about Dance** p.34)

Identification of Alignment and Anatomical Issues: “As we begin the term, please give some thought to identifying alignment or anatomical issues that you wish to focus on. In a one-page paper, discuss these issues and develop a strategy using imagery to help correct the problems. I will ask you to revisit this assignment later in the quarter and to write a follow-up analysis. Teacher’s note: I suggest that students consult Valerie Grieg’s Inside Ballet Technique. I will also bring a skeleton to class to identify particular aspects of the spine, pelvis, hip joint, and scapula.” (Writing about Dance** p.36-7, also includes also follow-up reflection)

Self-Reflection Letters: 

First Letter: “You are a proficient, experienced dancer with a sophisticated knowledge of yourself and your working process. Given that, please do the following:

  1. Describe your technical journey last semester: What were you working on? In what areas did you experience growth? Were there any frustrations?
  2. Identify your priority for this semester–perhaps the technical goal that you think will facilitate your dancing on multiple levels.
  3. How do you plan to work on this priority goal? What learning strategies will you employ?
  4. How can I help you with this process?”

Second Letter: “Reflect on your initial goals and your work during this entire semester:

  1. Reflect on your accomplishments this semester in relation to your initial goals. What growth did you experience? Did you modify your goals as the semester progressed? What were your frustrations? How could you address those frustrations productively?
  2. What do you think you need to work on to continue your growth?
  3. Given your personal learning style and process, what is the best way for you to work toward these goals?
  4. Do you have summer study plans that will help you to progress in these areas?”

As a responsible teen or adult dancer, you can choose what sort of prompts or declaration process you prefer. As a minimalist at heart, I like to consider what is the least I can do and reap the largest benefits in terms of my ballet training and artistry, in the short- and medium-term?

Excellent performance is a goal for many, if not all dancers. Watching UNCSA’s new video version of “The Nutcracker” recently inspired me to go into my archives and dig up this photo of my participation in it – Here I am (top left) ready for “Waltz of the Flowers”

What makes a goal good and achievable?

You are most likely already familiar with the SMART goals framework, and I myself prefer the Futurability for Objectives Checklist from the book Coach Anyone About Anything**, which encourages goal-setters to answer the following questions regarding their desired objective(s):

 “fu-tur-a-bil-i-ty: the ability of an objective to be realized in the future. Futurability  has to do with the formulation and process in achieving an objective or outcome. 

  1. OWNED: Is this objective your own? Are you free from burden, guilt or sacrifice? Do you think you ‘should’ or ‘have to?’ Is it so significant that you’ll be hampered?
  2. RELEVANT: Will achieving this objective improve or forward your business or enhance profitability?Will it help fulfill one or more of your life goals? Is it worth doing? When imagining it completed, do you feel truly satisfied?
  3. MEASURABLE: Is this objective able to be measured? Can you tell when it has been accomplished? Have you set a date when it will be done? Without a date to be achieved, it is not a realizable objective.
  4. ACHIEVABLE: Do you have some sense you can achieve this objective although you may not see precisely how yet? Or is it a hopeful fantasy or pipe dream?
  5. INSPIRED: Are you challenged or inspired by this objective? Is it predictable, i.e. merely an extension of the past?
  6. COMMITTED: Are you fully committed to the outcome, regardless of circumstances that may arise, or is this only a ‘wish’ to be accomplished if things go your way?
  7. SPOKEN: Is your objective in writing and part of your environment to call you to action? Have you communicated this objective to others? Have you made it public? Do you have the support of key people in your environment?
  8. COACHED: Do you have a coach, someone whom you are really willing to have be your coach for this objective? Will you be coachable?” (Coach Anyone About Anything** p.30)

It’s great to set good goals, but we must also consider what sorts of supports we require to accomplish them, whether they be material resources, accountability buddies from our class or elsewhere, a teacher or coach, or other structures.

Remember that achieving goals is a process of change

Lastly, it is important to realize that achieving any goal is a process of change. We can’t remain comfortable where we are and make lasting changes, and so we want to consider the process we face to make our objectives a reality.

In the book Making Connections**, Peggy Hackney describes change-making in fundamental movement patterning and life, outlining “Steps in the Change Process:”

  1. Notice what you are already doing.
  2. Accept what you are doing and how it serves you.
  3. Know what it is that you want to do, your intent.
  4. Clarify your intent even further (use imagery, work from movement principles, let your whole body be involved in the movement, tune-in to your own emotional feelings as you move, work with the space around you)
  5. Give yourself a lot of time and many different situations in which to practice your new pattern.
  6. Know that change is a process. “It will be ongoing. Change may surprise you! Many times the first reaction to a new way of moving or an absence of tension is a kind of shock and a feeling of residual tensions in other body parts (sometimes even pain in the area which had been holding tension). This is often a part of the process. You might want to check with your Fundamentals Practitioner if you are concerned.” (Making Connections** p.24-6)

Change and improvement are processes that require patience and compassion, as Hackney reminds us: “Change may be depressing. Change may be uplifting. You will inevitably fall back into old patterns…and you will go ahead into the new. On the one hand, you will need a firm resolve; on the other hand, you will want to be gentle with yourself. It will be an alive, involving journey.” (Making Connections** p.26)

I’ll be following up this post with more information about how to achieve some of the specific dancing goals we set for ourselves, and in the meantime, send me a message, or hop over to the A Blythe Coach Facebook Page and tell me about your goals for your dancing and other areas of life!

Blythe Stephens
She/her or they/them
A Blythe Coach: 
Dance Education & Coaching to move through life with balance, grace, & power

** This blog is not sponsored. Amazon Affiliate links potentially give me a percentage of the purchase price.

DISCLAIMER: A Blythe Coach recommends that you consult your physician regarding the applicability of any recommendations and follow all safety instructions before beginning any exercise program. When participating in any exercise or exercise program, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in this exercise or exercise program, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself.

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