The clock strikes midnight on December 31, and suddenly, it’s January and we’ve hit the ‘reset’ button on our lives. In addition to being my favorite time of year—hello, competition season!—the new year is marked by a fresh start and, with that, a chance to create exciting resolutions.
These resolutions range from personal to professional, so what better place to set new goals than in the dance studio? Goals can be big or small, short or long term, but it’s important that we set them strategically and hold ourselves to them. After all, accountability with goals is everything-- otherwise, what's the point?
At any given time, I like to have at least three 10 year, five year, and one year goals, as well as shorter term goals that have varied timelines, based on the nature of the goals. For example, maybe the goal is to achieve a certain skill by the date of an audition or two weeks before a big competition. Whatever the case may be, it’s critical that these short-term goals be specific and achievable. It’s great to have big dreams like getting into a specific B.F.A. program or booking a contract with your dream company or in your favorite show, but if you break down these aspirations, you’ll find that in order to achieve them, it’s critical to reach your smaller goals first.
For instance, to land that dream gig on Broadway, you’ll need to have a specific technical skill set, depending on the choreography of that show, and a level of stage presence and artistry to match. But how can you hold yourself accountable in the short-term to ensure that you can achieve your dreams in the long run? And how can you avoid feeling overwhelmed by the goals that you’ve set? I find that success starts with committing the goal to paper and then taking small, doable steps to achieve said goal.
I encourage my students to keep a separate notebook, or a marked section of a notebook, specifically for their dance goals—a real, physical notebook. I’ll admit that my iPhone is my lifeline and I use my iCal to track every single class, audition, workshop, and appointment, but there’s something about writing goals down that makes them feel especially authentic. Call me old school, but there is nothing like committing with a pen to paper! It’s also fun to look back years later at long term goals and to realize how far you’ve come or how your aspirations and interests have shifted, so be sure to date every page! The date will also help you to track your progress with your short-term goals.
By writing down specific, achievable goals, we hold ourselves to them. Choosing a short-term goal for the coming dance season such as, “I want to improve my jazz pirouettes” is great, but I push my dancers (and myself!) to be more specific because it’s hard to track improvement without some sort of quantifiable value—and it can feel overwhelming to figure out where to start. Instead, in this case, I would consider the skills that I need for my upcoming jazz dances and then revise the goal, “I want to be able to consistently perform clean triple pirouettes with strong, sustained balances at the end of the turns.” This goal is now specific and measurable. But then there’s the accountability step. I find that a great way to stay on track with goals is to name a deadline. So, I would add to the above goal, “by my first competition on March 11 th , I want to be able to consistently perform clean triple pirouettes with strong, sustained balances at the end of the turns.” Now there is a deadline by which to achieve the goal. I also encourage my students to check in at the halfway point to see how they’re progressing. This is the part when it’s okay to use your phone—set a reminder for the halfway date between when you’ve set the goal and your deadline to achieve the goal to see how you’re doing. Resist the urge to judge yourself, because there’s still time! And therein lies the beauty: you can use this time to evaluate if your plan—more on that soon—is working and if your goal and regimen need any revisions.
Now for the fun part: how to begin working toward your goal of perfecting your triple jazz pirouettes. Of course, you’re working on your pirouettes in jazz class and honing your overall technique in ballet, while understanding rhythm and timing in tap, and finding your grounding in modern/contemporary and hip-hop. But technique classes aren’t designed to just focus on one skill, like turning, and while you practice that triple pirouette in rehearsals when you run your routine(s), it most probably isn’t enough. So, here is where all of the discipline that you’ve learned throughout your years of dance training comes into play. It’s time to make yourself a specific plan with reasonable steps that will allow you to achieve your goals.
Start by looking at one goal and making a list of the elements that comprise that goal. Pirouettes, for example, require a level of stability in the lower leg, strength throughout the entire core—abdominals and back muscles—and a specific coordination of the head and arms, not to mention precise timing and clarity. Once I determine these elements, I can develop my training regimen. In this case, I would start with some sort of strengthening routine for my feet and ankles that I would do three to four times a week, involving a theraband and relevés at the barre, plus a daily abdominal routine pulling from Pilates. The great part about these two routines is that I don’t have to be in a studio to do them—I can truly do them anytime and anywhere, which limits my ability to make excuses! I would finish my regimen with more specificity, doing a turn drill four to five times per week, perhaps at the end of classes before leaving the studio for the night or between classes if there is a short break. Once I commit this goal and these steps to paper, I can hold myself accountable. Best of all, this proposed regimen requires a very minimal time commitment—think quality over quantity! Seven to ten minutes of properly-executed abdominal work, for example, can be extremely effective, so go for perfect form and, as a result, greater efficiency and effectiveness. If you’re having trouble pinpointing components, crafting your plan, or knowing what proper technique for a step or exercise looks like, just ask your dance teacher! We love seeing our students take initiative in their training and we’re here to help! To recap: always write down your goals, make them specific, give yourself a deadline, and be sure to lay out a detailed plan for how you will achieve your goals.
As you move forward on your path to success, be sure to continue to update your goals. I recommend taking a look at your goals journal at least every other month—here, again, is where those trusty phone reminders can come in handy. Set aside time to check in with your progress and be consistent about when you do this. You might surprise yourself and find that some goals take longer to achieve than you had thought, while others might take less time than anticipated.
Either way, be sure to continue to challenge yourself. If you find that your plan has worked and you’re suddenly nailing your triple pirouettes, go for quadruples! Of course, if the group jazz choreography is a triple pirouette, don’t show off your best quad. in rehearsal or on stage, but in technique class, go for it! At the end of the day, only you can push yourself to your fullest potential. And while it’s important to stay critical and hold ourselves to high standards, it’s even more important to celebrate our accomplishments, both big and small!
It’s also crucial to remember that you don’t have to wait for an occasion to set your goals. The New Year is a great time to start, thanks to the emphasis on resolutions and new beginnings, but you can and should always have short and long term goals that continue to fuel how you attend to your training. Hold yourself accountable and see where it takes you—it’s amazing what we can accomplish when we stick to a plan! Go ahead and dream big! From there, narrow your goals so that your dreams can become realities, one step at a time. I wish you a prosperous, dance- filled 2018, marked by new accomplishments and huge achievements. Oh, and, officially, happy competition season!
*Maddie Kurtz is a dancer, teacher, choreographer, and adjudicator based in Rochester, NY, where she is completing her final semester as an M.F.A. candidate in Dance Performance and Choreography at SUNY Brockport.
Photos by: Jaqi Medlock