The importance of establishing good habits at the start of the dance season
The beginning of a new dance season is full of possibility for you as a dance student … Will this be the year I master that trick I’ve always wanted to be able to do? Will I get the role I’ve always dreamed of? Will I place well at competition? Will I get into that prestigious summer program? Will I move up to the next level? Will I make friends and fit in with my classmates? Will I connect with my teachers? Will I look forward to coming to every class?
No matter what you are hoping to accomplish this year, or how you hope the dance season will unfold for you, it is important to take advantage of this opportunity for a fresh start. The “clean slate” of the new season provides a chance to start great new habits that will help you reach your goals and experience more joy in your dancing … because really, the joy we feel when we dance is really what it’s all about! In this blog post, I’ll share four important habits that dance students should start in the first six weeks of the season so that they can make the most of their dance training in the year to come.
These habits might seem simple, but you shouldn’t overlook their importance. Implementing them early will not only help you get your season off to a great start, but they will also help you reach your dance goals and keep your love of dance strong all season long. It is important as a dance student that you take ownership of your learning, find your own motivation, hold yourself accountable, and develop good relationships with your teachers and classmates. When these become habits – especially habits established at the beginning of the season – they will help you make the most of your dance training and reach your dance goals for the year
Why the first six weeks of dance class matter
What’s with the first six weeks? In the Responsive Classroom methodology, the first six weeks of school are considered crucial. Teachers who adopt the Responsive Classroom methodology follow specific steps to ensure that their students start the year in a way that sets them up for engaged and productive learning. As described on the Responsive Classroom website, “The early weeks of each new school year offer teachers distinct opportunities and challenges. It is during this time—when expectations and routines are established, rules generated, and goals articulated—that the foundation is laid for a productive and cooperative year of learning.” As a dance student, you can apply a similar mindset during the first six weeks of the season to create good habits for yourself. Doing so will ultimately help you set for yourself up for success throughout the year.
Here are four key habits that dance studio students should establish in the first six weeks of class to ensure a successful dance season and reach their dance goals this year.
1.) Remind yourself of your “Dance Why” and set dance goals that relate to it
Dance training can be a huge commitment of time, money, and energy. It’s important as a dance student that you remember your “Dance Why” – Why do you sacrifice other things, like school activities or time with your friends, in order to train as a dancer? Why is the commitment that you’ve made to dance worth it to you? Why is dance such a special part of your life?:
Maybe it’s the way you feel when you are dancing, maybe it’s the thrill of learning new dance steps and concepts, maybe it’s the challenge of pushing yourself to master new skills, maybe it’s the excitement of performing or competing, maybe it’s the relationships you’ve formed with your dance friends along the way, maybe it’s to how good you feel when you give back to the community through dance-related service projects or performances.
Take some time to reflect on your personal “Why,” then write it down somewhere special – on the cover of your dance journal, on a post it note beside your bed or on your bathroom mirror, or on a key chain for your dance bag, for example. Keep your “Why” somewhere where you will see it often, as a reminder when times get tough this season. Remind yourself of your “Why” frequently, especially when you start to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or burnt out as a dancer. Remember that your “Why” may change over time, and that is okay! Continually reflect on why dance matters to you, and why you want to keep up your training as a dancer.
Once you know your “Why” – the big picture behind your passion for dance and your commitment to dance training – you can determine your dance goals for this season and beyond. I like to think in terms of “big dance goals,” “short term dance goals,” and “micro dance goals.”
Your big dance goals are long-term, big picture things that you want to accomplish in your dance career. These are the ultimate, “dream come true” that are rooted in your “Dance Why.” How do you want to use your dance training after graduation?
Maybe you’d like to continue your dance education as a college dance major, or attend a post-college training program. Maybe you want a career in dance, as a performer, choreographer, or dance teacher. Maybe you’d like to combine your love of dance with another interest, and become a dance medicine specialist, dance writer, dance costume designer, or dance therapist. You might also know that your dance dreams end with your high school graduation, and that you don’t plan to keep dancing once your time at your studio is over – that’s okay too! No matter what, you will take the skills you’ve learned, the qualities you’ve developed, and the habits you’ve maintained as a dancer to find success in any path you choose.
Having big dance goals like these is important, as it can keep you motivated and focused. However, if you only focus on your big dance goals, you might become easily overwhelmed by the work, time, and energy it will take to achieve them. To help you reach your big dance goals, it can be helpful to break them down into short term dance goals that you can achieve within a single dance season. What do you want to accomplish by the time recital season rolls around in the spring?
Maybe you have a short term goal that is related to your big dance goal, such as auditioning for a summer program if you want to be a performer, assisting with some classes if you want to be a teacher, or participating in an internship if you want to be a dance medicine specialist. Or, maybe your dance goals are related to technique, artistry, and well-being: you’d like to master a new dance style, perfect a big trick, be more comfortable dancing on stage, develop better performance quality, improve your improv skills, keep a healthy dance-life balance, prevent injuries, or make new friends.
Having a few short term dance goals in mind will help you stay focused and motivated all year long. Breaking those short term dance goals down even further into micro goals will help you develop a plan to accomplish them. A micro dance goal is something that you want to achieve within a short period of time, like a week or a month, that will help you achieve you short term goals for the year, and eventually help you be successful in your big dance goals. What do you want to achieve this week or this month to help you reach your bigger goals?
Maybe you will research summer program audition requirements, read a book about dance education, or download an anatomy app to help you learn more about what muscles are involved in turnout. Maybe you’ll do some extra conditioning or stretching to help you learn that big trick, practice improv for 10 minutes a day, or reach out to a classmate that you don’t talk to very often.
For more information on dance goals, be sure to read this blog post: 5 Ways to Achieve Your Dance Goals. You will also want to check out The Holistic Guide to Goal-Setting for Dancers, a brainstorming tool and worksheets to help you determine your big dance dreams, break them down into manageable goals, and develop an actionable plan to achieve them.
2.) Be prepared for class – in body, mind, and spirit
I’m sure you’ve heard your dance teachers say it a million times: you have to be prepared for class. And chances are, you do a pretty good job at being physically ready to dance. You likely remember to dress appropriately, have your hair out of your face, show up on time, and maybe even stretch a bit before your dance class starts. Those are all excellent habits to develop and maintain all season long!
But there is more to being prepared for dance class than wearing dress code and remembering your dance shoes. To truly be ready to dance, you have to consider your physical, mental, and emotional preparedness. Here are some strategies that will help:
- Arrive to class with enough time to do a thorough warm-up – one that limbers up your joints, gets your heart rate up a bit, and improves your coordination.
- Manage chronic injuries by following any guidelines for warm-up and bodywork recommended by your physical therapist or dance teacher.
- Eat a healthy meal or snack before class, avoiding too much simple sugar or caffeine. Complex carbohydrates, protein, and fruits and veggies are all important to help fuel your body for class. If you have a long day of classes or rehearsals, keep some simple snacks like a protein bar or nuts in your bag to refuel as needed!
- Drink plenty of water before, during, and after class to keep your body hydrated. Good hydration can help alleviate sore muscles, prevent headaches, and even reduce anxiety!
- In addition to warming up physically, do what helps you focus and prepare mentally and emotionally for class. If socializing with friends helps you shake off the stress of the day and get ready to dance, then socialize away! If too much talking or friend-drama starts to get distracting, then pop in your earbuds and find a quiet place to rest.
- Take stock of your mental state. Are you able to focus today, or are you distracted by things going on outside the studio? Are you feeling rested and ready to go? Are you experiencing the beginning stages of burnout? Let your teachers know if there are serious concerns that will prevent you from giving it your all in class today.
- Take stock of your emotional health. Are you feeling anxious? Sad? Happy? Angry? Excited? Calm? Again, let your teachers know if there are serious concerns that will impact your ability to enjoy dancing today.
- After you’ve taken stock of your mental and emotional health, to the extent that you are able, leave negativity at the door. Take a deep breath before you walk into the studio, breathing in positive energy and releasing frustrations to the extent that you are able. Remember that your worries will be there when dance class is over. Being able to put them aside temporary and just dance is a gift that not many others experience – try to enjoy it!
- Set an intention for your dance class. An intention is something that you choose to focus on during the hour-plus that you will be dancing. Having a specific intention is a great way to help you achieve your dance goals and stay engaged in class. Some examples of a dance class intention could be:
- “I will enjoy moving my body today”
- “I will find times to connect with my friends and enjoy their company while we are dancing”
- “I will work on staying focused and engaged in class, and reconnect as quickly as possible when I get distracted.”
- “I will listen intently to my dance teacher and try to apply their feedback right away.”
- “I will focus on musicality and connecting with the music.”
- “I will focus on my alignment so that I can improve my balance.”
3.) Take time to reflect on your dance life
Your life as a dance student is probably a busy one, and there are likely many days when you are rushing out of the studio to get to another activity or to do your homework. But taking some time to reflect on your dance life will help to set you up for success this year and beyond. Keep a dance journal in your dance bag to write down feedback that you get in class, take notes on choreography you learned, or express any joys or concerns you have in the studio. Try to do this immediately after class to do this so that you can capture information and emotions while they are fresh. If you don’t have time after class, do your journaling in the car or bus on the way home, or right before bed that night. Keeping a dance journal will help you track your progress over the year, learn choreography more quickly, and process emotions related to your dance life. If you aren’t sure what to write about, check out The Holistic Guide to Journaling for Dance Students. This collection of 52 journaling prompts will help you reflect on every aspect of your dance training, keeping your inspired all year long!
4.) Prioritize your dance relationships
Dance can often feel like a solitary endeavors. Throughout your training, you might feel like you are spending an awful lot of time focusing on yourself: How is my alignment? Is my leg high enough? Am I spotting in my turns? Does my face look weird? And yes, as dancers we can become a little bit self-obsessed – maybe we can blame the fact that we stare at ourselves in the mirror for hours at a time! Beyond that, dance is competitive, and it’s necessary to stay focused on your own personal goals in order to be successful as a dancer. You alone are responsible for your own dance training.
But dance is also a communal art form. Take ballet, for example: Yes, ballet dancers spend lots of time alone at the barre, but even ballet celebrates the beauty of the ensemble; you only have to watch the corps of any great classical ballet company to see this in action. There is something powerful about dancing with other people, creating a shared energy and working together to present someone beautiful to the audience.
Beyond that, dance is a social experience. There are some dance forms, like from rueda de casino, contradance, and contact improvisation are only (or at least most commonly) done in community with others. Even if you are studying ballet, tap, and jazz, you probably attend classes with other dancers. You might be on a dance team or part of a performance company. And you definitely have a dance teacher there to support you and help you reach your goals. Focusing on your relationships with your classmates and teachers is a great habit to get into this season. Prioritize kindness and cooperation in everything you do at the dance studio. Take some time to get to know new dancers in your class. Include everyone in out-of-class hangouts or meet ups. Deepen your relationships with your current dance friends by engaging in meaningful conversation about your dance why and big dance goals. If conflicts arise, work to resolve them thoughtfully and with empathy. Try not to get involved in petty dance drama. Ask your dance teacher questions, or seek out their advice if you need it. Show respect to everyone in your dance life – your classmates, dance teachers, studio staff, and yourself, too. After all, our careers as dancers will be short-lived, but the relationships and friendships we form through dance can last forever!
More resources for dance students
Check out these other blog posts and resources for dance students that will help you improve your dance technique, artistry, and overall well-being:
- Simple Ways to Improve Your Dance Improvisation Skills
- 5 Ways to Become a Better Dance Performer
- 5 Ways to Achieve Your Dance Goals
- Recommended Reading: Books on Jazz Dance
- The Holistic Guide to Journaling for Dance Students
- The Holistic Guide to Goal-Setting for Dancers