Journaling Jetés

How to use writing prompts to enhance dance training

As a student at SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Dance, Marie McNair remembers struggling to complete a final choreography project. “There were many moments when I was stuck about what to do with the dancers,” she says. “What moves to give or not give, how I wanted to finish the piece.” In retrospect, she believes journaling could have helped her sort out her thoughts. “The kind of insight and inner reflection that writing causes isn’t something I was able to do until my senior year in college,” she says. As a dance teacher at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC, she recommends writing to help clarify intentions for a piece, even before beginning to create movement. “I encourage my kids to get all their ideas out of their heads and in front of them. I have them write out steps, colors, adjectives and whatever else comes to mind when they are listening to a song they are going to choreograph to.”

Writing is an effective and often overlooked way to promote learning and self-reflection in dance. Like rehearsal, it is as much about process as it is product. Journals, in particular, provide a place for dancers to set goals, record ideas and results, reflect, rant, plan, question and rejoice. Studies also show that journaling reduces stress and anxiety, increases self-awareness, sharpens mental skills, advances creative inspiration and strengthens coping abilities.

Dance teachers can help students organize their thoughts and reflect with purpose by assigning specific and stimulating writing activities. One prompt may help facilitate discussions among dancers, while another encourages them to think privately about movement concepts. There’s no right way to use journals. Some prompts may be assigned during class, while other activities might be taken home. Some responses are shared with teachers or classmates; others remain private.

Having your students write about class, rehearsal or a performance isn’t going to replace hard work or practice. They won’t instantly perform more confidently or create brilliant choreography because they wrote a journal entry. However, writing will supplement their training and make them more self-aware dancers. In McNair’s experience, “taking time to write down everything helps students create more mature and well-rounded dances with meaning and depth rather than just long combinations put to music.” The following writing activities offer five different scenarios for reflection. Choose a few to help your dancers get started. You’ll be amazed at what you read and learn. DT

Richard Kent, a professor at the University of Maine and director emeritus of the Maine Writing Project, has worked with choreographer and Emerson College teacher Josie Bray to study the role of writing in dance. They co-authored Writing the Dance: Workbook & Journal for Dancers.

Consider your relationship with the mirror:

1. How does it help you?

2. When does the mirror prevent you from doing your best work?

3. Do you notice any habits you have in front of the mirror that you don’t have other places?

4. Is there anything you’d like to change about your relationship to the mirror?

If so, what is the first step you will take toward making that change?

 

Mentally prepare for a performance:

Write about what you do before a performance to give your best onstage.

 

Reflect after a rehearsal or performance:

1. What were your strengths as a dancer today?

2. What were your weaknesses as a dancer today?

3. What were your strengths as a duet, trio or ensemble today?

4. What were your weaknesses as a duet, trio or ensemble today?

5. Whose performance did you most admire today and why?

 

Consider the influence of internal dialogue, or self-talk: 

1. Make a list of what you say to yourself during a rehearsal or performance. This internal dialogue may include feelings, instructions you give yourself or random thoughts.

2. Read through your list of self-talk and write down what you notice. Is your talk positive and motivating? Do you spend too much time complaining about a classmate or yourself? Observe whether your self-talk is productive or destructive, positive or negative.

 

Daily check-in: 

Give an immediate response with a + (above average), 0 (average) or – (below average) to reflect your first thought on the following issues:

1. How’s my overall health? _____

2. Am I getting enough sleep? _____

3. Do I drink enough water throughout the day? _____

4. How’s my overall fitness level? _____

5. Have I eaten healthy, balanced meals today? _____

6. How’s my life outside of dance? _____

©Thinkstock

Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.