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? _____

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