This is Madeline Crawford, a Junior at Professional Performing Arts School in New York, she is also my student in the Ailey School Junior Division. Two years ago Maddie became my student and recently we began to work together privately to address some of her alignment and technical issues. Through our sessions we managed to break down and break through some of her issues which in turn has begun to change her body. I wanted to sit down with her so she could tell her story. She not only has changed her diet, and her body (both by losing weight and by working differently in the studio) but her dedication to the work and how she approaches it has made her progress this year blossom. Plus she FINALLY really did an assignment I gave her class a year ago and is now reaping the benefits!!
Here is a guide to how to write a Dance Journal from Maddie
How to Write a Dance Journal by Madeline Crawford
Purchase a nice medium-sized notebook that will fit in your bag and is visually appealing, so you’re more likely to use it. Set a format for yourself. If a teacher is giving you a format, use that as inspiration but only write what you think you will benefit from. For example: I never write compliments down very often because, while they help my self esteem and show improvement, I probably won’t benefit from looking back and reading about a good pirouette at barre I did or a well-placed Penché. Unnecessary sections of a journal make writing in it more tedious and less enjoyable.
For an easy format, use this:
You can even throw in things like “Personal Goal” or “Class Concentration.” But don’t get too lofty with what you want to write everyday. A dance journal can feel like homework some days- an overwhelming amount will make you not want to do it at all. You could even just write down the date and corrections, making your notebook as succinct and purposeful as possible. *(I do think that keeping track of your compliments are important for balance, it can show that you are not a complete mess. Also your successes are just as valuable a learning tool as your failures, when you succeed you have to know why and how it replicate it *T’ruth)
If you’re the type that hates getting corrected, it might be time to change your mindset. This isn’t easy to do and it’s difficult to hear about something that you feel confident in.
For example: You may have naturally high extensions. If a teacher says to cool it down for the sake of hip alignment, you may feel belligerent and stubborn, not wanting to take it. But the only reason they say this to you is to keep your body healthy and refine your technique, not to hurt your ego.
Also remember that not every teacher wants the same thing, so while you may have to keep your leg at 90º in Teacher A’s class, Teacher B may allow you to kick it however high you want. Blocking out your teacher’s corrections won’t help at all, if you haven’t listened to them, you won’t have anything to write, and therefore you’ll never learn. It’s nearly impossible to remember every correction all your teachers give you during the week but every word helps you.
Find Patterns and Set Goals
Though not every piece of information you receive will be in your journal, you start to recognize a correction if several teachers say it to you. You may have heard “quicker spot” on Monday, you could have dismissed it or forgotten when it comes to writing everything down. But if another instructor says the same thing on Wednesday, it will click that you’ve gotten this before and it’s time to apply it. On Saturdays, on my way home after my last class of the week, I start a page that says “Weekly Review.” I collect every repeated correction from that particular week (or previous weeks if it’s something I really have to work on) and write on that page “Patterns in Corrections.” To clarify- if not only my Graham teacher says “deeper plié,” but also one of my Ballet teachers, I write down “deeper plie,” so that I know it’s something to focus on. I then read through all the patterns and choose one or two things to make my “Focus of Next Week.” In order to make sure you’re following through with each week’s goal, also write “Last Week’s Focus.” Record whether you did well with your goal or if you have to keep working on it. These corrections aren’t limited to what an instructor says to you! If you yourself can see that there can be improvement on a certain aspect, include that in your journal as well. If you’re constantly saying to yourself “I could have drawn that out a bit more,” or “I need to breath through all my balances,” then don’t wait for someone to say something to your. Make it happen!
Make it a weakly ritual to look at your journal and read your weekly focus. Try to even look at it before every class. 2% of the work is writing notes down, it’s up to you to bring it into class and start to apply it to your dancing. If you repeatedly hear “energy through your arms,” it doesn’t count if you just have it written down, you have to absorb the correction in order to improve. Typically, when I make something my weekly goal, I tend to not hear hear the correction from teachers anymore, so it was effective. But always keep all corrections in the back of your mind. Just because someone hasn’t commented on it in a while, doesn’t mean you can forget about it. There’s muscle memory, but sometimes you will have to consciously tell yourself what to do.
Be Consistent and Don’t Get Lazy
I have plenty of days where I don’t feel like digging out my journal and meticulously writing every detail of class. There are definitely blank pages in my notebook, where I planned on writing but only got as far as labeling “technique” and “teacher.” This is inevitable- some days you won’t feel inspired and won’t have the motivation to put extra effort into something that it’s mandatory. No one is making you write the journal except yourself so it’s easy to slip up. It may be a nuisance to write about every single class, every single day but there won’t be much improvement if you don’t impel yourself.
When Do I Write It?
AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put off writing until the next day (or the next week) and have completely forgotten every detail of the class. If you’re taking more than 2 classes a day it’s easy to blend classes (and even teachers or techniques!) together. Sometimes you have to force your self and maybe even sit down after class, right outside the studio, and write.
What If I Don’t Have Anything to Write?
Some days you won’t get corrections! There are always teachers that yell combinations at you instead of actually giving you useful information. It’s your job to make classes like those into sort of experiments. Concentrate on all the corrections that you’ve already gotten. These classes can be good, depending on how you look at them. Don’t waste a single class! Sure, we all have bad days but don’t let your lack of respect for a teacher affect your improvement. Do you want to slack off for a full 90 minutes or do you want to turn that time into useful learning time? Also, remember that every class correction is a personal correction. If a girl behind you is being told to lift her elbows in first, don’t look at yourself in the mirror to see how good you look your new leo. Look at yourself in the mirror to see whether you need that correction too. A teacher can’t always get around to everyone, so make sure you listen to everything they say for your own benefit.
Don’t Get Scared
Sometimes I look over a week of notes and freak out about the amount of bullet points there are on a page. Of course, it’s always good to get a correction from a teacher- it means they’re paying attention to you and want you to improve. But sometimes you can get nervous about the crazy about of stuff you have to work on. Just remember- this is the reason you’re writing in the dance journal, to improve. Most of these are tiny corrections, though. Your comments in class reflect your improvement. Instead of hearing major corrections that can take years to work on (articulating feet, higher extensions, stronger core muscles), the corrections shift to tinier things that are crucial but only a more advanced student can comprehend and absorb. I’ve noticed that I’m getting even more corrections than I ever was earlier in my training. Also, all you hear from professionals is that they’re constantly learning, they’re always something to work on. It’s important to keep in the back of you’re mind that corrections are necessary to succeed.
Dance Journals Aren’t For Everyone and Do Your Own Thing
You may have intensely great memory so you don’t have to keep a notebook. You may have tried it, and have found no benefit. Maybe you’re not the type of learner that can handle writing everything. Dance journals don’t have to work for you, plenty of great dancers probably never wrote anything down. Also remember that pictures can help, if you’re a good artist. You can even try your own format, don’t feel limited.
Yes, it can sometimes feel like boring work to write about dance, when you’d rather be actually dancing (or sleeping or eating). But try to put a positive light on your dance journal- thinking of it as a real, almost academic study to help you overall, instead of punishment.