POST 174: Reflection

Reflection and Journaling for Dancers

Reflection and Journaling for Dancers

Photo by Dave Spellman

Photo by Dave Spellman

Dance is a form of expression, allowing one to creatively or artistically “speak” through a non-verbal language. However, dancers have often found a need to express themselves through words and writing as well.  In fact, writing can be a useful tool for dancers, teachers, and choreographers.  And, journaling or keeping a diary is a great way to preserve and organize one’s thoughts, reflections, goals, and more.

Who and What

A dance teacher and friend of mine, recently wrote on her blog, Uptown Dance NJ, about ways in which a dance diary can be used for students, teachers, and professionals.  She spoke of her own methods and uses for this valuable tool and how and why she encourages her own students to keep a dance diary.

There are many types of journals from organizational (lists, schedules, data/idea collection), to pragmatic (what you did, what you’ll do, achievements, failures), to idealistic (goals, dreams, ambitions), to emotional (how you felt, reflections, critiques).  And, there are many, many, many techniques for writing and keeping a journal.  Some people collect and use or sketch images, others write free-form, limit themselves to one sentence, or answer questions or write lists.  Some use a binder, others a bound book, and others use technology and computers.  In this regard, each must determine the methods that will best meet his/her needs. However, in order to encourage you to make use of a dance journal, I’d like to highlight how particular aspects of a diary could be useful to dancers and/or teachers.

Goal-oriented Writing

A Twitter pal of mine, Amber, describes how she “keeps her butt in gear” through writing down her goals and dreams.  She also uses something called a vision board which is meant to activate the law of attraction, which has a lot to do with visualizing and attracting the things we want in life by bringing attention to them. This principle can also be used in journaling, as described by Elizabeth Scott M.D. in an article about stress management.

Visualization is nothing new in dance.  We use this tool all the time when we apply imagery to perfect our technique or execution, or even practice mental rehearsal before a performance.  Writing about our goals can also be an exercise in visualization because it requires that we imagine these goals as achievable and imagine ourselves achieving them.  When we give voice to these visions on the written page, we not only allow time to focus our energy and thoughts on them, we preserve them.  It is a commitment and a promise to ourselves, more powerful than a fleeting thought, because we can look over our imaginings over again and again.

Learning and Reflection

Keeping a record of your learning process has many benefits for a dancer.  The following, from an educational website, very clearly and succinctly describes what to write in a learning journal and why it may be helpful.


* “Activities”/situations/experiences that went well or were difficult

* Unexpected problems or issues e.g. solving a particular maths problem (that you had revised carefully) or explaining an idea in a group project meeting. [completing a pirouette without falling out of it; a disruptive student; difficulty remembering choreography]

* Habits that you have noticed in yourself or others (which have some relevance)

* How you feel about the way you are doing things e.g. items of understanding, clarity of thought, strength of actions, awareness.

* How effective you are e.g. using feedback from others, achieving goals (assignment deadlines, finding information in library, keeping a learning diary! etc.)

* Anything else that feels of importance to you – even though you may not understand the significance of it.


* It helps you to learn from your successes, as well as your mistakes

* It makes it more likely that you will use what you have learned next time i.e. rather than ‘making the same mistakes’, “falling back on old habits’ etc.

* It gives you an opportunity to plan concisely what you want to do, what you want to change, etc.

· It may help you feel more in “control of your life”, more positive, deepen your understanding, etc.

A person learns from successes and mistakes when he/she takes the time to reflect on them.  With a journal, dancers have the opportunity to recognize patterns in the corrections they receive, the worries or stresses that may inhibit them, and the types of images or thought processes that help them the most.  With this information dancers can then use what they’ve learned to solve problems, avoid injury, and improve.  In addition, a journal can aid in boosting confidence.  Even a dancer that, in the moment, or over the course of months or years, feels that they are not doing well, can look back at her recorded accomplishments and feel good about the progress made.  Looking at our successes as a whole, enables us to see the value in even the smallest of improvements.  Writing is also a way to work through emotions that otherwise we may keep bottled up.  The stress of trying to out-perform ourselves or others, please our teachers (or students), advance to the next class level, land a special role or job, and a whole host of other worries can be overwhelming for a dancer.  Putting these concerns in writing gives us a space to air them without ramification, often making them seem like they are not such a big deal after all.

Get Started!

Consistent journaling is achieved by making it a habit.  You make something a habit by first choosing to do it consistently.  It may take some real effort on your part to begin and continue your journal.  I encourage you to try to make time to write at a particular time each day, avoid distractions and situate yourself where you will be most free from interruption.  Start small.  Sometimes our intentions are too big and we end up quitting because we’ve bitten off more than we can chew.  Take brief moments to write a few lines about the day or the class.  You may find that over time you are able to write more and that you have discovered new ways to utilize your journal.  Also, set yourself up for success.  If you tend to enjoy typing an email more than writing a letter, you may find blogging your journal to be more productive than adding thoughts to a bound or looseleaf notebook.  Like finding the perfect pair of pointe shoes, you may even have to sample different methods until you find the right fit.

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