“Motivation without goals is like wanting to get somewhere without knowing where to go” (Taylor & Estanol, 2015, p. 142).
Most dancers have plenty of motivation for dancing, and for improving their dance practice, but motivation alone may not be as effective as we would expect in our quest to find improvement and achieve our aims and ambitions. Goal setting as a practice is an effective tool that can be used to achieve our aspirations and more importantly facilitate continued progress.
Where to begin?
Maybe start by thinking about what is important to you as a dancer; the ability to really know oneself, and to be self-reflective about where we are right now, what we want to achieve, and where our strengths and weaknesses lie in this respect can all make good starting points. Engaging in Performance Profiling (Butler & Hardy, 1992) can be beneficial; during this process one would list the qualities and attributes you consider to be important to you as a dancer and then self-evaluate your current level of achievement on a simple scale of 1 to 10 and thereby identify where attention is required and energies best channelled.
Types of Goals
Quin and associates (2015) identify three different types of goals; those that are process orientated, such as the learning of a new skill; those that are performance orientated, such as a desire to improve one’s core strength; and those that are outcome orientated such as successfully auditioning for a particular school. Performance and process orientated goals are closely related, with the former being an overarching concern and the latter a more specific aspect related to this. Emphasis should really be placed upon process and performance goals as these are founded upon intrinsic motivation – that is, a desire to engage in something for its inherent satisfaction; whereas extrinsically motivated goals and behaviours are those that are driven by external rewards, such as pleasing someone. Striving towards intrinsically motivated goals is an activity that is within your control, whereas striving towards extrinsic goals often depends upon, and is subject to the will of others and not really within our control.
Goals may also be long-term, such as what you want to achieve by the end of your training, or short-term, such as what you want to achieve this term; and then of course timescales of everything in between, for example yearly goals, can be considered. It’s good to set a range, and use your short-term goals as a means to identify how you will achieve and work towards long-term goals – what are the steps needed in order to get there.
Set ‘SMART’ goals
Using the acronym SMART can assist you in developing and identifying effective goals. ‘S’ is for specific. Being specific will enable you to identify exactly which steps are needed in order to achieve your goal. Avoid making non-specific, broad statements, such as wanting to improve one’s strength or flexibility – where exactly do you want to build strength, gain flexibility? Which part of the body? Which muscle or group of muscles? For what purpose? Being specific has the potential to facilitate the next aspect of this acronym.
‘M’ stands for measurable. It’s essential to be able to track the progress you are making towards your goal and to be able to clarify exactly how you will measure and recognise success and achievement. Improving flexibility of the hamstring, for example, appears quite straightforward in this respect, but something like improving one’s confidence levels might require more thought and self-reflection during the process. You will want to recognise small, incremental achievement along the way in this respect – perhaps keeping a journal and identifying how you felt at particular times during your day will assist in the measurement and recognition of your progress.
‘A’ is for achievable. Simply put, you want to make sure that you set goals that are appropriately challenging, in order to bring about greater progress and improvement, without being too far beyond your current capabilities and therefore something of an impossibility to achieve.
‘R’ is for realistic. Setting unrealistic goals has the potential to bring about feelings of failure and disappointment if they really cannot be attained, which has the potential to hinder progression and improvement. If you are new to ballet, for example, it’s probably rather unrealistic to set yourself the goal of performing 32 fouette’s by the end of the term; improving particular aspects of a single or double pirouette, on the other hand, might make a more realistic and achievable goal for you that will facilitate plenty of improvement and progression within your technique.
‘T’ is for time frame – a reminder to always consider and set an appropriate time frame for the achievement of your goal and also identify apt and timely moments to check in and monitor your progress. Perhaps you hope to achieve your goal by the end of the term and you decide to check in on your progress at half-term, making any amendments, clarifications or adaptions as necessary.
Reviewing your progress at regular intervals will enable you to recognise progress, recognise when something has been achieved and facilitate the development of further goals that build upon the progress you have made in this respect.
Make sure your goals are self-determined – that is to say, they are goals that you yourself have identified as important to you; things that you really want to work on and improve. This will foster commitment and sustain focus, making progress personally fulfilling and satisfying. This is not to say that you will not be influenced by your teacher’s advice on that which requires attention in your technique, but the ultimate choice, identification and definition of the goal resides with you.
Research suggests that keeping a journal and taking time to reflect on your progress and to elaborate on your goals by writing at length about the aspects that you want to improve on can really be very effective (Morisano et al., 2010; Travers, 2013). Writing facilitates self-reflection and the means to internalise and assess progress and achievement, and identify additional, but nonetheless relevant, needs that may arise in the process. Keeping the process of goal setting fluid and dynamic enough to make changes and adjustments as you go will be beneficial, and help avoid any unhelpful tendencies towards perfectionism, providing a means to work through and address any negative thought processes that arise. Framing your goals positively is always constructive and effective.
Butler, J., & Hardy, L. (1992). The performance profile: Theory and application. The Sport Psychologist, 6(3), 253-264. https://doi.org/10.1123/tsp.6.3.253
Morisano, D., Hirsh, J. B., Peterson, J. B., Pihl, R. O., & Shore, B. M. J. (2010). Setting, elaborating, and reflecting on personal goals improves academic performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(2), 255-264. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0018478
Taylor, J., and Estanol, E. (2015). Dance psychology for artistic and performance excellence. Human Kinetics.
Travers, C. (2013). Using goal setting theory to promote personal development. In E. A. Locke & G. P. Lantham (Eds.), New developments in goal setting and task performance (pp. 603-619). Routledge.
Quin, E., Rafferty, S., & Tomlinson, C. (2015). Safe dance practice. Human Kinetics.
Denise Horsley, MSc. – Blommaert Ballet School Dance Science Advisor