Improvement Series: Quantifying Achievements in Dance.

Within this society there is often an impatience behind an action and the reward it brings. We want to feel gratification for our actions as soon as we’ve done them. With activity there is the same need for immediate reward. If we go to the gym we *want* to feel the ‘burn’ in the muscles we’re working, or two sessions in we expect that we should have doubled the weight we’re lifting. Some of these goals are unrealistic, but they still give you something to work towards, that you can rate your achievements/progress against. With dance these benchmarks can sometimes be overlooked and as such many students can become frustrated at their lack of achievement. In this post I’ll be talking about a few different ways that you can *rate* your dance progress against. Throughout the post I’ll speak about progress, but remember that everyone progresses at their own rate. In no way do I want to suggest that no progress is bad progress.

Many of these points may be echoed in other posts about how to improve your dance ability, but they can also be improved through dance themselves.

  1. Exams: The first, most obvious, benchmark is the mark you’re awarded for the exams you take in a certain style. Just being able to maintain the same mark as you progress up the grades, levels or awards, should allow you to know you are progressing. If you can achieve the same mark or higher for the next exam you’ve improved, as the grades get harder. Not all exams are the same, some may mean you need to learn a whole syllabus others may mean you perform a routine for the examiner. Whatever type of exam you can do they can provide you with a further understanding of your dancing ability. However, not all dance schools or styles have exams, and if they do there can often be a long gap between exam sessions. This can mean that rating your progress in this way is unreliable and takes too long.
  2. Fitness Level: Your fitness level is something that can be rated all the time. Each class you step into you can gauge whether you’re improving or not. While this can seem non-specific to dance, dance classes can vastly improve your cardiovascular and muscular fitness levels. There are two main passive ways to rate your fitness levels and to see how they’re improving. The first is to see how many dance lessons/hours of dance your doing a week. This may depend on availability but as you improve you’ll likely take part in more classes. As a dancer we may not even hit the peak number of hours we can do a week without being part of a company or dance school who have practice for hours each day. As a recreational dancers this may be rated through the amount of soreness (DOMs) that we experience the day after dance. If our fitness is improving this soreness is likely to decrease. A second passive way of rating our fitness levels is through the endurance we have throughout a session. Are you able to put 100% in for the whole lesson, or do you falter at some point in the class? As we improve we should be able to go longer within out needing to conserve energy and get tired. This is a good way of rating improvements for classes of a high  intensity, Zumba may be a good example of this.
  3. Flexibility: I’ve spoken about this component of dance before, claiming that you don’t need amazing flexibility to be a great dancer. However, if you are dancing and working to your maximum, there will be improvements in your flexibility. As children start secondary school I often see a change in viewpoint to “I can’t do that, so I’m not going to try”, to which I usually reply with, “If you don’t try, you never will be able to do it”. During class no one expects you to be perfect. If we were all perfect dancers, we wouldn’t need class. While stretches and the use of flexibility within my classes is often limited to a short period of time, if students work at their maximum and try and push themselves just a little they should see progress.
  4. Balance: As a component of fitness this skill can be overlooked in other physical activities, however, during dance balance is of particular importance. We need balance to hold positions, to suspend our turns. Balance is a great tool for ballet dancers to rate their progress against. While it varies daily, maybe even hourly, overall trends should increase by engaging in dance practise. Exercises that you do at the barre if you can lift your hands off and not be as wobbly the second time, you’ve shown progress. These small achievements may not seem much but should be celebrated as much as getting another turn into our pirouette.
  5. Learning speed: This is an ambiguous and subjective measure to progress, but it is important none-the-less. The time it takes to pick up choreography, new steps, or build an improvisation, reflects your learning speed. This won’t reflect your ability to learn academically, as you’re working with your motor neurons in order to create movement. As you learn, anything not just dance, you build new neuron pathways to reflect things you want to access more frequently, and ‘lose’ pathways to information that you don’t use as often. Through repeatedly going to dance class and rehearsing steps you’ve been taught you’ll access these neurons easier and will be able to translate instructions to your movements quicker. This may not even be noticeable, but you may find that your muscle memory starts working more easily as you’ve already trained it to expect the need to remember the combination your taught during class. Teaching classes with a wide age range you see the variety a lot more, often those who are younger take longer and a few more goes to learn the steps you’ve shown them, whereas older students can often pick them up the first time. This reflects both dance experience and brain development, one of these we can help with through more class.

There are also many other ways of showing achievement through dance, getting a job you’ve auditioned for, nailing the performance you have, or being able to show your emotions a lot more during the choreography. This post has focused on some of the achievement that we can relish fairly often and can gauge nearly every practise. I hope this inspires you to see that your dancing is improving in lots of ways, even if you don’t see this progress immediately.

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