HOW TO SET AND ACHIEVE GOALS TO GET BETTER IN BALLET

By Heidi Williams / Edited by Samantha Bellerose, B.Ed, Dip.Dance(Performing Arts)

Improving your ballet technique is easier said than done. Every dancer knows it and tries continuously to get better in ballet with varying degrees of success (or lack thereof). Improving ballet technique is an ongoing challenge that requires ongoing effort. It isn’t a place you arrive at; it is a continuous, conscious effort that you both build upon and also maintain.

Dancers can achieve their objective to get better in ballet by developing specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely, and exciting goals. These are SMARTe goals and they help ballet dancers to define exactly what they want to achieve, how they are going to do it, when they will complete it by and why it is important.

Think of SMARTe Goals as the ultimate formula for success as a ballet dancer. Why is it so helpful? Because it is a framework we can use to conquer large challenges, by dividing them into smaller, more doable increments, helping us to improve faster and work smarter. How does it work? By helping you identify what you want to achieve, and by helping you figure out how you’re going to get there, step by step.

 Click here to read more about what a SMARTe goal for dance is.

How SMARTe goals help ballet dancers set and achieve goals!

When creating a SMARTe goal, specificity is the key. When we’re trying to get to the bottom of areas we need to improve, we need to find out what they stem from. We follow the stem to get the root when we follow the SMARTe formula to specify our goal.

However, when we start to analyze one specific area of weakness, it often leads us to become aware of another, and another, and another. It becomes immediately apparent that there are levels of specificity, as we gain a deeper understanding of body mechanics and ballet technique, and how they should work together. For instance, you might start out trying to set a SMARTe goal to help you fix your forward-head posture, but you realize that to fix that, you have to work on shoulder placement. And once you start to fix that, you realize that the root of the problem is anterior pelvic tilt, and the list goes on.

HOW DO YOU CHOOSE WHICH FIX OR GOAL TO WORK ON?

Since everything is connected in our bodies, and one area tends to affect another, it can be hard to try to set a SMART goal, and even harder to prioritize which SMARTe goal to set and work towards first to improve our ballet technique. How do you know where to begin if you aren’t sure what set the snowball effect into motion?

Start by recording or taking note of the corrections you most often receive in dance class. Instead of looking at the criticisms, you might be receiving in class as something negative, start to look forward to receiving them knowing they are little clues that will help you niche down and find the core things you can work on that will really improve and benefit your dancing.

Before you start to feel caught in an avalanche of things you need to improve, begin to think about and analyze the root cause of these weaknesses, commonalities from which they might stem which is important because the SMARTe goals we then create will target these specifically.

SMART FROM THE BOTTOM

When looking for the root of the problems we may have in ballet technique, we will want to first check our alignment to figure out which specific things are hampering our progress in ballet. Improving in ballet requires having good alignment. Since many of our weaknesses in ballet stem from issues with improper alignment, it follows that if we achieve and maintain proper alignment, we will have simultaneously corrected many issues. Therefore we will focus on this area as an example of how you can use a SMARTe goal to narrow down what it is you exactly want to achieve and how you will do that!

So lets imagine your teacher is frequently giving you corrections about your alignment – then this is a great area to start with when creating SMARTe goals. But saying ‘I want to improve my alignment” is not specific enough.

Not sure where your alignment issues are? 

Try thinking about what needs to be corrected from the ground up, from the bottom to the top. Are you distributing your body weight correctly on your feet? If so, are your knees, pelvis, ribs, shoulders, and head in line with and stacked vertically over your feet? What is the correction you keep hearing from your teachers? What do you see out of place in the mirrors?

Setting your SMARTe goal:

A SMARTe goal to help you with vertical alignment at the barre might therefore sound something like:

“Be able to consistently maintain effective vertical alignment of my hips, knees and ankles both in plie and in releve and in all five positions by the end of the year.”

Reaching this goal will require changing your movement habits, and perhaps a well-thought-out series of mini-goals each day or week to enforce the new/correct habits you’re working towards.

How to use the Smarte forumla in Ballet to achieve your goals

S – SPECIFIC GOAL:

“Be able to maintain vertical alignment of my hips, knees and ankles in plie, releve and in all five positions by the end of the year by consistently using the Ready, Set, Go method to improve my muscle memory”

This goal is specific because it targets where your alignment problems maybe and specify a basic, repetitive exercise to re-learn and enforce the improved muscle memory you’re trying to cultivate. The repetitive exercise you can do every day at the barre and during class to ensure you are in correct alignment would be to use a reminder system such as my Ready Set Go plan that I teach my students in class. As you get into position you asked yourself Am I Ready? – is my weight equally placed? Are my knees in line with my toes? Now Set? – activate my core to hold the position, and my glutes and adductors to keep by hips in line with my torso and turnout from the hip joint. Then Go – keep this alignment through the exercise. Ready, Set, Go then becomes the mental activity you go through before every exercise.

Saying you want to improve in ballet class is a great general goal, but for it to be smart, you will need to be more specific. A more specific goal might be to get better in petit allegro jumps. An even more specific would possibly sound something like work on improving glissade jete repetitions by practicing frappes at the barre to improve my petit allegro work. Remember, the better the specificity, the faster your goal acquisition will be.


M – MEASUREABLE GOAL:

“Be able to maintain vertical alignment of my hips, knees and ankles in plie, releve and in all five positions by the end of the year by consistently using the Ready, Set, Go method to improve my muscle memory”

We can measure our progress in meeting this goal by using both the mirror as well as practice videos or photos to visually monitor our progress. We can also get feedback from our ballet teacher to confirm our progress.

A measurable goal is one that you can track, or quantify in some way. Using slow-motion video capture is one of the most helpful tools a dancer can utilize for accurate self-assessment, and learning purposes. My students have found practice videos to be extremely helpful, particularly when it comes to steps of elevation  –jumps and leaps.

A SMARTe goal you might set in ballet for improving your grand jeté leaps might sound something like ‘Have a full 180-degree grand jeté leap by November by stretching everyday and completing weekly leg strength conditioning exercises.’ This is something you would be able to frequently monitor by recording and watching your practice videos to be able to quickly gauge if you are or are not improving, and if so, by how much? Measurable goals take the guesswork out of progress.


A – ACHIEVABLE GOAL

“Be able to maintain vertical alignment of my hips, knees and ankles in plie, releve and in all five positions by the end of the year by consistently using the Ready, Set, Go method to improve my muscle memory”

This goal is achievable because as a ballet dancer you know all five positions, and you know how to plié. You also understand that in order to have proper alignment, the blocks of the body must be stacked in a straight line from the feet to the head. This goal is achievable because it’s one that you will be practicing at the barre in your ballet class, and it’s one that can easily be practiced at home.

In order for a goal to be possible, it has to be one that’s actually achievable. A goal of being able to do 16 fouetté turns in succession by next week is specific, but if you are still struggling with consistently doing a clean, double pirouette, then setting a goal for multiple fouetté turns wouldn’t be very realistic or achievable within that time frame. A realistically achievable goal, in this case, might sound something like: Make my double en dehors pirouettes controlled, clean and consistent by the end of the month. It’s important that we set achievable goals because trying to rush ahead and attempt moves we aren’t ready for can be very dangerous as well as disappointing –it won’t work, but it will hurt. Having big goals for the future is a good thing, provided you set small, SMARTe goals to get there.


R – RELEVANT

“Be able to maintain vertical alignment of my hips, knees and ankles in plie, releve and in all five positions by the end of the year by consistently using the Ready, Set, Go method to improve my muscle memory”

This goal is relevant because…well we all need correct body alignment in order to have proper placement and execution of our ballet technique and to be able to correctly accomplish the steps and movements.

We want to set goals that are relevant towards improving our ballet technique. Goals that are geared towards strengthening the muscles and that support good ballet alignment are always relevant.


T – TIMELY

“Be able to maintain vertical alignment of my hips, knees and ankles in plie, releve and in all five positions by the end of the year by consistently using the Ready, Set, Go method to improve my muscle memory”

This goal is Timely because it gives a clear deadline that isn’t rushed. It takes into account that fixing body alignment is a process.

Timely goals are important because they give us a finish line or deadline to keep in sight. A series of small, timely goals keep us on a steady track to larger future success. The goal of someday having higher grand battements isn’t timely, and it doesn’t hold you accountable for accomplishing it. Phrasing this goal to make it SMARTe and timely might be something like: consistently be able to grand battement devant at or above a height of 120 degrees by the end of the year by committing to daily core work and hamstring strengthening exercises.


E – EXCITING

“Be able to maintain vertical alignment of my hips, knees and ankles in plie, releve and in all five positions by the end of the year by consistently using the Ready, Set, Go method to improve my muscle memory”

This goal is Exciting because it will mean that I have come a long way towards improving my body alignment in ballet on a basic level. If I can transfer between plié and relevé while maintaining correct alignment, then it will make a lot of other movements easier, like turns, leaps, etc.

Making goals exciting is a way to remind ourselves of how they are going to benefit us in the long run, as well as in class.


DANCE TEACHER TIP!

Remember, all change, especially changes in movement habits, requires a consistent, controlled, and mindful approach to unlearning the bad habits, incorrect muscle memory, and misalignment, and re-learning new ways, creating good movement habits, and building correct muscle memory. This is how you win the long game in ballet, creating and sticking to small, SMARTe goals in order to achieve your maximum potential for greatness in ballet. Just as our weaknesses can have a negative, cascading effect, our seemingly small, SMARTe-goal acquired successes will have a positive momentum-building effect.

Start using SMARTe Goals today for better results in the future!!

There is no side-stepping it, or skipping ahead; puns and hair buns aside, decent, functional ballet technique is necessary –or a necessary evil, as it may seem sometimes. I often tell my students, ballet technique is like fruits, vegetables, and vitamins; you might not like to eat them, but you’re going to have big problems in the long run if you don’t. We know we need good ballet technique, not just for ballet class, but to have a good technical foundation that many other styles of dance require to be built upon. We know that maintaining and improving our ballet technique is necessary, yet knowing where we need to be and knowing how to get there are two different things. Maybe you’ve already tried to set goals, and you weren’t able to reach them. Maybe you didn’t even bother setting goals, because you weren’t even sure what to start with.

So, how can we get better at ballet and improve our technique in a manageable way without feeling overwhelmed or discouraged? How can we set achievable goals to get better in ballet? By pinpointing the underlying factors behind our weaknesses, then targeting and eliminating them one by one with the SMARTe goal formula.

Ready to use and set SMARTe Goals? You can download our SMARTe Goals worksheet and fill it out at home! Click here to join our newsletter and gain access to our library of free printables for dancers which includes a SMARTe Goals poster and worksheet!

About the Author

Heidi Williams

Heidi Anna Williams has over 17 years of professional experience as a dance instructor, educator, coach, and choreographer. In addition to her training in the dance dept. at WMU, she has received instruction from many of the industry’s top choreographers/teachers and trained frequently in LA, California. Her choreography has been awarded frequently on both regional and national levels, often winning national titles. In addition to being nominated for Best Choreography, several of her pieces were chosen to be performed at Disney in Orlando, Florida.