The Art of Keeping a Journal
If you’re studying dance at tertiary level or at school, chances are you have to keep at least one journal. On top of your other university or school assignments, a journal may feel like another piece of homework and one that is never completed. For some of you, too, one of the appeals of dance is that it ISN’T about writing… it’s about dancing, expressing your thoughts and feelings through movement. It can be hard to see how writing things down is relevant to your dance practice.
Keeping a journal however can be a fantastic way to improve both your dance technique and your artistry. Whether your journal is a reflection on your technique and alignment classes, your choreography and improvisation classes, or both, a journal can help you to get the most out of your dance education.
Why keep a journal?
Sharpen your memory
Ever practised an exercise only to remember that correction you received last lesson AFTER you’ve finished the enchaînment or routine? Studies have shown that writing things down helps us to remember them. So if you make a note of your corrections at the end of class, you’re more likely to remember them next time you’re tackling those skills.
Making sense of it
When I was a student I found that writing about my classes, in particular the creative classes, helped me to make sense of what I had learned or gained from a particular activity.
A home for your ideas
If you’re choreographing a dance, a journal is also a great place to jot down your ideas for your work, storyboard ideas, plan formations, collect photos or pictures, sketch costumes and more. Whilst many of these activities can be done on a tablet or computer, there is something satisfying about writing and sketching, especially if you’re a fan of stationery like me – there’s nothing I love more than a beautiful new journal and a set of rainbow-hued fine-liners!
A teaching aid
Prior to the advent of the smart phone, I used my journal to record movement when I was choreographing work, both as a student and as a teacher. Although I now use video to keep track of what I have created, I still like to make a hard copy of my notes as an aid for teaching material to others or adding onto what I have choreographed. When you’re mid-way through teaching or creating it’s often easier to consult your journal to jog your movement memory than to start fast-forwarding through footage.
"I get a great deal of pleasure in having that record of my time as a student. Often I can’t remember writing those entries – it’s interesting to read about the person I was and what I was thinking about."
A blast from the past
Within a few years of graduating from my dance degree I was teaching in high schools and studios. My journals became an invaluable source of material for my classes. I’d often use activities, tips or concepts that I found in my journals in my own teaching. Further down the track I also get a great deal of pleasure in having that record of my time as a student. Often I can’t remember writing those entries – it’s interesting to read about the person I was and what I was thinking about.
But what do I write?
If you haven’t been given guidelines about what to write in your journal, it can help to create a structure for your reflections. If you find it hard to get started, try making dot points rather than trying to write paragraphs.
A good way to get going is to simply describe the class (or the day, depending on what is required). What happened? What skills did you practise? What activities did you complete?
What was your experience like?
How did this class go for you? Did you learn anything new? Did you enjoy anything in particular? Was there anything you found challenging? Did you receive any feedback that you would like to remember for your next lesson?
What did you observe in this class?
What did you notice about other students in the class? Did you learn anything from watching other students?
What will you take from this class?
What did you gain or learn from this class? Do you have any goals or aims for your next class?
The lovely thing about a journal is that it’s about your thoughts and feelings. Depending on what parameters have been set by teachers, make it as individual as you can. It doesn’t have to be solely about writing – you can draw, or paste images from magazines or postcards in your journal. It can be like a portable inspiration board, full of colourful ideas. Ultimately, your journal is for you, so make it something that you enjoy.
- Nina Levy, co-editor of Dance Australia