In previous articles, I mention over and over again the importance of setting goals. This isn’t just idle advice but may be the most important step any dancer can take, whether specifically trying to save money or not. Goals, and progress towards them, tell you whether or not you’re succeeding as a dancer, and what you need to do to succeed.
When I was teaching for a chain studio, we’d bring people in for a free lesson. We’d show them a couple dances, tell them about the program, then invite them back for a second free lesson. Before that second lesson, however, we would talk and the most important question I had was, “What do you hope to get out of dancing?” That question right there would tell me whether this person was going to become a dancer or not. People who said things like, “I want to dance at my nephew’s wedding in October,” or, “I want to go out dancing and not have to worry about asking girls to dance,” usually went on to become great dancers and valuable members of the studio. People who said things like, “I just want to learn to dance,” rarely finished their programs, let alone went on to more advanced study, assuming they even signed up.
What a Difference
Why did one type of dancer succeed while the other floundered? Consider two travelers: both are trying to get out of a town, but one knows where he is going while the other doesn’t. The former can use a map or ask guides for directions. The latter is forced to simply wander around, hoping he reaches a destination that appeals to him. The former can mark his progress and get a sense of how far he has gone as well as how far he has to go, while the latter can do little but compare his current location to his previous location.
When a dancer sets goals, he is giving himself a destination. Because he knows where he is and where he is going he now has a path to travel. There may be various ways to travel that path, such as classes, private lessons, books, and syllabi, but everything he does will aid his progress on that journey. It’s not enough to simply want to be a better dancer; you have to know what that means.
Okay, What Goals?
So you agree you should have goals, but now you need to decide what goals to set. Unfortunately, no one can answer this but you. In the past, my own goals have included:
- Feel confident dancing in public.
- Be able to dance with anyone to any music.
- Know at least five steps to every partner dance, as well as commonly-danced line dances.
- Pass my teacher certification examination.
- Train students that compete at an amateur level and win consistently.
- Win dance competitions.
- Perform publicly and feel proud of my performance.
Now I never had all these goals at one time. In fact, it was usually the completion of one goal that prompted the next one. After being able to dance in public, I wanted to be able to dance with anyone to any music. After that, I wanted greater variety in my dances. And so on and so forth.
The great thing about goals is that they direct your training. Want to be able to dance with anyone? Work on your lead and follow abilities. Want to pass an examination? Study, the same as you would for any other sort of test. In your lessons, both group and private, material sticks better because you see the instant application of it towards your goals. In practice, rather than just blindly repeating steps over and over, you delve deeply into whatever it is that moves you towards your goals.
What About the Money?
Perhaps most importantly for this site, goal-setting lets you focus your resources on the important areas. If my goal is to prepare for a competition where I’ll be dancing silver-level American smooth, I know right away what classes I need to sign up for, and which ones are an indulgence that my budget may not be able to afford. I know what I need to concentrate on in my private lessons, and what can wait until after the competition.
On his blog, I Will Teach You To be Rich, Ramit Sethi talks about the difference between being cheap and being frugal. Put simply, a cheap person pinches every penny, often ineffectually. A frugal person saves money on things that don’t matter and invests in the things that do matter. Every dancer should be doing this.
My partner Ellen and I are training to compete in American smooth. We take group classes in everything partly because they’re fun, and partly because I truly believe that learning one dance improves your other dances; thus while we may never dance bolero in competition, I have no doubt that the rise and fall and balance will help our waltz and foxtrot. Every single private lesson we have taken, however, has focused on smooth dances because those are the dances that matter for our goals.
Let’s finish with a little exercise. I’m going to toss out some students to you, and I want you to think about what advice you’d give them to reach their goals.
- A young couple that has never danced before. They’re getting married in two weeks and have a song picked out for their first dance.
- A seventeen year old boy getting ready for his senior prom in three months. He doesn’t know who he’s going to take yet.
- A middle-aged couple where the wife has done swing but the husband has no experience. They want to go out dancing together.
- An elderly couple that has been dancing socially for years but has no formal training. They want to spend more time together now that they’re both retired.
- A middle-aged woman who has done amateur competitions at a silver level, but whose partner has moved away. She would like to continue to compete.