“Sometimes in ballet it is easy to recall the corrections, but it is harder to celebrate the successes.”
Fellow dance teacher Nants Foley wants to help her students do both. And so, she suggests they keep a journal of their progress in class and write down their combinations and corrections.
She’s created a special book for her students, including space for recording their class work and progress as well as additional content like checklists, quotes, ballet vocabulary, foot care, and more.
Thinking (and rightly so) that other students and teachers might benefit from her efforts, she has published the 70-page journal and workbook and is making them available beyond her own dance school.
I know many of you are actively aware of the value of logging your progress in dance and some use dance diaries as a tool with your own students. So, I caught up with Nants to talk with her about A Dancer’s Steps and ask how she encourages journal-writing in her own ballet classes.
Dance Advantage: Give us a little background on your dance history.
Nants Foley: I have been dancing all my life, though never professionally. I was fortunate enough to train under Olga Ziceva and Richard Gibson in San Mateo, CA for many years, though I chose college over career in dance.
I came back to ballet seriously 15 years ago when my daughter was 6. I live in a small town in the central coast region of California. I wanted her to have the same great training I did and there were no teachers! I found my excellent training and my background in business teaching made me a valuable resource in the dance community.
I am blessed to be teaching at San Benito Dance Academy in Hollister now. It is a studio with a commitment to excellence and a mission to nurture the bodies, minds and spirits of its students.
DA: Did you keep a dance journal throughout your own dance training?
NF: When I was young, people kept diaries and scrapbooks. I had a scrapbook where I kept all things ballet related: Ticket stubs from performances I attended, pictures from favorite dancers, the combinations I was working on. I still have it and it makes me smile.
I have used journaling as a creative tool ever since discovering Julie Cameron’s The Artists’ Way years ago.
DA: Ah! I’m familiar with and have practiced some of Ms. Cameron’s techniques.
When did you first start encouraging your students to bring a notebook to class with them? Do you require it?
NF: Right now I am doing our summer intensive. This is the first time a notebook has been required. They may bring any type of notebook.
I have been encouraging it for awhile, and many already had developed the discipline to use one. I made it mandatory because this intensive is really intense!
DA: What does the process do for the student?
NF: The use of a book is an exceptional tool for many reasons. Students write their combinations so they can practice at home. They make note of their corrections so they can review them before their next class.
These are some of the obvious benefits day to day. But the most important component is that they have a snapshot in time of where they are in their ballet education and growth. In ballet, it is so easy to focus on what one is doing incorrectly or poorly.
The writing process allows them to go back and reflect and remember, allowing them to see how far they have come in their journey.
DA: How do you incorporate and encourage the use of this journal in your classes? Do you give them “homework” in each class or, is what they do with the notebook pretty much self-led?
NF: What they do with the notebook is self-led. It is a tool offered to them.
The truly dedicated students go for it. I don’t give them homework with one notable exception. I work a lot with students on how to set goals.
For summer intensive, each student was required to set three goals. These were written in the notebook. They also wrote the specific action items needed to achieve each goal.
There is a time limit…the end of the summer program. Already we have seen several students complete a goal they set at the start of summer. It is really inspiring for them, for the other students in class and, of course, for me!
I set three goals for myself: To regain my right split, to lose 7 pounds and to eat 5 fruits or vegetables per day. I’m doing really well on all three!
DA: Congratulations! I am a total advocate of goal-setting. I’ve used goal pages and journaling in my own classes and find myself talking about it a lot when students e-mail asking for advice. It’s all over Dance Advantage – for lesson and career planning, too.
What has been the most rewarding feedback you’ve received from students about keeping their journal?
NF: There has been lots of it! The completion of goals is huge. The parents are noticing the change in their children and sharing it with me. And my personal favorite is when a student asks me to autograph a copy of my notebook!
DA: So, back to A Dancer’s Steps. At what point did you decide to put together the book?
NF: I looked for a journal like this for my students, and found nothing . There are fabulous ballet reference books. And beautiful journals abound. I just couldn’t find the two things combined.
DA: Do your dancers use them in class?
NF: My dancers use them in class daily.
I have a short break mid-class, and many take the opportunity to write in them at that time. I have a weekly set barre and center based on a theme introduced the first day of the week and repeated without further discussion all week. There is a lot of writing on the first day of the week!
DA: The book is a mix of content and open spaces. How did you decide what would be in the bound workbook?
NF: I included the reference information I would have liked as a young student and my favorite quotes found over the years.
My undergraduate and graduate degrees are in architecture and design, so I enjoyed playing with the design of each page, choosing the form and the function I felt would be most usable for students.
DA: I really appreciate the design. It’s simple and attractive without being too frilly – good for all ages and genders even.
Which is your favorite section?
NF: I think the whole piece on SMART goals is the most valuable piece.
If we don’t have written goals that are truly achievable with a time limit, we only have dreams. “Someday I will be able to do the splits…or a triple pirouette…or be able to jump for 3 minutes without stopping.” I encourage the use of goals in all areas of life.
DA: That would be my pick too. I think I’ve found a kindred spirit in you, Nants! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your journal with us.
If you are a student or teacher and would like a copy, contact Nants at
A book shipped to an individual is $12. They can be paid for by sending the money through PayPal.
Copies of A Dancer’s Steps: a Ballet Journal and Workbook are sold at San Benito Dance Academy for $10.
If a teacher or studio would like to purchase these for their class, Nants would need about two weeks lead time. There is a discount for multiple books. Just contact her via that e-mail address above.
Do you keep a dance notebook or journal?
Do you require or encourage their use in your classes?
What do you put in your journal?
As you know, Dance Advantage values highly any tool that helps students log their progress and self-examine the learning and creative process. Having been sent a copy of A Dancer’s Step for review, Nichelle feels it is worthy of recommendation.
DA is also excited to announce an upcoming project and e-course that is designed to help you reach that next level in your dance study with a mix of goal-setting, progress recording, creative writing, and more. We will unveil this very soon. Please stay tuned!!
Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world. Read Nichelle’s posts.