Archive | January 2016

The Five Year Plan

It’s that time of year again and everyone is making their New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, not everyone sticks to them, me included. So here’s something a little different to try for this year.

I have a five year plan. Or, at least, I did five years ago. It’s time for me to make another one, but before I do, I wanted to share what my last five year plan was. I hope that this is helpful to all the aspiring professional dancers out there, and also to already-professional dancers who might be ready to take the next big step.

So what’s a five year plan? Basically, it was one of those silly questions you get in job interviews: Where do you see yourself in five years?

It seems so simple, and it can be, but many people get lost in the details, or get so overwhelmed by what they must get done in those five years, they don’t do any of it. But you have to start somewhere. The old cliche is a good one: The journey of the thousand miles starts with the first step. Or as my old chemistry professor asked, “How do you eat an elephant? Very slowly! One bite at a time!”

The first step is, what is the main thing, the big thing (the “elephant”), that you want at the end of those five years? It should be a big dream, but not too big (we’ll get to the unrealistically big dreams in a minute). It should be a realistic goal, and this is where it gets hard. Many of us don’t know what realistic goals are when we first start out. Pick ONE thing. Just one.

I’m here to tell you it’s okay if you aren’t sure what is realistic right now.

What’s great about the five year plan is that it can be edited and changed with no feelings of “I’m failing in my resolutions.” A five year plan knows that life happens, and plans change, and that’s okay. So remember to be flexible, be honest, and be realistic. You have five years to make it happen, so a setback is not such a problem as it is with one year resolutions.

My five year goal was to teach at the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive. It was a big dream, requiring a ton of hard work, but it was realistic. The next step is figuring out what you need to do to get that goal. For me, I knew that I was going to have to up my game if I wanted to be a good enough dancer to be chosen to teach at LVBDI. So I was going to have to practice. A lot. I told myself that I needed to be the best dancer I could be, and, realistically, that meant practicing. Every day. Every. Day.

I was also going to need teaching experience. Luckily, for the LVBDI, you need five years of teaching experience. Perfect fit! So I needed to start teaching, which meant I had to know what I was going to be teaching. Lesson plans, research into how to teach, thinking about what my body was doing and how I convey that to others, all were part of what I had to figure out before I could teach.

Of course, I also needed students. Which meant I needed to find a place to teach and warm bodies to fill the studio. This was actually one of the easier goals, but it was still something I put down on the list as a step in the right direction. It also meant I had to learn at least a little bit about marketing.

Furthermore, I decided I was going to need more experience in teaching workshops before I could realistically be chosen to teach at a large event like the LVBDI. So I needed to find smaller, more local places where I could present workshops. And then work my way up, doing larger and larger festivals as I went. That meant I needed workshop ideas, and I needed to get good at not only writing descriptions but also not being shy about asking people to be a part of their event.

But before that, I needed to get my name out there. I needed to be seen, to have video of good performances, and a good reputation as a dancer and performer. That meant I had to find places to dance, get video, and let people know what it was I did and that I was a professional.

It sounds like a lot, but let’s break it down. In each step, there needs to be an action that goes towards making that step. This makes things seem easier to handle, like bite sized pieces instead of staring down an entire elephant.

Main goal: Teach at the LVBDI

  • Step: improve dancing skills
    • Action: practice and hone skills
  • Step: Gain teaching experience
    • Action: Create lesson plans
    • Action: Find a place to teach
    • Action: promote classes to get students
  • Step: Gain workshop teaching experience
    • Sub-step: Need to build reputation as dancer and teacher
      • Action: Perform more and record
      • Action: Teach local workshop(s) at home studio
    • Action: Apply to teach at larger festivals

Once that is laid out, you can fill it in even further. How much practice do you need to do in order to reach that goal? That will probably vary, but I started out with 20 minutes every single day. It increased from there, of course, but that was where I started. I built a consistent practice that was easy to maintain. I began offering classes and started getting students. I taught a local workshop, and then another one. Then I landed my first festival workshop gig. It wasn’t a big festival, but that’s not a big deal. It still got put on my resume. No step was too small!

In my fifth year of teaching, I did it. I put in my application to teach at the Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive, and I got in! My five year goal was complete, and I could barely believe it. But looking back, it was a lot of work. It was a lot of steps.

But wait, there’s more! Remember that big, big dream I mentioned earlier? Well, there should always be that one dream, you know, the one that might never happen. It should be the pie-in-the-sky dream, the reaching for the stars dream. It might be completely unrealistic (either in five years or ever), but that’s okay. Why? Because we need to dream big. If we keep all of our dreams small, we might never achieve what we want. It’s good to take risks (within reason), to stretch ourselves, and to do things we normally wouldn’t do. Then, we need to keep our eyes open for opportunity for this big dream. I’m not saying do whatever you need to do to make it happen, but be open to getting in the back door, or going about something in a way that might be different from everyone else. Don’t let opportunity slip by because you think you might not be ready.

One of my friends once posted on Facebook that if they had waited until they felt they were ready for that big gig, they never would have done it. They were approached to do a bigger gig than they were ready for, but they took it anyway, and made it happen. And it opened doors they would never have thought were even there. The definition of a professional isn’t just being paid for your work. It’s also about putting in the work to do what you need to do.

My big dream? Dance and/or teach at Tribal Fest.

Guess what? I got that one, too. Never in a million years would I have thought I would get in to teach, but I did. I took a gamble, applied, and got in. The risk paid off. Was I ready to teach Tribal Fest? Maybe, maybe not. But I made it happen, because I wasn’t going to pass that opportunity up when it came within reach.

And what if you fail? In a five year plan, there is no failure. It’s possible that you might not make your big goal in those five years, but look at all the other steps you did to get there. None of that is wasted effort. If you didn’t make it in five years, it probably meant it was just too big of a goal. At the end of each year, it’s a good idea to sit back and reevaluate. Is the goal still realistic? Did you get it in two years, or are you staring down the fifth year and you’re not even half way there? It doesn’t really matter. If you aren’t there yet, make that five year plan a seven year plan instead. It doesn’t mean you failed, it just meant you underestimated the time it would take to get there.

For me, in my fourth year, the LVBDI announced that its tenth year was going to be its last. It meant that, through no fault of my own, I would never make my dream happen. It was a crushing blow, but it wasn’t a failure. So I decided to try something else. But before I really figured out what that was going to be, the next year of the LVBDI was announced. That was a big sigh of relief you just heard!

So what is your five year plan? Remember, keep it small and manageable, but don’t forget about that big dream. Make it happen.