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
- Sub-step: Need to build reputation as dancer and teacher
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.
This has been a tough week for me. I’ve been fighting the cold from heck that just won’t give up. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t still give you your Weekly Challenge!
Last week we worked on dreaming big – writing down whatever we wanted for our belly dance, no matter how silly or big or small. If you haven’t done that challenge yet, go back and take a day to do it before doing this week’s challenge.
Of course we know that we dreamed big last week. Some of those dreams might be, realistically, out of our reach for some years yet. And that’s okay! Don’t discount them because they won’t happen THIS year. Big dreams take big plans, and that takes time.
This week, we’re going to work on making our dreams into plans, and making them a bit more realistic and obtainable.
First, pick out those dreams from last week that are the easiest to attain. Things like finally getting mayas nailed down or designing business cards are good options. On a piece of paper, write them down under a “within the next month or two” heading. Of course, we still have to be realistic in this. If you don’t have much time to practice, getting mayas down in a month might be a challenge (maybe “making more time to practice” should be your goal for the coming month!)
Make more headings along the lines of “3-4 months,” “6 months,” “one year,” “two years,” “five years,” etc. If you are really feeling it, even go for 10 years or more! Then space out those dreams into what you realistically think you can manage. Don’t spend too much time on it the first day. We’ll go back and make changes later.
Over the course of the week, think about your dreams/goals and the time frame you have given yourself to achieve them. Each day, go back over your list and make adjustments. Big dreams like going pro, or doing a competition, or auditioning for the Bellydance Superstars might take longer than you think. If you are stuck, try looking at websites and Facebook groups for guidance. Many others have been where you are, and they may be willing to guide you. Your teacher/mentor should definitely be consulted, or any dance friend you respect. But don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to them! What may take one dancer three months to do may take another a year, and that’s okay! It’s not a race!
And here’s another trap: don’t ever cross any of your dreams out. They are your dreams, and deserve a chance to be expressed, no matter if your rational mind “knows” how “impossible” that dream is. But be honest and realistic about it too. If you’ve been dancing for only a few months, going pro in the next year is probably not the best idea. There’s a lot more to being a pro than just knowing how to dance (or just knowing a few moves well), and a lot of that knowledge takes time and experience. Let that be a goal for the next 5 years or so, instead. There’s nothing wrong with planning extra time! Hey, if you manage it before your goal date, wonderful! But missing that date can be discouraging, so be good to yourself and plan for some extra time.
Of course, there’s an extra challenge with this too: actually implementing this goal timeline. It’s one thing to sit down and plan (which is an achievement in and of itself, because not many people make plans like this), but it’s another to actually put in the work to do it! If your goal is to audition for a pro troupe in the next year, what do you need to do to make that happen? You can’t just make it a goal and let it sit there on the paper. Do you need to freshen up your solo work, or learn to absorb choreographies quickly? Maybe the pro troupe does a lot of folkloric and you know nothing about it. Time to read up! If you want the extra challenge, go ahead and write out your implementation plan along with your goal schedule. I highly recommend this step! Again, don’t stress yourself out the first day. Use the whole week to go back and make changes, think about it some more, and then make more changes.
Consult your teacher or use other resources to help make this more manageable. Planning out your entire career right now may seem like a huge task, but the best thing to do is actually do this every year, and make adjustments accordingly. None of this is set in stone, nor should you think of it as failure if you miss a goal. Plans change. Life happens. Don’t let that discourage you! Pad your timeline a little, but make it challenging enough that you’ll still have to reach and stretch a little for it!
We’re closing in on the end of the year! This year has brought quite a few changes for me, including moving to Chicago, a new job, and new dance friends!
This time of year, I like to reflect back on what I have done over the past year and then think about what I want to do next year.
And that’s a great inspiration for a Weekly Challenge!
Every day this week, write in your dance journal the things you have accomplished this year regarding your dance. Did you finally master the maya? Did you find a weekly gig? Even small things count, so write down everything you managed to do. How many shows did you dance in or attend? Did you make any new dance friends? You may think of new things each day, which is why you can spread it out over the whole week. Don’t worry about writing every single thing down the first day.
The challenge this week, though, is actually planning for next year. Every day, after you write what you DID accomplish, write what you WANT to accomplish next year.
Make it silly or unrealistic. Of course, toss in some realistic goals, too, but don’t let anything limit you. It doesn’t matter that most of us have no chance of joining the Belly Dance Superstars next year. If that’s your dream, write it down.
Why is this a challenge? Well, first of all, because many of us, including me, are scared of dreaming big. We feel silly actually saying what we want, because we know that it can’t realistically happen. But if we can’t find the courage to just say it, how can we find the courage to do it? So go ahead and, no matter how hard it is or how silly you feel, write down your biggest dreams. It’s also a challenge because we have to actually sit down and plan what it is we want to accomplish. It’s not necessarily the most fun part of dance, but it’s an important one. If we have no plan or thought on how we want to grow, how can we ensure that we head in the direction we want?
Next week, we will work on actually pruning that list down and turning those dreams into goals we can set for the year or the next few years.
Taking the challenge? Let everyone else know! Tweet it!
Photo courtesy of Lucidio Studio.