Online Ballet: Four Ways to Sabotage Your Learning Progress
“In an era of human history in which we prize comfort above nearly every other virtue, we have overlooked an important truth: comfort never leads to excellence. What it takes to become great at your craft is practice, but not just any kind of practice - the kind that hurts, stretches and grows you.
It’s easy to practice when the activity is something we enjoy, but what do you do when the excitment runs out and your strength disappears? What do you do when that first thrill of entering a new vocation [or online course!] begins to wane? Do you give up? Or do you push through the pain and make your way to mastery? This is where experts differ from the rest of us. They recognize the resistance we all feel but instead choose to see it as a sign of how close they are to their goals. Disciplining themselves, they deliberately lean in to the most difficult parts when most people tend to quit.”
Jeff Goins (from “The Art of Work”)
How can adults, who truly aspire to reach a high level in ballet, create something equivalent to a pre-professional environment in their lives? And how can online classes/courses/workshops be a part of this?
Plus, working towards becoming a trained dancer, as an adult, is a lifestyle decision. It involves not only what you do in classes and rehearsals, but also what you eat, how you recover, as well as what kind of cross- and supplementary training you do. Even what kind of thoughts you think throughout the day.
Starting this blog was one way of how I wanted to contribute explorations to these questions and offer ideas. But educating and implementing are two different things. This is why I started teaching online courses earlier this year: to help anyone who aspires higher goals in their ballet - take the actual steps to the look and move of a trained dancer! By now, I have gone through a whole syllabus of strength and pattern-building, as well as an outline for a nutritional approach that supports the physique and performance of a ballerina.
I believe that online courses can be a game changer. The Internet gives you access to teachers, knowledge, systems, and training resources without being limited by distances or hours of operations. It is an amazingly rich opportunity to supplement your in-studio work. Done right, you have the chance to create that pre-professional environment right in your living room!
But as with all amazing conveniences and living room comforts, there is a caveat. Or several. Teaching a 2-week, and then a 10-week-course, and currently being a student of a premium online-course myself, has taught me a lot about the pitfalls of online education. Because let’s face it, it’s easy to get all excited, but eventually feel the motivation wane. But there are also ways to deal this normal human behavior, and milk your course for optimal progress and visible transformation.
Curious to learn how? Here we go - the main roadblocks to a successful online ballet course experience, and how to tackle them to your best advantage:
Relying on the comfort of being able to do it at home, any time.
Yes, it’s incredible that we can learn from principal dancers, experienced ballet masters, and choreographers, anywhere, at any time. And there is this surge of excitement and motivation when you purchase access to a promising course. Your buying hormones make you think that you will jump on it every day.
Until those hormones fade out, and your everyday schedule sets in. Suddenly, the idea of adding another hour of physical work to the end of the day, every day, is not too appealing, all ballet goals nonwithstanding.
Here is the thing: Skipping a workout at home is actually easier than skipping a class in a physical loction, for several psychological reasons. So the way to deal with this is to start treating your online course just like you would a class in real life. In essence that means: Set a day, time, and location. And there are different ways of doing this:
Put it all in your calendar. I.e. literally make a workout appointment with yourself, and plan it out a week or month ahead.
Tie it to a physical event. That’s something that has worked well for me: When I did my last stretching online program, I would do the workouts after my classes in the studio. This way I was already set up to move, and I had space that was conducive to getting it done.
Tie it to a specific day time and/or day of the week. Designate the mornings before work/ or lunch breaks/ or evenings before dinner or specific days of the week as your workout times. This way you don’t have to put it in the calendar, but you prompt yourself by the day (and/or time of the day) to actually get your extra strength work done.
Expecting “fun”, instant rewards, and course hopping.
Hands up: Who has ever bought an online course and then not completed it? Or maybe you even have a whole library of unfinished programs, challenges, memberships? The truth is, online course completion rates are surprisingly low. And I think part of it is a certain expectation on the student’s side: That it will be “fun”, easy to do, gamified, and Instagram-postable. We’ve been conditioned by the online education world and they way it markets itself to expect low entry barriers, bite-sized lessons, and a tolerance of short attention spans and low commitment. Whenever you get a bit bored, or have to make an effort to stay at it, it’s far easier to quit and/or turn to the next course/challenge/YouTube channel. Or you start telling yourself that you are a bad student, or that the format doesn’t suit you, and stop it altogether.
Of course it’s the course creators’ responsibility to create good and engaging courses.
But I think we tend to forget that a true learning process, one that goes deep into the nervous system, takes time, consistency, and is inherently painful*. Btw, with painful I do NOT refer to work that harms your body. What I mean is the pain of NOT being instantly rewarded for your work. Which we know to be so true for ballet, but somehow this fact is lost when doine online classes. From my experience, this is the biggest way in which we sabotage our development and growth.
The truth is, it doesn’t have fun to be fun.
There is also an upside to this: If you can instill a pretty good (it doesn’t even have to be perfect) consistency and commitment to your online resource, you will outwork 98% or all people on the planet. You can get better than them. This is not for competition’s sake, but just to say how simple it is. So the way to implement this: Once you commit to an online course - do it. If it’s 6 weeks, do it for 6 weeks. If it’s 12, do it for 12. If it’s a membership, do it for a minimum of three months before you decide if it’s working for you or not. Yes, you will fall off the bandwagon. No big deal. Don’t beat yourself up, just get back at it the next day.
Not building a teacher-student relationship and not saying what you need.
The nature of online education encourages anonymity. And that can be comfortable at times, doing things on your own pace and not having to show your face as you’re working through the material. But I think a good online resource works like real life: You get to choose a teacher, and what will bring you forward is interaction with and feedback from that teacher.
It’s also what distinguishes a well-crafted course and committed teacher from all the free resources on YouTube and anywhere else. Someone is invested in your progress and success. So when looking for an online course, things to consider would be:
How much access do you have to the teacher?
Is there a designated space where you can submit questions/pictures/videos of yourself and get answers and feedback?
Does the teacher know your goals and current challenges?
Of course, an online course is different from 1:1 coaching, but there should be still a process in place that lets you actively work with the teacher, and not just consume the content on your own.
And part of this: If something about the course is not clear or not working for you - say something! A good teacher will respond and accomodate your needs. There is a lot to be said about being in charge of your own learning process - and saying what you need is the first step.
Not choosing the course that’s right for you.
This is something that took me a while to realize when I went out to find an online course for myself - when I decided I wanted to learn about how to create a really good online course. I mean there are masses of online course creators that teach about how to create an online course out there, and their promises all sound mesmerizing. There are some big names in the industry, and their endorsments are all super flashy. I was on the brink of signing up and investing a grand (which is a huge amount for me) several times, but kept waiting and searching more.
In the end I enrolled in a course that was by far not the biggest name in the industry. But I quickly knew it was for me. What got me was that it was about how to create an effective beta version of a course, and tweak and improve on the go. This is exactly what I needed to get over my perfectionism. The course teacher had a strong academic background, which spoke to me a lot and went beyond the “polished”/”pretty”/”hip” marketing slangs.
So while there are many ballet online course offerings out there, and they promise high extensions and tone - what is it that you really need right now in order to get your dance to the next level? What format does it have to be in for you to successfully absorb and integrated the content? What kind of teacher do you need to be able to learn effectively, what languages does he or she need to speak in order to reach you? Don’t be shy to get in touch with that person and engage in a conversation. Or ask for a trial access to previous/current courses. See how the offering vibes for you, and then stay, or move on to the next one.
My prediction is that we will see a lot of growth in the ballet online education area, I am very excited about it, and I totally believe that it can make a huge difference to a student’s learning success. And maybe you will not always hit it right, and leave a course unfinished because it did not work as expected. I simply want to encourage you to approach your online classes with the same care, attention, and commitment as a real life class. The online world may feel more transient - but it’s up to you to get the best out of it!
Have you ever taken an online ballet course? What was your experience? What did you love about it, what did not work for you? Have you experienced any other roadblocks than the ones I mentioned here? Or if you have never bought a course - what would it take for you to sign up for one? What kind of support would you want?
*Ericsson et al. “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance” (full text available for example here)