Aggregating Marginal Gains aka Incremental Changes

What does it mean to aggregate marginal gains? It’s when there are small, incremental changes in multiple aspects of an activity or process that add up to a remarkable change over time.

For a dancer, improving turnout by one percent, their flexibility by one percent, and alignment by one percent add up to improving their technique way more than just one percent. Each aspect influences the whole positively or negatively.

For example, a student who is working to improve their turnout can make a choice to make their first position more than what they can create at the hip joint. At first, this decision can bring them some positive feedback as they look in the mirror and see themselves in a more pleasing first position.

Over time, though, that decision can bring with a host of other negative impacts that are only felt when enough time has passed. Pronation problems, knee issues, tightness at the hips for example.

How could a teacher shift that? By guiding the student to focus instead on a 1% change, which could be maintaining equal weight on the feet at the barre or sensing the engagement of the external rotators at the hip. In other words, shifting their focus to incremental changes in their process rather than the end result.

As teachers it requires us to breakdown the different aspects of dance into more bite-size pieces so that our students know that there are multiple places they can improve and each one adds up to ‘improved technical skill’.

Duh… I can hear some teachers groaning… of course… !

I get it – as teachers we understand good technique is more than high extensions. AND…. I think many of our students still focus on the end result more than the process… how they look rather than what they are feeling.

When they are evaluating themselves on whether or not they nailed the triple pirouette or jumping combination it can takes them out of a learning mindset. The mindset where they learn to pay attention (somatically) knowing where their weight was in that pirouette, or where their alignment was as they took off into a leap. Understanding that dance is very complicated neurologically and being patience and methodical will pay off! After all it takes over 200 muscles to take one step – can you imagine the neurological patterning it takes to do a demi plié?

Making incremental positive changes in other areas in their life will also influence their technique. Drinking enough water to be fully hydrated, getting enough sleep, etc. are important influences to what happens inside the studio. Encourage them to take those small one percent steps. It may be as simple as drinking an extra tall glass of water first thing in the morning to improve hydration.

We need to remind them that small steps/habits/actions taken daily create BIG results!

To your success,


2 replies
  1. Ruth Ziegler Ballet La Jeunesse
    Ruth Ziegler Ballet La Jeunesse says:

    Thank you for sharing this! It is especially relevant now, when training situations are so very difficult for many dancers and many dancers have, frankly, become quite desperate to find again the joy and happiness ballet has always brought them.

    In my classes, the focus is always on the “how” and not the “how much” – there is so much joy and fulfillment in exploring how are we achieving whatever the movement may be. If 32 fouette turns are “not in the cards” today, does that mean that we cannot achieve a more expansive port de bras, a higher level of musicality, a smoother transfer of weight, a more accurate foot placement? These small things, in and of themselves, define us as artists, and not just athletes. Coming from a competitive gymnastics background, I am so happy not to have to “hit the trick” anymore.

    I love that we can celebrate all these things while working on that higher extension, those fouette turns, that faster allegro speed.

    Happy dancing to all!

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