How to Practice

December 15, 2011

Before you become frustrated about a lack of progress in your dance, or wonder why poor habits seem to keep creeping in – or returning to – your dance, you need to commit time and head space to effective practice. This article is written for those of you who want to spend time to improve some aspect of your dance.

Practice is not the same thing as regular social dancing or regularly attending class, although you CAN use both of those occasions to practice if you choose. (For example, read my Social Dance Practice Tips article).

Defining “Practice”

Dancing does not necessarily = practicing. To be a practice, an activity must have these characteristics:

  • Mental engagement. You must be mentally focused on and thinking about what you are practicing. For example, you may want to improve or change body flight, foot placement, connection, your anchor technique in WCS, etc. Change can happen only if you are mentally focused on making the change. It’s possible to social dance or take a class without mentally engaging in practice.
  • Repetition. It’s not practice if it’s not being repeated. And by repeated, I mean repeated until you are tired of it. At first, practicing something new will be mentally exhausting, and it may be physically tiring, but those are good signs. They are signs that your mind and body are working hard at learning something new. The payoff comes down the road when one day you realize that the change has become integrated into your dance and you aren’t even thinking about it anymore. That’s success!
  • Goal(s). The purpose of practice is to improve, change or master something – a movement, a technique, a piece of knowledge, etc. To practice, then, you must have specific, achievable goals in mind.

Because dance is an activity that we do for pleasure we don’t always care to think hard about it or make it repetitive. And that’s O.K. But you should recognize that that’s the difference between social dancing and practicing. That’s the difference between taking a class and practicing. That’s what make the difference between stasis and improvement.

Optimizing Your Practice

If you do want to practice your dance and see change/results for your efforts, then you need a practice plan. Whether you have a partner to practice with or not, I can help you by creating a practice plan that suits you. It will take into account your skill level in the dance, your goals (or my goals for you, if you aren’t sure what to shoot for), your physical abilities, the time you have to devote to practicing, your natural strengths, and whether or not you have a regular practice partner.

There is a thread attached: I can deliver this kind of personal, customized attention only through a private lesson. Although it’s great to have a regular coach who can give you feedback, support and tough love on a weekly or biweekly basis, with a practice plan you can achieve good results even if you are only able to take a private lesson every few months.

So, I encourage you to make a New Year’s resolution for 2012: that you will practice – with a plan and with intent!