Home > Outside inspiration, Training philosophy > Dance lessons from a guitar book – Part 1

Dance lessons from a guitar book – Part 1

One thing that guitar practice taught me is that one should focus on the process of a creative activity much more then the actual end result. Learning how to practice is the most important lesson of all.

I learned this from classical guitarist Jamey Andreas from her book: The principles of correct practice and her blog posts on her website Guitar Principles. You may find it strange that I take dancing tips from a guitar book, but the book changed the way I viewed creativity, talent, and practice ethic. These apply to nearly every creative activities, and some can be easily translated to refer directly to dancing. I still haven’t read anything that exposed the same truths to such an extent.

Let me list you the lessons that apply to dance practice.

Muscle memory can work for you or against you: Many body effects and power movesvrequire extensive repition to build up muscle memory. This doesn’t mean that I repeat the same movements over and over again without paying attention. If you make the same sloppy mistakes in practice, then your muscles will repeat those wrong movements in your dancing. If you switch between incorrect movements and correct movements in your training, then your technique will become unreliable, meaning that sometimes you do it well, sometimes you don’t.
I don’t mean to say that making mistakes will destroy your dancing immediately. It’s just important to pay attention and focus on repeating the movements as correctly as possible, as often as possible.

Don’t neglect frequency of practice: We all understand that you need to practice endless hours, but we tend to allot practicing time to special days. We dance multiple hours on those days, trying to make up for the days we didn’t practice.
Daily practice is far more effective, however, even if we can’t spend four hours each day. Smaller daily practice segments are far more effective than one large training blocks. Even if you can only spend half an hour a day, do so.

Be aware of the experience of practicing: Jamey Andreas put up a sign over her office that stated “I don’t know how to play the guitar”. This reminded her to experience playing like it was her first time.
If we repeat an action many times, we tend to block out the experience. This means that if we have too much muscle tension which locks up our movement, we block out the discomfort. It seems normal to us after endless repetition. But you need to feel aware of such things and correct them when you feel it. Always play the beginner when you dance.

Practicing movements slowly: We often execute our moves far too quickly in our practice. Some of this may represent impulsiveness, but often, we just try to gloss over our sloppy mistakes. It’s much more difficult to execute a slow arm wave and keep up the illusion. This may make you feel the need to perform it as quickly as possible. However, this only teaches you to perform it sloppy.
If you want to execute a move well every time, then try to practice it as slowly as possible. It requires focus on the sensations of the movement and break down how each movement affects the next. If you are solid at lowest possible speed, you can perform at any speed that you wish, under any circumstance. It’s maddeningly frustrating, but nothing has helped me so much.

Hitting a wall: I used to think that the beginning of your training was the most frustrating. You want to dance well, but you lack the skill to do so, and you spend all of your time practicing foundations. What a drag.
You know what’s worse, though? Much, much worse? Hitting a wall when you’re an intermediate dancer. After months of progress, your dancing doesn’t advance, no matter how much time passes. And your dancing seems to break apart when you’re in front of people.
This happens when you disregard the importance of correct practice. You thought you were going faster by ignoring foundations and attentive practice, but that will catch up with you sooner then you like.

I’ll list more practice tips in part 2. It will deal mostly with talent, passion, and expectations.

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