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Practice tip: Always practice moves from both of your sides

January 7, 2012 Leave a comment

The most elementary mistake beginners make. For example, don’t just practice your armwave from the right arm to the left arm, but also from left to right. When you work on a basic choreo, also try to mirror (as in switching direction) the entire routine from the other side. It seems natural that you can transfer a move or a routine to its mirror image once you learn it one way, but this is not how muscle memory works.

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Beginners have the right to bite

January 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Beginners have the right to shamelessly steal from other dancers. They can take entire moves and routines from other dancers. This allows them practice on a daily level and gain their first experiences and influences. But to progress to higher levels, the beginner should slowly outgrow their initial influences and start coming up with their own style. Biting other people’s styles is not neccesarily a sign of having no creativity , integrityor skill; it may also signify that the dancer is not experienced enough at the moment to tap into his/her creativity.

New practice tip: Avoid burning out

August 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Summary: Many people give up because they burn out from too high expectations that are not met by immediate results. The initial burst of enthusiasm dies out when you realise how slowly you improve in dancing. Accept the slow rate of improvement. Instead of setting yourself up for disappointment, let the dance take over your life in a slow fashion. In the beginning, just focus on practicing a little every day. Once you start seeing results, you will be motivated to have longer practice sessions. Then you may also start working on your body (stretching, cardio and weightlifting). You will not feel overwhelmed by this workload because you have experienced the benefits over a long period.

Explanation: I learned the greatest lesson in dancing from weightlift training. Let me explain. When we start physical exercise like weightlifting or cardio, we do so with great enthusiasm. We may train every day, giving it our best every time we go to a gym. But the results come slowly, far too slowly, and frustration starts to build. We train so hard, why aren’t we getting stronger quickly? Every session seems more like a burden, a waste of time even. We start to resent the whole process. Despite our guilt of sabotaging ourselves, we stop training altogether.

I went through this all-too familiar cycle not just with my weightlifting and stretching, but with my dancing, too. My high expectations could never meet up with the slow process, and I would burn out. This impatience is tragic, because there is no reason to work that hard and burn out in the beginning. Beginners in weightlifting will get stronger even if they only have light training once a week. The improvement rate is strongest at the beginning, even when we can’t easily see the improvements. In fact, training three times a week as a beginner will almost make no difference, because there is a limit to how fast one’s strength can grow. Additional training becomes necessary once one has achieved a certain level of fitness. It is better to start slow, see the benefits, then intensify your training in a gradual fashion.

I realised that this applies to dancing, too. I was overwhelmed by the difficulty of my first choreo classes and hated how long it took to start feeling comfortable. Should it take this long? Are the others learning this faster than me? Should I train harder? This only added to my stress and frustration, and I felt like quitting.

Over time, I realised that this worrying served no purpose. My dancing had improved over time, even though I hadn’t realised it while I was doing it. The more my dance improved, the more I felt like training more intensely. Dancing has altered my entire lifestyle. I continue to do weightlifting, stretching, martial arts, and eating healthy because of it. But this process took nearly three years. Had I started out training as hard as I do now, I would have given up very soon.

Categories: Training philosophy

Dance lessons from a guitar book – Part 1

August 15, 2010 Leave a comment

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.