Practice tips

It’s not only what you learn, but how you approach learning. These are the principles I try to follow when practicing. Some of the points link to essays that explain the reasoning in more depth.

It always takes longer than you’d like.
The cooler the move, the longer it takes. Don’t burn yourself out by expecting it to come to you the next practice session. Just focus on practicing each day. Only professional dancers have deadlines, but they get paid for it.

Don’t believe you know your strengths and weaknesses
We often fear about our lack of talent and determination. At other times, we think we’re better than everyone else. We imagine we know what the obstacles are before we begin learning to dance. All of these represent false predictions. You only receive a good understanding of your strengths, weaknesses, and the obstacles through the actual process.

Focus also on training your body
Most dancers spend their training hours just working on their dance skills. They neglect the benefit of dividing their time between dance practice and physical training. Physical training will not only improve your dance skills, but also reduce the chance of injury by excessive stress on the muscles and joints.

Assume you know nothing
Whenever going to a workshop or a practice session, try not to think you already know most of the material. You’ll miss the information that you don’t know. Trying to impress people in a workshop will also cloud your attention to the lessons you are trying to learn. You don’t get a grade for being the best student in a workshop.

Research everything, throw most of it away
You can’t predict what elements of different dances will appeal to you. Do as much intense research as you can, find the few elements that appeal to you, and throw out the rest.

Teachers help you help yourself
The best teacher is not necessarily the best dancer, but one who can identify your weaknesses and suggest concrete steps to improve. Rather than just teaching a series of moves or choreography, they focus on how to teach the foundational basics and then how to independently find one’s own style. In short, the best teachers help you help yourself. Spend much time and money finding these teachers.

Find your dance through drills
Drills are not meant to just teach you certain moves. Drills help you find how your body can move in a dance. Every person has a different body and way of moving; this is why no two people doing the same drill should do it exactly the same way. Practising the same exercise allows you to provide feedback to yourself and experiment.

Keep it simple
Instead of trying to come up with exotic moves and routines each day, focus on improving the basics. Grooving, musicality, and drills. As little as 30 minutes of this a day will improve your dance overall. Experimentation, choreography, and new moves are separate practice sessions that usually come after this primary training.

Trust your gut feeling
Teachers can show you how to dance with proper technique, but they can’t tell you what “real” dancing is. Trust yourself to follow the dancers and styles that catch your attention immediately. Be open to all influences, but focus on the qualities that attract you most to the dance.

Learn to practice alone.
Seeing that you can achieve results without direct help from others (on your terms and without outside distractions) will help you to trust your judgment and become self-reliant. Strangely, this self-reliance allows you to practice better with others, because your mind is clouded less by self-doubt and self-consciousness.

Make your time precious
Three hours of bad practice may actually hurt your progress because you pick up bad habits. Even as little as half hour of serious practice can be much more effective, which is good for people with busy lives. See if you can focus intensely on the execution of your practice instead of repeating the same exercise without thought. See how long you can practice without interruptions.

Practice moves as slowly as possible
We often execute moves far too quickly when we practice. This often masks the mistakes and sloppiness of our moves. To uphold the illusion at a slow pace requires far more focus, and you start smoothing out the rough edges because of your greater attention. Then you can perform the move at any speed.

Use mirrors and videotape in practice sessions
Effective practice requires immediate feedback. Mirrors tell you immediately how well you execute a move. Videotaping yourself will give you allow you to judge your dance as a whole, and may give you ideas how expand on certain ideas and routines. Some dancers warn against becoming too reliant on mirrors and videotape, however. There are no mirrors on the dance floor.

Write everything down
One of the most common failings is not following through on a good idea and expanding it. We often lose focus on our goals and objectives. Writing down your progress, your goals, and ideas for the future help you stay focused and approach each practice session with clear aims.

Focus on a small set of goals at a time
By attempting all styles and moves, we tend not to learn a single one of them. Focus on developing your skills in a few small areas. You will be surprised how much time, effort, and dedication one style requires. And how great the rewards can be when you go deeper than others.

Muscle memory can be your friend or enemy
Your muscles (actually your nervous system) can “remember” movements that you repeat many times. When you practice without attention, you sometimes execute the move well, then sometimes badly. This will confuse your muscle memory, which will make your dance unreliable. Pay attention so that you can execute the move as well as possible, as often as possible.

Climb the mountain of effort
The more you advance in a certain area, the more time and effort it takes to advance further. Imagine a mountain where the first 2 km are easy, the next 1 km is twice as hard, and the last 500 metres are three times as hard. Knowing this makes the struggle a little bit less frustrating.

Never arrive at a goal.
It’s your desire for a goal that motivates you to improve. Once you believe you’ve reached what you wanted, your drive and energy start dying out. Total satisfaction is death to your creativity.

Be the weakest link.
If you’re the best member of a crew, look for a better one. Being the best only feeds your ego. Being the weakest means you’re surrounded by people who have more experience, creativity, and drive. This will rub off on you.

Don’t practice to your one favourite track
It’s natural for us to practice our dance only to our favourite tracks, and come up with a choreo for only those songs. But this doesn’t help you with your musicality, freestyling, and creativity. It’s better to try and practice to songs you barely know and haven’t memorised. It even helps to listen to music that doesn’t traditionally belong to your style of dance. Still try to make your dance fit to the music.

Use every opportunity to dance
If you’re waiting for the bus or strolling through the streets, use those few minutes to practice a move. These short bursts of practice help you turn the whole day into a practice session. You’ll also notice that you become more immersed into the dance if you practice throughout the day. Don’t worry about people looking at you weird. Most people on the streets aren’t paying attention, or look away in embarrassment.

Follow your own advice
It’s very easy to write down these principles. It’s much more difficult to follow them. Knowing and doing are two completely different things. Old habits die hard, and require constant confrontation. Expect setbacks and backsliding; it’s part of the process.

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  1. Ashwin
    September 17, 2010 at 8:08 am

    really gr8 to write this notes.
    i am highly obliged….

  2. Jack Mannik
    September 18, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Awesome post as usual. I like ‘the way moves are taught differ greatly from the way the best dancers actually perform those moves’. It’s great to get the foundations of the same move and as you get better at it, it will usually look different to how others do it. Your own flavour. (New vids up btw)

  3. Jikay
    December 19, 2010 at 1:52 am

    Hey i’m a beginner in the world of popping thank you for your advice i wish they will help me ^^

  4. May 2, 2012 at 9:13 am

    Wow, thank you so much! This is really motivating me!

    • May 16, 2012 at 8:22 am

      Then I’m doing my job.

  5. May 5, 2014 at 1:38 am

    I don’t remember how i came across this site. But it is amazing. Thank you for all of the insight into dance and training techniques. This site is a gem.

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