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A Guide for Successful Dance Practice Habits

So, you’re frustrated with your dancing. You want to improve. But every time you try to practice, you feel paralyzed. What should you practice first? How do you know you aren’t practicing bad habits instead of good ones? Should you practice slowly and carefully, or go full speed so you can ‘get the feel of it’?

The goal of this article is to give you direction and guidance while practicing, to build some solid dance practice habits, and generally help you impress even your instructor in your next lesson. For instance, before we can start jiving, or foxtroting, or whatever, we always need to ask ourselves:

What am I working on today?

Be specific. Saying ‘improve my tango’ is like being asked where you plan to spend your week vacation, and you answer ‘Eurasia’. Try something more like ’improving my smoothness and continuity in my tango basic’. If you’re not sure what to start with, your helpful private or group instructor can no doubt think of plenty of things to get you started!

How do I measure success?

This is a better meter to gauge your progress then simply, ‘how long will I keep practicing?’ Picking a specific criteria (‘I want to dance 10 tango basics in a row without rising in my stance or losing my balance’), keeps you focused on what you are actually practicing, and not on the clock. It’s also wise to keep the goals small and reachable, so you won’t train yourself into a physical wreck trying to succeed. Every practice session should end with a measure of success, or you will soon find it difficult to motivate yourself.

How should I pace myself?

Generally, starting slow is best. You usually need a bit of time to – literally – get your feet under you and into ‘dance mode’, and to spot any issues in balance and body position. Once you think you’ve nailed that, (if that was your goal today, good job!) gradually increase to music speed for focus on things like timing and smoothness.

Where is the barrier?

This can be the hardest part of any practice session. To spot the blocks in our technique can take lots of patience and drilling to find the problem. But it’s also a major part of recognizing what works and doesn’t work for us – in short, what our instructors do. Ask yourself questions while you dance, and be as specific as you can. Going back to the tango example from earlier, I might ask:

  1. When exactly in my weight transfer does something feel jarring, or out-of-balance?
  2. Is my foot placement correct at this point?
  3. Is my frame and posture correct? Am I truly aware of them at the point I lose balance, or am I distracted?
  4. What happens if I check my posture in the mirror while I move (or my foot position, or etc…)

We’ll spend more time on this part in the next article, but for now, don’t be afraid to experiment. There’s nothing you can mess up so badly your instructor can’t correct in your next lesson.

About the Author

Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for almost 20 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance and his endless seeking for ways to reach new audiences eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches ballroom at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.

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