Can one dance practice make a difference? Yes!
While it is very true that repetition over time is essential to perfecting anything, the quality of each practice is important, and breakthroughs in a single practice are critical to development. To understand this better, let’s look at how to get the most out of every practice.
Push Your limits
- To make a difference with every dance practice, your practice should always be at the edge of your current ability. If your practice feels too comfortable, then you will not improve, and you will be more likely to slide back. When you push your limits, you will need to solve problems. Your emotion will also make you more likely to remember the solutions.
- This type of practice will also uncover issues that bring you to a need for more focused practice in a certain areas. This is exactly what you want. If you have no clear idea of the challenges to overcome, you will have no clear path to progression.
Focus Your Practice
- This is where you will focus on the very specific things that will make the biggest difference to your performance. Doing your full routine is essential, but so is repetitive solo drills in the specific areas that are the most difficult for you to consistently do well.
- The focus could be on a small transition, a basic move or a complex pattern. If you have several challenges, focus on the most basic moves and positions. When you push past your limits with complex or more powerful moves, improving shaky basics is often the solution. This is not just for dancers. Consider for example the fact that current top professional basketball players repeat hundreds of basic shoots to ensure that they understand how to fix anything that may cause any possible miss. They also do focused practice on complex moves, but continuing to check and perfect the basics makes the complex moves much easier.
Build Muscle Memory
- There are 2 components to muscle memory. One is shortening the time between when you think of something and when you react to it physically. This happens when a thought and action are linked repeatedly. When muscle memory is set, you may not even pick up on the fact that your brain has actually triggering what you are doing. Think of the thought effort you needed to ride a bicycle when you first started, compared to the effort after you had become a comfortable rider.
- The next component is shaping your muscles so that they execute movements fully and with less physical effort. This is when you develop the type of physical flexibility or strength that makes it feel more natural for you to move in a certain way. Think of how a ballet dancer develops his or her physical ability along with their technique. Also think of how different the ballet dancer’s physical development is over time, when compared a tennis player’s development over time. Whatever you do repeatedly truly does become a part of you.
- For both components of muscle memory, repetition is key. You can however repeat something several times and still show no improvement. To get any benefit, you need to be very specific about the accuracy of your technique. Never risk muscle memory of bad technique!
- You will improve your accuracy and speed up your learning by “marking” each point in your action with very slow movements. Dancers who “mark” (slowly walk through) their steps when learning, tend to remember both the steps and the technique more quickly than others. Continue to mark periodically even when you are an expert, to check that your technique has not drifted.
- Part of why these points refer to what we call muscle memory is because if you do not continue to do them, your muscles will forget, and you will lose some of your ability. The good news, however, is that you can trigger muscle recall quickly if you start to practice again.
Perfect Your Body Language
- The first three points primarily covered the “sport” part of ballroom dancing. This one covers the “art”. For something to be considered art, it needs to trigger emotion. When you are dancing, you are communicating and conveying emotion. Doing this well is no small task. During a dancesport competition in particular, you also need to consider your partnership; the fact that you may not choose or even like the music being played; and on top of it all, you may have adrenaline running through your body at a mile a minute. Every artist perfects his or her communication through practice. For the reasons just mentioned, practice is even more critical in dancesport.
- Perfect your body language by videotaping yourself, and playing it back without music. At a minimum, you should be able to tell which dance you are doing. But can you also tell the type of story being told? What do your arm movements say? Your shape? Your pace at different points? Practice a wide range of small yet impactful elements of movement, and you will eventually be able to tell clear story of your dance when the music plays.