It’s time to do some – easy – math: count daily hours of training, then days of practice, and now the years. What did you do with the time that was given to you? And how? Did you make the best out of it? Could’ve you done things differently? To become a great dancer, it is not enough to take class after class and amass knowledge. One has to incorporate data into the body, create a new comfort zone and master the elements, characteristics and mechanics of the dances by practicing day after day. But even that has its twist.
Break The Myth
10.000 hours, they say. You should practice 10.000 hours to achieve mastery. 20 hours of weekly training would then promise results in about 10 years time. Double the amount of hours and mastery will knock on your door twice as fast. But the equation of success seems too simple, too flat. Life is not as linear, and achieving true mastery takes more than a clock. The key is not in the number of hours as much as it is in their quality.
Practice the same step 10.000 times the wrong way and you’ll incorporate the mistake into your memory. And the next time you check for your level of mastery, you’ll see that success was closer to the other side of the spectrum. This is time wasted. Mechanical repetition is not an achievement; but a conscious action transforming into a healthy habit is one.
The myth of the 10.000 hours therefore hides a more complex cocktail of elements that lead to what is called “deliberate practice.”
Mastery = Deliberate Practice x Time = FIFI x Time
No, not that Fifi… This FIFI –
Focus + Intentional correction + Feedback loops + Intent
The concept of “Deliberate Practice” uncovered by Anders Ericsson, a professor of Psychology at Florida State University and an expert on peak performance, contributes to dramatic improvement that would pave the way to mastery.
Focus, focus, focus… If you are not fully present and immersed in the moment, practice will slip right through the net of your thoughts. Hours of ineffective repetition will accumulate effortlessly and without objective. When dancing, pay attention to your body movement, your footwork and your style; follow the mechanics with both your muscles and your mind. Everything else can wait for later: food, phone calls, boiling with anger because of a fight you had with your girlfriend/boyfriend/boss, setting an appointment with the doctor or cracking a joke over messenger with a friend from Zimbabwe. For a few hours, there’s nothing else that matters. The ballroom becomes your world. The dancing fills your time and your mind to the utmost. And you are fully present in every move, practice or performance.
If you limit yourself to one type of practice, it won’t be enough for you to grow out of your comfort zone. It is important to include variety in the methods and intention in the practice. Divide your choreographies into smaller chunks, change the speed, stop after each step, and check your balance and weight transfer for instance. Search for the problems, find them and kill them. Address issues one weakness at a time and eliminate them. Adjust the parts one by one to solidify the whole. This is how you can work with intention, using a top-down attention that involves an active corrective concentration controlled by the brain.
No matter how maniacally precise you might be, improvement also needs an external and knowledgeable eye. This is why having a coach is inevitable. He/She observes your performance, understands the problems and prioritizes the corrective measures that will allow you to better your dance. A coach draws a map for you and, based on your interaction with the process, adjusts the challenges. This mentorship system provides you with the needed information to deepen your knowledge and direct your practice through ongoing feedback loops.
Improving is not enough. Showing up is more than physically and consciously moving across the ballroom, it is working every day towards a well-defined goal. It is of utmost importance to set objectives both for you and for the dancing couple: envisioning the outcome is part of the process. It brings more motivation and joy to the daily action. And the burning desire to achieve your goal and hold yourself accountable for your commitments enhances the performance. Intent therefore is a directive force that strengthens the present and pulls it towards the future.
Ultimately, the convergence of these elements will alter your neural pathways and better your dance. Focus and feedback loops, supported with specific and long-term intentions, contribute to mastery and eventually the experience of flow, which is where all the magic happens.
And now go spread some magic!