When you’re strapped for time but want to put meaningful time into your practice, you might be wondering how to do it most effectively. As a teacher, I regularly get asked about practicing. Often times I hear students ask:
How do I drill at home?
How do I put this movement into my practice?
How do I practice in general?
This is so important for you to know as a student and a teacher of dance. One of the things I realized throughout my years of teaching is that how we learn and break down material is not intuitive. Typically, you have to study how you learn, or you’re taught you learn best in order to know what information.
Here are some things that really set me up for success and how you can too.
I have mirrors and whiteboards. They are everywhere in my house. Not that you need it, but why you might want one.
When I step into my space, I’m prepared to support myself in my practice time. Sometimes you have 15 mins, sometimes 5 minutes, and sometimes we get lucky and have an hour. When you step into your space, and you designate that time for yourself, you have to make that time effective; otherwise, you might feel like you wasted your time. You might not accomplish everything you wanted to. You might feel scattered, and you don’t even know where the time went.
Some things to keep in mind to have an effective practice are a recording and music device ready to go. Have everything set up before you start dancing. If you record on your phone, get it to the recording spot where a tripod is set up. Clear your furniture before your practice time if you need to make room. I know you might be practicing at home and not always have the space cleared but try to get a few minutes carved out to set up the space so you get more dance time.
Have Good Lighting.
Be sure that you have good lighting so when you review your video you are not struggling to see the movements you made. Having the space set up and ready for success will help you get focused.
Tell people you’re in a meeting! This is your time. If you want to get your stuff done, you need to keep people from bothering you. Unless you have an emergency or kids to keep an eye on, try to keep interruptions to a minimum. Find a time when you have the least amount of distractions. Turn your phone on airplane mode or put it on silent.
This is one of the reasons you should get an external recording device that is not your phone. This helps keep down the alerts and calls that will stop your recording. Otherwise, you’ll be missing out on some of the dancing you were trying to record when you go back to look at it.
When I just have 15 mins to practice, I’m not trying to get 4-5 things done. That’s just too much. I focus on one thing and one thing only. When I’m focusing, I use my mirror and my whiteboard. I tell my private lesson students this all the time, write down what you want to work on.
Let’s say I’m working on hip circles; I’m going to write that at the top of my paper. I will also put that I’m trying to use it to improve. Place it up where you are going to be facing so you can see it the whole time. Tape it under the camera if you’re facing that. Or tape it to the mirror you will be facing. This will help see it and do it without losing focus.
Then add in notes, “tailbone down in your hip circles.” You can then see what you’re working on and exactly the focus of the move you’re trying to improve. When you’re lost in the music during practice, it can really help bring you back through these little reminders posted up.
People who are masterful at their craft focus on one element at a time as they build their extensive expertise. There is a saying that goes something like, “I don’t fear the guy who can do a thousand kicks, I fear the guy who has done one kick one thousand times.” It’s not about doing everything all at once.
3 Ways to Clean Up Your Technique
You should really be doing this, even if you are doing live recorded classes. You also need to record what happens between the classes. It’s not just recording it, but it’s going back and watching it. Go back, watch that footage, and look and evaluate what is missing. Ask yourself, “If you have to pick one thing, what should you practice?”
There is always more than one thing we can be working on, but you want to focus on one thing at a time. Pick one thing that is missing that would have the biggest impact on your dance. Sometimes it’s breathwork, posture, or getting feedback from your teacher.
Or, you can pick one thing that is a huge challenge and compels you to want to master it. It’s ok to go with that one too.
Choose What to Work On
Now that you’ve picked what dance moves you’re going to work on, it’s time to break it down further. Take examples from someone who already has mastered the technique you’re working on. It’s best to follow good examples. Then you’re going to break down the steps in the moves. For example, hip circles.
Hip slide left to right, shifting the weight onto one side and then the other, through your center axis.
Then a hip slide, front to back, changing the weight to the toes, and as you come back, the tail bone remains elongated.
You’ll want to break it down in a way that if you were to hand it to someone else, they would know what it looks like.
Once you identify the correct components of the move you’re working on, and then being very specific and precise about it will help you master moves.
Practice Slow and Intentionally
Be ok with repetition, going slow, and redundancy. It’s a huge thing we are not comfortable doing. We often take it as a sign of failure when it’s not. It’s a sign of mastery. People who go slow and intentional can make a bigger impact in their learning.
This part is hard for people. This often is the hardest part. Breaking down the components can be difficult if you haven’t analyzed a movement before to clean up the technique. But, nothing is as hard for many people as slowing it down and becoming intentional.
Slowing down and being repetitive is hard when we often want to push through and get it done. We often feel like we should have been better yesterday. When I say go slowly, I’m going to mean micro-movements, and you feel the gradual increase of your weight shifts. You’re looking to keep each component accurate and pushing yourself to do that slowly.
You’re going to learn a few things:
- How it feels when it’s incorrect.
- How to feel when it is correct.
You can make fine-tuning adjustments from here.
See Video 14:40 for teaching examples of how to break down the movement and learn from going slow.
Refining and Repeat
As you break down the moves and going through them slowly, you will start learning what you should be doing and what is not being done correctly. Then you can refine what is happening in those micro-movements and repeat this to learn it.
Make small adjustments to get where you want the movements to go. You’ll repeat this process until you get the desired result.
So how long does this all take? Well, it takes as long as you give it. Videotaping will help you see if you are moving along the process in the right direction. If your adjustments are not exactly what needs to be made, you’ll see it in the video. It can help you stay on track with refining the movements.
Go through the process of recording yourself so you can pick the movement you want to work on. Then break down the components of those moves so that you can go through them intentionally and feel each movement. Lastly, you’ll want to work through each component slowly, film yourself, and then make small refinements that move you towards mastering the movement you are working towards. And as always, keep going; you’re doing amazing!
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