This article serves as a guide to assist in getting your dancing to where you want it to be. Sometimes as students, we get frustrated that we are not as proficient as we think we should be given our time frame or effort given.
1) Have a good instructor/coach and see them often.
Whether you are a pro or amateur dancer, you need somebody to guide you in the right direction. A coach should be able to help shape your dancing the way it needs to progress because they know what to look for and what to fix. Private 1 on 1 lessons are absolutely necessary in getting to the next level. Group classes and instructional DVD's are only slightly helpful as these are designed to only introduce patterns or technique. Only after your level of dance comprehension is at a much higher level do DVD's become a valuable tool. 80 percent of your growth and learning will come from your coach. A good instructor must be able to attentively listen to your goals and have a plan of how to accomplish them! Discuss with them what your goals are and they will help you get there.
2) Take notes. Take notes. Take notes.
If you are ever going to be able to practice effectively, you need to write down the concepts and guidance of your coach/instructor so you remember them for later. Written notes will help clarify what you need to practice and how you practiced it in your private lesson. Taking notes helps you recreate those results in your practice time. Video notes are also a great tool but do not replace written notes. The act of writing down the information personally is what helps your brain recall and explain it back to yourself in detail on paper. Everybody has a different way of making their notes. Find what works for you and do it.
3) Practice patterns & technique by yourself.
Sometimes the distraction of a partner will hinder what you are trying to do. Practice technique and patterns by yourself and be able to imagine a partner in front of you. If you can't do it correctly by yourself, then you don't know it well enough to do it with a partner. Using a mirror when practicing is vital to being able to emulate the look in what you are trying to accomplish. Once you feel confident enough with what you are working on, go try it with a partner. If you are still messing it up, make a note and take it back to your instructor to see what it was you are missing.
4) Practice patterns & technique using a partner.
When you practice with a partner, it can make your patterns easier to visualize by having a point of reference. When you DO practice with a partner, make sure that you use them as a "body" to help visualize where you are and what you are doing to help YOU practice. If both students are trying to practice different things at the same time it can cause issues and frustration which is counterproductive. When issues arise, write them down and take them back to your coach. In the meantime, practice something else together or practice by yourself.
5) Be patient!
And don't be so hard on yourself. It takes time to learn how to dance! Set small goals to achieve and don't look too far ahead. Learning how to dance is a journey, not a destination. There is no end. You will always have something new to learn and it will never stop, no matter what level you are at. Never directly compare yourself to other dancers. You worry about you. We each have our own measuring stick that we use to evaluate our progress and everyone is unique. Practicing your dancing on a consistent basis, after taking private lessons and writing good notes, is the quickest way of getting to the next level. Above all, take the word "can't" out of your vocabulary. As a teacher, the most defeating words to hear a student say is "I can't ____ _____" or "I could never dance like so-and-so….". If you don't believe you can do it, your teacher might as well just go home for the day. Anything is possible with enough time and effort. Suck it up, push through it, and trust your teacher.
6) Leaders: Learn your patterns. Then, when you're done with that, learn the follower's patterns.
As the leader, you have many responsibilities. You need to know what you're doing, what your partner needs to do, how to lead/initiate the steps, dance it on the correct timing, and watch where you're going; just to name a few.. Studying the follower's patterns will help elevate your leading because you will be able to better understand what foot they are supposed to turn on, change direction on, rotate, etc. When you only know when you are supposed to raise your arm for a turn, but don't know what foot the lady needs to be on for that turn or how far over her foot she needs to be, you now have to guess that she is going to do the turn correctly.
7) Followers: Learn your patterns.
I believe that in order to get to the next level a follower must learn their patterns and understand that their role is to react faster, slower, smaller or bigger than their leader and the only way to do that is to know what those are. So, the follower should know just as much about the lead as the leader. I also believe that they should never attempt to help their partner by doing things for them, but the follower should adjust their sensitivity level and reaction time to help follow a lead better. On a final note, take interest in what it takes to be a leader and even try it yourself. Please do not get the mindset that your leader is the one who
8) Practice your technique in the most basic step suitable for what you are working on.
Many times as students, we get too excited about patterns and lose sight of the technique. Technique is what makes you look good and dance better! Patterns do not do this. When working on technique, i.e., Cuban motion, body isolations, frame, rise and fall, footwork, posture, head position, connection to your partner, etc; master them while using simple patterns and then work your way up from there. Technique is for social dancers and competitive dancers alike. To be an enjoyable dance partner, you need to be able to communicate through your body. Your connection and frame are the medium that that conversation travels through. At its core, technique doesn't exist just because it looks pretty but because it serves as a communication tool to effectively dance with another person. If you want to get to the next level, practice your technique. Why is it typically more fun to dance with an instructor than another student? One reason is because they are better communicators.
9) Practice to slow tempo music or no music at all.
The whole adage "You have to walk before you can run, and you have to crawl before you can walk" holds true in dancing. Students learn Waltz before they learn Viennese Waltz. It is the natural progression. To get to the next level, you have to be able to do the technique properly, at a slow tempo, before you can speed it up. Sometimes I will hear, "I hate slow Waltzes!" and my initial thought is that they probably don't like them because they lack the control to dance them properly at that speed and therefore uncomfortable. When dancing to slow music, you need to have control over your own body and this forces you to analyze what you are doing more; each little movement by little movement until the body feels natural doing it.
10) Be able to clearly explain to another person what you're doing.
Often times I ask my students to explain dance concepts or patterns to me so I can gauge their understanding of it from their own mouth. I love teaching because it helps challenge me to explain what I know in many different ways which in turn helps me solidify and understand the topic on a different level myself. Make sure you can explain your pattern or technique with a clear understanding to yourself and then explain it to somebody else who is not as familiar with it as you are. You will get to re-hash your thought process and find the holes in the given topic. At that point, go back to your teacher with the questions during your private lesson and get more clarification.
"I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times."
― Bruce Lee
"Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do."
― Bruce Lee
"A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at."
― Bruce Lee
"Some people seem to think that good dancers are born, but all the good dancers I have known are taught or trained"
― Fred Astaire
About the Author:
Tim Gregory is a certified ballroom instructor of 12 years, spanning from franchise studio expereince to independent teaching.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the AccessDance Network. Be aware that imagery is copyrighted and often licensed for use on AccessDance only. Copying of images is strictly prohibited.
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