Hmm… practice without a partner…. Have you ever found yourself wanting to practice a new, cool step but you don’t have a partner to do it with? Or maybe you’ve asked yourself, ‘Can I dance salsa alone?’ or ‘How can I practice salsa without a partner?’ or ‘How do I dance without a partner?’
Maybe you just find yourself going to class really excited, wanting to put in the time and effort to practice outside of class, but then you’re missing one thing… the partner. We’ve all felt the pain.
I felt that pain myself when I was a beginner. The million dollar question for you is… How do I practice without a partner? Is it a good thing practicing without a partner?
Why practice without a partner? Why Practice Alone?
When I first started to learn how to dance back in the day, one of the things I realized right away was how difficult it was to have someone to practice with me all the time.
Waiting to go back to the dance studio to learn a new step and trying to cram practice time in with the last step you learned, all while the lesson is taking place at the same time, was extremely challenging.
What I learned in my early days while trying to figure this thing out, was that simply practicing without a partner allowed me, and hopefully you, to focus on my own dance.
This is one of the things that a lot of dancers forget to do, is to work on their OWN dance. They really forget how important practicing without a partner really is.
I would like to assume that you understand the simple concept of two people dancing. That means there are two individual dance roles next to each other in partnership.
Imagine if both dance partners master their own dance roles and styling. The partnership improves dramatically, right? Right! This is why the term practice without a partner was born to me, if you ask me.
How did I come to this newfound skill?
Having said that, I am going to share with you something I did back then (and I still do today) that helped me a lot, and the results were amazing. I remember it like it was yesterday.
I would get up from my office chair during my break and do the step without music, just mimicking the step by myself as if my invisible partner followed my lead. Some coworkers thought I was going crazy, but I knew better 🙂
It was this new habit I created then that still helps me dominate all the ballroom dances, both the female and male parts, and continues to bear fruit in the Latin dance arena. This new concept was born for me; The Invisible Partner (aka practicing without a partner)!
I am pretty sure you have heard the following statement, “Partner dancing is all about muscle memory.” Whatever you do, the most important thing is what your body will automatically do when you stop thinking about it.
( Guys, just in case, I’ve found this article that might help you with understanding a little with the whole approach of learning. Click this link. )
This is why practicing is so important. Practicing, for the most part, is simply repeating the one thing you want to do, exactly the way you want to do it, until it sticks.
To me, practicing without a partner or the invisible partner approach is not an option; it is a requirement to get really good at salsa.
Don’t you agree?
So, the question is: Should you practice by yourself? Or, better yet, should you practice without a partner? YES, you should!!
What’s The Invisible Partner?
Well, The Invisible Partner ( practice without a partner ) is a system I use all the time with my students throughout their journey to becoming great dancers. It does not matter if they are just starting to dance or if they have been dancing for years.
The invisible partner will allow you to practice alone on your footwork; applying it to the timing of the music with the styling of arms and body motion. We are not talking about shines but merely talking about practicing without a partner here.. ok!
What are the three core areas that benefit from practicing without a partner?
This particular exercise, whether you are the follower or the leader, will help you in these three major areas of your dancing.
A note of caution…
Ok, let’s begin.
Practicing without a partner with the goal of becoming a better dancer.
First things first… only practice what you know is correct. ( check this article about practicing the right way )
If you can’t remember exactly how a move is supposed to go, don’t practice it! In the beginning it’s common to forget steps between lessons. If you find you’ve forgotten a move, it’s probably best to postpone your practice until your next lesson and check in with your teacher.
Mistakes stick too! So, part of good practicing is to only add to your muscle memory what you know to be correct.
Another quick win of practice without a partner is that most dancers practice their footwork until they’ve gotten the steps down.
Once you’ve sorted out what your legs and feet are doing first, and developed a bit of muscle memory at the same time, then it will be much easier to keep track of what your arms are supposed to be doing when you are connected to your partner.
Leaders, as well as followers, can also practice their arm-work alone by keeping their arms in frame position and pretending they are dancing with an invisible partner.
When you are using the invisible partner method, make sure to visualize him\her dancing with you, allowing you to set the proper frame and the correct signals on the steps you’re practicing.
Of course, I know this is not the same as dancing with an actual partner, but it does work wonders. It will help you improve your footwork and remember the steps better, so when you do practice with an actual partner, it all becomes second nature.
You can then concentrate more on leading the lady properly and having fun at the same time.
Helping you develop a smooth transition and connection.
When I first started to take classes and learned a few dance moves, I realized the importance of connection. Whether you have learned just a handful of moves or you know 1,001 patterns, connection is the key to being the kind of dancer people remember.
There’s not much else to say other than connection is that wow factor, the secret sauce that makes dance so pleasant to watch.
When you first started to improve your body movement as I once did, you probably really started having so much more fun. I felt way more connected to the music, because I was able to express myself in my own unique way and so will you.
That’s because body movement is what facilitates a better connection and, by default, a much smoother transition between steps. See, it is a win-win.
And when you move correctly, you’re leading and following feels much more smooth, connected, and impressive. It is my hope that you begin to see how practicing without a partner is the next tool to keep in your dancing tool box.
To start giving your best and maximize the invisible partner method, you want to start layering steps on top of each other, bringing the package together and making your dancing more complete.
How to dance salsa alone, I mean, practice without a partner 🙂
I am going to give a quick example of how this might look to you.
This is what I mean by layering them on top of each other, to bring the package together and make your dancing more complete.
( Basic + Right Turn + Left Turn, etc.)
Here is another undeniable benefit from applying the invisible partner system. Every time you are practicing the dance move you are improving your connections and transitions organically. Again, this is a win-win situation!
Your brain will begin to figure out the right body position to create a smooth connection-transition outcome time and time again.
The only thing you have to do every time you’re practicing is make sure you are doing the right signal/motion that goes with the step as a leader or as a follower.
Build confidence while practicing without a partner.
Now I’m going to share with you what my dance instructor told me when I asked her the following question right before I was recruited to become a ballroom dance instructor. “Who would you prefer to dance with, a beginner or a more advanced dancer?”
Her response was, “I, and 95% of followers, don’t care how many moves you know or how difficult they are, as long as they are executed with the proper timing and a great sense of connection. Because, if they have a great connection, the transition between steps is just perfect.
That’s what we are looking for in a dance. That’s like a dream come true as a dancer.”
That statement alone entirely shaped the way I dance and the way I teach my students. Practicing without a partner will build confidence on the dance floor you need.
That’s the key; your partners crave connection. They don’t want an ego show where you’re showing off.
So, go as slowly as you need to go to get it right every time at the beginning. Practicing the speed of the music is unnecessary and not always productive. You can build muscle memory at any speed, and once you’ve got it, you will find it much easier to meet the speed of the music. Baby step, guys, baby step first.
Remember, the less you have to think about what you’re doing, the faster you will improve. So, make it automatic first, and the speed will take care of itself.
Another thing to remember: Speed is not timing. The speed of what you are practicing can vary, but the timing must remain the same for it to become ingrained correctly. Stick with the correct count of the beats or ‘slows and quicks.’ Yes!
Something to keep in mind when practicing without a partner...
Remember the little exercise I showed you before? Simplify your practice and begin to layer the steps without music first while maintaining a proper rhythm. When this becomes easier, add music to do it with the right timing of the music.
It is only natural to assume that when you are doing a dance step repeatedly and consistently, the step becomes easier to execute as time passes by.
When you are feeling certain about how the step is done, then confidence kicks in and allows you to show it in your dancing with a big smile on your face.
This is one of the things that helped me tremendously in my early days, and it continues to amaze me how effective it is when I am creating new material or learning something new from the movers and shakers of the Latin community.
I am going to share this saying that I live by when it comes to practice without a partner;
“Quality of practice is better than the quantity of practice.”
In the beginning, it is hard to grasp the concept of practice without a partner, or ‘The Invisible Partner’ method. In order to speed up your dance progress, this is almost a requirement.
It is ideal to have someone to practice 24/7 but the reality is quite the opposite.
But, if your goal is to become a better dancer, develop the skill of connection and improve your transitional motion, and become confident on the dance floor, practicing without a partner will help you achieve just that.
Human nature tells us that the more daunting we make the task, the more likely we are to put it off. So, commit to five minutes for the easier steps and maybe ten minutes for more complex steps to start with daily, and understand that it is just the beginning to becoming an AWESOME dancer.
Your goal is to practice your dancing frequently enough so that you remember what you’ve learned when you go in for your next lesson. So, make it a future habit to practice without a partner your thing.