I have created this article after being asked this question over the years from many of my students and other dancers.
How do I practice? How to practice? How can I become a better dancer? How to practice dancing the right way?
Let me begin with the following…
What you see in the dance world...
I, for one, when I enter the dance floor, have a clear view of all the dancers currently on it. This comes with so many years of practicing dancing socially everywhere. Let me explain the groups I’ve found…
- The Experts – a close-knit group of dancers hanging out up by the DJ booth, who seem to be exclusive.
- The Performers – the group of dancers who seem to be great leaders and followers.
- The Instructors – they most certainly seem to be experienced, amazing, and full of dancing wisdom.
The longer you dance, the more and more you see this phenomenon occur in the dancing world.
But the reality is, just because someone is a part of a particular social group, has been dancing for a long time, behaves like a big hot shot, has performed before, or even looks great when they are dancing, doesn’t mean they understand how to practice the right way or how importance it is for their dancing.
How can you become a better dancer?
So, I would like to talk about the secret ingredient to becoming a better dancer, or for anything else that might interest you.
As a dance Instructor, I am accustomed to being good at what I do. Creating a new dance step, or a dance sequence, can be hard, especially at the beginning when I likely struggle to put it together and I make mistakes in the process to get it right.
Regardless of the circumstances, there is only one reality we need to face when we are learning something new. This reality is to PRACTICE. This is and will be the secret ingredient to become a great dancer, or anything else you put your mind to.
In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become expert at something.
Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA, writes that to go from “knowing nothing to being pretty good” actually takes about 20 hours of practice, that’s 45 minutes every day for a month.
So, whether you aspire to be a “pretty good” or “expert dancer,” practice is essential, but more important is, how to practice the right way.
How to practice dancing when it comes to learning how to Salsa Dance?
Now, Let begin by looking up the word practice in the dictionary. I found this definition:
Practice is defined as repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.
Hmm… that sounds about right, don’t you think so? I, for one, understand that there are two ways to look at this topic, but in order to dive in, we need to understand the importance of how to practice dancing. How do we build it into our training experience? And how do we hold ourselves accountable for the hard work of practice?
How to practice the right way
When I was learning to become a ballroom dance instructor, the person who was teaching me used to say to me, ”Practice makes perfect.” Boy, was she right about it, too. This statement holds true today. But there’s a little tiny thing missing to complete this statement.
1. Acknowledge the Challenge
Be honest with yourself about the difficulty of learning something new, especially when you’re learning to dance without any previous experience. Expect mistakes because we ALL DO make them. Celebrate the efforts and risk-taking rather than your skill level. Do not worry when your early attempts are less than perfect.
2. Limit the Scope
Understand that training often includes information on many different behaviors, approaches, skills, and techniques. It isn’t possible to practice and master all of them at one time. One step at the time is what worked for me. Focus your practice on just one thing, at least to start with. Be great at it, then move to the next, and then to the next.
3. Commit Your Time
Commit time every week, ideally every day, for practice. Block time on your calendar. Minimize distractions, and work on skill development as seriously as you would to sleeping or eating.
4. Leverage Tools and Materials To Help You Get There Faster
Find video training that will help you with your goal to be a good dancer. Most videos programs include training on how to practice at home. Use them as much as you can, individually or with your partner. These can be extremely helpful for practicing a new dance step.
5. Consider Private Lessons
Sometimes you can’t get any additional support in a group lesson. In these cases, private lessons can be extremely useful. A good dance instructor will assist in creating a plan for you, offer constructive feedback, and help you stay on course to becoming an awesome dancer.
As you can see, making a commitment to practice is essential to maximize the impact of training. After all, practice is the only way to become proficient in a new skill, or a new behavior for that matter.
The Practice Mindset
There are two important kinds of “practice mindsets” you need to know, and they are both crucial to determine how far you want to go. There is the “non-recreational practice” and the “recreational practice.”
Numero 1: The non-recreational Practice.
This is the kind of practice that you would do in a manner that is very technical, timing-driven, and focused on proper lead and follow execution. It is ideal for training for a performance routine or becoming an expert, if your desire is to teach others every level of dancing.
If you are only training to perform, you will concentrate on the routine, or a fixed sequence of patterns, with all the styling cues, to make you feel like an expert. The downside to this kind of practice is that it would minimize your creative side as a dancer.
Dancers who do “non-recreational practice” love to talk about each other, debate technique, and give each other feedback, if possible. If you ever want to know what is good or what is bad about your dancing, ask. You can ask your dance friends, or you can most certainly ask your dance instructors, for feedback.
Most importantly, if you want to be a good social dancer and be capable of dancing with anybody, then you’re going to need to ponder, explore, and work on your dancing with as wide a variety of people as possible.
Numero 2: The recreational Practice.
This one, simply put, is the one you do for fun at Salsa dancing clubs or social events. Keep in mind that there are both basic and advanced ways of how and when to lead or follow, which enhance your dance experience. “Recreational practice” brings out your dance persona, your creative side, and your fun factor.
The more you practice, the more it becomes part of you. With either kind of practice, your skill level will greatly improve. You will improve and build your confidence, and with greater confidence, you will enjoy your time on the dance floor much more.
TAKE ADVANTAGE of going out Salsa dancing to practice everything you know or are currently learning. Remember, without incorporating a lot of social dancing into your life, your progress at your Salsa dance class will be slower. So, the more efficient you are at it and the more focused you are with the steps, the more quickly you’ll excel. When it comes to learning new skills, you may get discouraged often, but it’s important to realize that learning can take time.
Focus is the key to mastery.
I found an article by Andrew Pouska at studybass.com in which he defines practice as “the absorption, mastery and maintenance of skills.”
The Difference Between Practice and Drills
Traditional instruction incorporates practice and drills for students to memorize dance steps and performance routines, or to adopt new dance concepts.
Practice can be defined as repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it with a completely understanding the why behind doing it.
Drills, on the others hand, are intensive training in something like routine, typically by means of repeated exercises, without fully understanding the inner workings.
The Advantage of Practice
The benefit you get from practice is that you are able to apply knowledge through interaction of a new step. You connect with the material when you’re working with the concepts beyond just a one-time exposure.
It has been my experience as a dance instructor that when students practice using the knowledge through application, they connect with the information on a deeper level. Let’s just go ahead and say that when you’re learning about a dance move, you have to do it. You must hone the mechanics, tone, and style of the dance move.
This cannot happen unless you take time to revise and see examples of yourself doing it and learn to improve your own work. This is how you practice dancing in a nutshell.
The Advantage of Drills
Ok, practice, training, and drills are associated with a regimented style of instruction, Don’t you think so? Drills are used successfully when teaching routine and technique. Let’s say you are learning multiplication tables. It is safe to assume that you can do drills on each number set to help you memorize it. I use drills as a method to hone skills that need repetition for improvement.
It is extremely important to make sure that when you are practicing, there is a clear link between concept and action. You need to be able to understand what you’re doing while you are learning.
Similarly, drills are not effective if you don’t understand what your practicing. You are not going to be able to maintain pace if you are still unclear about what you are doing. Furthermore, drills are typically more for basic knowledge and physical repetition.
In either case, whichever practice mindset you choose, practice or drills, the effects are noticeable.
Motivation and inspiration can sometimes be fleeting but practice, you can hold on to. You can plan it, schedule it, count on it and commit to it. You can return to it anytime if you believe in its power and its rewards.
Remember, whatever your goals, artistic aspirations, and desired skills are, you can build an unshakable practice around it. Be consistent. Stay the course. Keep laser focused and indulge in the world and wonder of your practice and its rewards.
The one thing I was taught when I was learning to dance was “practice make perfect.” Later in life, I came to realize that even though it’s a true statement, there’s more to it. I learned that it is also important to:
• Have a clear direction of where you want to go.
• Set goals, whether small or big, and actively pursue them.
• Set time limits to achieve your desired goals.
And remember, have fun in the process!