You can accelerate your success by making sure you are actively managing your practices. On a regular basis, you’ll want to incorporate different types of practice as your dancing matures.
Here are a few of the important practice categories:
- W/ Partner (Partnering)
You need to practice on our own, with a mirror and/or video camera. Nobody else around, just you and the music, and sometimes just you and the count. By yourself you can focus on your look and feel without the distraction of your partners’ strengths and weaknesses. Work on your footwork, upper body motion, balance, turns, spins and footwork combinations alone, refining your basic moves and more complex body control.You can practice for hours or if your schedule is already packed, then the micro-practice concept is probably a great bet for you. (See link below.)
You can also work on some aspects of your partnering skills by visualizing a partner, and doing some of the dance in your head. This takes practice, but a virtual partner tends to be rather forgiving as you work though some details in you mind's eye.
Practice your patterns and leading/following skills with a practice partner, outside the dance floor. You slow the patterns down, speed them up, repeating sections over and over to fine-tune the mechanics and make sure everything is clear to your partner. It is also helpful to practice the movements and patterns at both a snail's pace and at blistering tempos. Working a pattern very slowly is often eye-opening and harder than doing moderate or faster tempos. Counting out loud while practicing patterns is an excellent practice habit and using a video camera to review your progress is extremely helpful. You'll be amazed what you see from an outside perspective.
The key is being in a setting where you can stop/restart and review without the standard "keep going until the end" as you would in a normal social dance. Sometimes you may repeat something 5 times, or slow something down rather than just hacking through the rough spots.
Getting in the real world changes things. If you're working on new material, try it with your practice partner if possible. If they are not available, try with partners where you've danced with before where you've had a good time. Because of the prior experiences, they tend to cut you some slack if something works poorly the first time.
Once that's working, then try it with others, both "above" and "below" your level. If you struggle with the stronger partner you know you have some more work to do. If you can't also work it with less experienced dancers, then you also have need some additional tuning. Most materials you really know will work across a range of partners. Occasionally something will be too advanced for the less experienced partners, but if you have it nailed you'll either cover for them or figure out ways to accommodate them.
This is the real test as your practice partner will often cover for your mistakes if they already know the material.
If the wheels fall off when you try it in public, you haven’t practiced it enough in a private setting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve practiced a pattern/combination with my practice partner, and then the first time in the club with someone else it was like the car ran out of gas. Maybe I forgot how the pattern started, or blew the ending, or I missed a step and we crashed and burned. Sometimes it works fabulously; sometimes it’s material for a blooper reel. Different partner, music, lighting, floor, shoes, clothing and just the fact that others might be watching change the dynamics of dancing enough to throw my game plan out the window.
Let me know how you manage your practice.
No one will ever win the battle of the sexes; there’s too much fraternizing with the enemy.
Micro-Practices: Sometimes Quickies are OK
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