Thursday, November 29, 2012

Practice Space and Spousal Upgrades

Originally published in Aug 2007. Minor tweaks before republishing.

Ever wished you could have a dance studio in your own home? It's probably easier than you think.

With a little creative thinking, anybody can have a practice space right in their home, condo or apartment. You probably have more options than you've been considering.

A popular but costly way is to take out a home equity loan, cash in your stocks, inherit some money, win the lottery, or marry a wealthy person consistent with the "new dance you" (divorce current spouse if appropriate). Hire a contractor and gut part of the old billiards hall or simply put an addition on the estate. Remove carpet and upgrade to hardwood floors, add floor to ceiling mirrors on a wall or two and purchase flat screens with surround sound audio to watch instructional DVDs. Ceiling fans, laser lights, disco balls and a wet bars are nice, but you can always add those later. (Maybe the next spouse?) This option is ideal during your first few months of dancing, because if you drop out for any reason, you'll still have a cool place to hang out. Simply add a few Persian rugs, a popcorn machine and some new seating, and you can watch Dancing with the Stars in luxury.

A few people may feel uncomfortable hiring a contractor, even if the idea of upgrading the spouse is appealing. (I know, if he leaves one more sock on the floor, you're outta there.) Let's explore some other options just in case you want to keep the current couch-potato spouse a few more years.

You could consider doing this on the cheap, building as you go. A minimalist practice area really requires only three elements: a serviceable floor, mirror(s) and a music player. A DVD player/computer is also handy, but not mandatory. Let's look at some options.

Sure, hardwood floors sound ideal in every room of the house, but maybe your budget is slightly lower. Think about how much space you get at the average crowded club. If I'm lucky in LA, it's going to be maybe 3 to 5 feet or so. That means I should be able to practice 95% of my moves in a small space.

If you are budget-challenged to the max, you can always practice in the bathroom. Countless world-class dancers say they learned to spin and footwork in the restroom. Now, I'm simply taking their word for it, although I have practiced a few times in my bathroom using the mirrors after showering (ugly visual provided free of charge).

Most home bathrooms feature a flat floor, a mirror and a small amount of space, probably larger than most club dances. Partnering in the bathroom isn't ideal, but solo practice is realistic in many restrooms. If you have small tiles on the floor, that may be tough in heels, but there are always restaurants and gyms in the area, and they are also an option, if you don't mind a short drive.

Many office buildings have attractive restrooms for practice purposes; feel free to spin or practice there as well. I'm sure your co-workers won't wonder about why you take 10 minute bathroom breaks every 45 minutes or so, and take your iPod with you. If I was at an office all day, I would sneak in a few spins and some basic footwork during any breaks, but that's just me. I don't recommend you take partners into office or public restrooms; that may cause more gossip than it's worth. "But officer, we were practicing our dancing..." isn't the best way to end a practice session.

If you are committed to staying home, and your restroom doesn't seem perfect, then let's discuss some flooring solutions. If you have carpet of any type, consider these options:

Flooring Option A: The carpet chair mat
If you've ever been in one of those cubical farms in an office building (many people work in one every day), you've probably seen a chair mat under every desk. They allow your chair to roll around/slide over the carpet. You can get them at Office Depot, Staples, or almost any office supply store for $45 to $80.

Click on this link to see a sample from Office Depot. These things are perfect for a small space, they don't cost much, and you can slide it under a bed when it's not being used for practice. They're available in a few sizes, right around 3 x 5 feet or so, and you can spin on them in the right shoes (or with just a hint of baby powder). Most partnering moves are also doable in that space and it's a great exercise to work with limited floor space. It's easier to do most moves on a larger floor, so learning small and expanding is a reasonable strategy. If you want some additional style and decide to win some environmental points with your friends, they are also available in bamboo and look great, but they cost more (around $300 with shipping). Still, that may be cheaper than changing the spouse.

Flooring Option B: The snap-together, fake hardwood laminates
If you go to Home Depot, Lowe's or any other home improvement store, you'll find a wide selection of fake hardwood laminate. They look like thin wood planks, averaging about 7 inches by 4 feet. These make a perfect dance practice floor, they snap together and can sit over existing carpet. For under $70 you can get a dance floor that is around four by six feet. In theory you can take them apart and put them back together as needed, but they are designed to snap together a few times. I started with one box of this stuff (under $50 at Sam's Club) and after a year purchased a second box and extended my practice floor to four by twelve feet because I wanted to practice some travelling turns. For partnering the small floor was fine, and you can replace individual planks if they become damaged over time.

You may need a little baby powder to spin with some shoes on the floor. I keep a bottle on the edge of the floor and sprinkle a little on one end, then step on it when I'm practicing in tennis shoes. If I wear my dance sneakers or regular dance shoes, I don't need the powder.

Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall...
Having a mirror or two is extremely helpful as you grow your dancing. It really doesn't matter which mirror you choose, but be sure to get something. Practicing only in a club setting without mirrors is fine most of the time, but fine-tuning your personal look and feel requires visual feedback at points.

The home improvement stores have wall mounted versions that are perfect and not very expensive. For under $100 your can have a mirror or two on the wall which is large enough to see yourself from head to toe.

I purchased two from Home Depot that were under $60 each and mounted them on a wall in front of my fake hardwood floor. The combined mirrors are about 6 feet wide and 5 feet tall, giving me enough to see exactly what needs more work (ah, almost everything). I selected the frame-less ones without beveled edges as they are significantly cheaper and do the job well. I just wanted as much mirror space as practical, and beveled edges are fashionable but not as practical when you are mounting them side by side.

Alternately, you can use a stylish floor mirror if the wall mounts offend your sense of decor. They are significantly more expensive, but you can use them for dance practice and wardrobe adjustments as well. Google "Floor Mirrors" and you'll find hundreds of options ranging from $100 to $700 or more, depending on the framing materials and the sizes.

If you really can't do mirrors for some reason, then beg or borrow a video camera. Filming some practice is very helpful, so check out the article I wrote a few months ago titled Video Yourself Often, But Be Kind. Video is an excellent addition to mirrors unless you are a mother and have developed those standard "eyes in the back of your head" that kids demand. For most people it's easier to see issues that need tuning with a combination of mirrors and video, but the video is optional.

It Helps To Have Music
Anything that will play your music is fine, and the volume doesn't need to be really loud unless you are having parties. Headphones/earbuds can work if you have a pair that doesn't fall off your head as you practice. I use a computer in my practice room, with a set of quality external speakers. I've uploaded all my salsa CDs and downloaded other tunes I use for practice. I organize them on the computer and have lists like "Practice From Slow to Fast" and "Salsa Shines" containing tunes I think are appropriate for different practices. I also play instructional DVDs on my computer, and can view YouTube videos, watching and practicing in the same room. That's the "borrow moves from other dancers" technique.

Your practice area can be as simple or as elaborate as your budget will allow, but music completes the picture for the minimalist practice area. If possible, get yourself a decent set of speakers, as it's helpful to actually hear all the instruments playing.

Once your practice environment is complete, be sure to use it regularly. Having a floor, mirror, and music is nice, but doing more is the real key. Anybody can have a practice area--for less than you think--but remember, the ultimate practice studio is available via the social dancing scene.

I hope the suggestions above give you ideas for enhancing your practice space. Maybe that current spouse/partner will practice with you, enhancing the current connections and making the sock issue a little less annoying.

If you have other potential solutions, please let me know!

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1 comment:

  1. Hi, I just found your blog via Salsa Gigolo's blog (I have my own at I've really enjoyed reading some of the great posts on here.

    I love your suggestions for making a small dance floor, even in a small carpeted space. I may have to check out the interlocking tiles. You make a good point that you are dancing in a small space at the club anyway, so why not practice on a small space as well.


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero