Monday, October 5, 2015

Micro Practices: Quickies Are OK!

"Two or three minutes? That's not even one song!" he said when I told him I did a series of quickie practices over the day. “That doesn’t sound like enough to me.”

Micro Practices:
When Time is Short
He’s missing the point. I call them “micro-practices” (MP) and everybody should integrate them into their daily routines. They also work for partnering, but they're an excellent tool for upgrading your individual dancing skills like turns (spins), spotting, footwork, body motion, posture, and other body control exercises.

When you’re a pro, you get up each day and can practice for hours, refining your dancing on the way to the next level. You're paid to dance, and practicing is a way of life. However, if you’re working for a living and want to advance your social dancing, sometimes it's hard to carve out chunks of time for practice.

That’s where micro-practices (quickies) can be a winner for you. Like your love life, they shouldn't be all you do, but in balance they keep things moving in the right direction.

It may be counter-intuitive, but a set of quickie practices often beats longer sessions, assuming you do enough of them. Often they're gold, where the combined effort of a dozen "under five-minute" practices gets you further than one forty-five minute session. Some techniques require longer practices, but the micro-practice beats the heck out of, "I didn't dance today because I was too busy to carve out thirty minutes for practice”.

There is magic in repeating something over and over, every hour or so, for a couple minutes throughout the day. Time management gurus always say when you’re interrupted from a task, it takes you time to restart. Micro-practices use that principle to your advantage, because the start-up time is reduced if you repeat an action often enough. You "relearn" things each practice.

The series of little practices gets you to the point where you can hit the move immediately, rather than after 10 minutes of warm up. It’s amazing how much you can advance with micro-practices alone, although you can gain even more when combining them with intermittent longer rehearsals.

Many famous dancers practiced turns in the bathroom at work before turning pro. The floor is tile, there is a great mirror, and they do a couple turns to the right, a couple times to the left each time they use the restroom. If nobody was around they might sneak in a few extras, but most of those practices lasted 60 seconds or less. With just 10 extra turns per day, that's over 300 extra turns each month BEFORE doing any extended practicing. Over time, it adds up to thousands of extra turns, providing the experience needed to get to the next level.

Most work days I’m at the computer all day, and each time I need a break I practice a shine, a turn combination and/or a new part of a "pattern in progress." It may be just a tiny fragment, but doing it repeatedly over a couple days (or weeks) makes a huge difference when I get to a block of time for an extended practice.

Before starting work, I often sneak in a two-minute practice before sitting at my desk. Nobody cares if I start two minutes later, and it reinforces the new materials I’m working on. Some days the quickies are the only practice I get; sometimes it’s part of a bigger practice day, where I combine micro-practices with much longer sessions or classes.

I’ve stood in line at Sam’s Club or the bank, doing footwork practice, knowing that may be my only practice for the day.. In previous articles I've mentioned I practice head/shoulder exercises in my car. (Shines and partnering are highly discouraged while driving.) When you hit the dance floor, your partners don’t care if you practiced at a dance studio, in your bathroom or in line at the grocery store; they simply notice your improvements.

Some days when I haven’t had much practice, I’ll sneak in a few minutes before bed. It may not be much, but again, it’s my way to move myself forward. It takes about as much time as brushing my teeth, so I have little excuse to skip it. I'd love to practice more some days, but that just isn't my reality at points.

You don’t have to tell anybody you’re sneaking practices around your bathroom breaks. That really falls into the “TMI” category (“too much information”). Keep this little secret between us and they’ll just think you are improving using the traditional extended practices. If you can do regular practices, that's great, but I want to grow even when I’m timed starved (the story of my life).

Try it yourself; sneak in a few micro-practices, multiple times per day, especially on those days when you can’t get to a complete session. You’ll see it makes a substantial difference if you keep it up. Once you're in the habit, you'll find little slivers of time and use them to your advantage, even if it's just working a body roll twice or an extra couple of turns per day.

Let me know how you are getting the most from limited practice time; I’m always looking to accelerate my growth and I’m sure some of you have your own best practices. Please share!
Indecision may or may not be my problem.
-- Jimmy Buffett
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  1. I love this topic. Doing little things like this helped me improve when I was transitioning from college to the real world and I wasn't taking lessons or going out that much. Nowadays, like you, I practice shoulder isolations in the car. Sometimes I lead a "ghost girl" through a quick pattern before I walk out of the bathroom at work. Also, whenever I open a door that opens inward, I generally use stylized CBL footwork (at least the 123 part, that is). I've also been seen doing half a hook turn when walking away from the printer or copier, as well as doing other footwork at random when walking. I barely notice it anymore except when my boss giggles about it when she sees me. But you are absolutely right when you say that it pays off in the long run.


  2. I too will use little bits of time to work on a shine or a pattern.

    But I also like to practice visualization excercises when it isn't possible to get up and dance around. After mentally walking thru it 20 times, it is that much easier to do it....

  3. Such good advice. It is remarkable how much better we all learn like this, and dance is no different. The visualisation is excellent too. Also, it's juts so much easier to find time for it.

  4. I am so so so touched my your devotion and passion toward dance learning. I am encouraged. I am not alone. [ each time in my short practice I find new things...very mysterious...the inner power from the middle of the body.]

    ~Lutin from Taiwan.

  5. Great article Don, I totally agree. When I was learning to dance the Pachanga basic step I used to sneak off to the stair well at my workplace and do a quick 2-3 minute practice. Just getting the neurons firing regularly helps me get the movements into my muscle memory.

  6. Great article and very good advice, especially for fresh students who have problems with understanding timing, rhythm and footsteps. I very often practice some footsteps/footworks when brushing my teet.


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero