Sunday, April 14, 2013

Growth Is Not Always Constant

Ever felt like maybe you’re not cut out to dance? You're practicing something that seems easy for everybody else, and it seems out of reach for you.
Some moves require more practice

I’ve had those moments, and it’s simply part of learning. Sometimes we have to shift gears mentally, find a different approach, and take a few days or more to work though more challenging materials. In the end it’s worth it, but some days are not as simple as others.

If you never have tough days you are either exceptionally gifted, or you are not pushing yourself to grow. I’ve missed the exceptionally gifted gene, so I’m in the “pushing myself” mode.

While I teach quite a bit, I also take classes myself, especially in areas that are not my strengths. In addition to building a broader dance foundation, it keeps me humble, it pushes me in new directions and it gives me additional perspective on the learning and teaching process. I certainly relate with my students who are struggling with some aspects of dance.

The other night I was my own adviser, reviewing something I filmed at a recent private lesson. I had to say the same thing I say to students, except to myself. (It's easy to tell others something and realize the same advice applies to you.)

I had one of those “gee… this should be easy…” and “maybe this is too tough for me” and finally the “maybe I’m simply not a dancer” moments. But we all know that the dirty word for advancing is spelled “p-r-a-c-t-i-c-e,” and that doesn’t mean just one night or a couple hours one time.

Regular, consistent practice over time makes a huge difference, even if there are moments along the way that make you wonder.

So what did I do? I practiced for about 15 minutes, took a break, and then did a little more. Not killing myself or beating myself up for lack of progress, just a little more practice so I could end on a positive note. I also realized that doing the same exercises to slower music might help, and that made a positive difference.

Slower practice is sometimes much harder than it looks, but for many moves doing things slower gives you time to make more adjustments.

When you’re not getting it, sometimes it’s OK to just chill out and not worry about it for today. Try to slow it down, do a shorter practice, but return to the exercises as soon as possible, with another short practice. If it’s working, keep going; if not, repeat the process of short practices over a few days. Sometimes you simply have to go do something different, unrelated to dance. (That's how I started this article.)

I’ve seen it over and over with others, and in my own practice; almost anybody can master any dance skill they decide they want, assuming they to put in enough effort. This concept is huge in social dancing, where perfection isn’t the game, but making a great connection with your partner is more important. You improve for yourself, and you can set any standard you desire, but that doesn’t mean you’ll always have great days practicing.

(Competitive dancing is another subject, requiring a stricter mindset, but similar concepts apply IF you are willing to take the time and effort.)

When you’re having your tough days, cut yourself some slack, try things slower or faster, cut your practice time and/or do some “fun” dancing, something you previously mastered that was hard in the beginning.

As a rule try to end your practices on a higher note even on your down days. Do something positive and fun just before you take a break. Everybody has occasional down periods; just don’t let them keep you down. Remember, that dirty word called “practice” doesn’t mean being miserable. We all have to find ways to work through the tougher materials, while keeping our overall attitude positive.

Let me know how you work through tougher periods or learn challenging materials.
The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.
--Chinese Proverb

Related Articles:
Micro Practices: Quickies are OK

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  1. 'Knowing' the music since you're a musician and often talk about how useful it is; your concept of 'musicality'; and all the stuff related to 'leading' on your blog.

  2. An advanced classmate made the same suggestion about 'slowing down' when I was having trouble with footwork for a choreography we're working on. I could do the steps, but not so they looked good. (My question was, "How do I not look like a dork when doing shines.")

    He told me to practice them >extremely< slowly, like you see tai-chi practitioners do, as it strengthens the muscles and forces you to see the small details. I've been doing this for a few days now, and am starting to see results. Another idea is to practice to cha-cha music, especially paying attention to the pauses on 4 and 8.

    What you said about how anyone can improve in dance, given practice and patience, is a large part of what makes dance so meaningful to many of us. It's a bit of a revelation to discover that we can still change ourselves physically - and for the better - even long after we've become adults.

  3. I am really in to psychology books. and i read them regularly.
    the one thing i understand about learning how to dance is when you practice and dance so much you will eventually get into a state of flow that everything you do in a dance will be super easy. you will connect better to the music because you are in that flow.

    now the journey to become a really great dancer is tough you might study music, patterns, figures, shines and you feel like your going nowhere but that is not true. because your brain is in processing mode to process and categorize all the things untill that is done it might take a long time to experience the flow. so thats why you should take a break if you are getting frustrated. i think thats a better explanation than just saying
    you should just take a break and maybe by "luck" you might figure it out sometime. hehe.

    again see it like this a researcher might study for years to solve a problem untill he gets so frustrated and on the brink of giving up.
    but then suddenly the problem is solved in his head and he reaches that eureka moment.

    now this is just a tiny fraction of what i learned from the book.

    Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi -creativity
    a great book about understanding creativity.


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero