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It won't be fast.
Learn, Practice, Apply
This isn’t the shortest of reads, so if you’re not really interested in knowing the secrets, don’t waste any more of your time. But, if you really want to know, read on……
Cause that’s what you want, right? You aren’t looking to just take some classes the rest of your life and never actually get on a dance floor, right??
Then first of all let me say,
Like losing weight and getting in shape, there are no short cuts, but to do the work, and do the work right. You won’t learn to dance fast, and if you don’t have prior dance training in other areas (like ballet, for example), than it won’t be easy either – and even if you do have extensive training, it probably still won’t be as easy as you would like it to be. So all I can direct you towards is the Quickest way to learning and developing your skills. However! I promise that if you really want to learn, AND you follow this advice, you’ll eventually be an amazing dancer that everyone will want to dance with!
Here’s what you’ll have to do: Eat, Digest, and Burn off the Calories - or in other words -
LEARN – Acquiring the information and building skills. (Get the food into your belly = Knowledge into your brain.)
A good series of group classes **should build your skills in:
- Musicality – at least a basic understanding of:
and all at a price that won’t break the bank. (**Here’s the thing though – you’ll need to find an instructor who knows their stuff in all these areas and can effectively communicate them in a group class setting. Not all instructors are created equal!) BUT a really important reason why you should be taking group classes: You get to dance with LOTS of different people. Some will be better than you, and they’ll help bring you up to their level. Some won’t be as good as you, and you’re going to have to be better at your part to help bring them to your level! Just that benefit alone is worth the time and money you spend in group classes. Additionally, you’ll get to practice your movements several times to help drill them into your head.
Privates will take care of your Misses: Your Missed out’s, your Mistakes, and your Misunderstood and Misinterpreted’s. From there, you can really dig deeper into all the ins and outs of good dancing.
What did you miss out of your group classes? In a good group class, you will likely get more information than you are able to retain and apply in just 1 class. Privates will make sure you catch what you missed. What did you misunderstand or misinterpret? Inevitably this will happen, and your teacher will be able to help define or explain the concepts until you fully understand. What mistakes are you making? During your privates your teacher will be able to correct any bad habits that you’ve been building. Once those areas are taken care of, you will finally be able to dig deeper into all the skills required for great dancing. What’s best is ALL the focus is given to you to make sure you are getting everything YOU need, and every part of the lesson is tailored to your needs, learning style, and goals. That’s just not possible to get in a group class setting, and for that reason, your private lessons are indispensable.
PRACTICE – Getting the information to stick and honing your skills. (Digest. Defined as “To break down <food>…..into substances that can be absorbed and used by the body” or as “Understand or assimilate (new information or the significance of something) by a period of reflection.” Apply that to your dance info.)
Your privates and group classes are for LEARNING, not for practicing. In your groups and privates your focus should be on acquiring NEW information, and building skills, not rehearsing them. This is where practice comes in. Skills will never develop into habits unless you commit them to memory through regular, repetitive PRACTICE. Don’t expect your classes to be your practice. Classes are for learning. Your own devoted time is for practice. And this, my friends, is where we separate the men from the boys (and the women from the girls). If you really want to learn how to dance faster, then you’ll continue to do the work even when no one else is looking.
So many people use the excuse, “Well, I can’t practice because I don’t have a partner”, and that, my friends, is a load of crap! While it’s true, you may not be able to practice actual connection to a partner or the actual feeling of moving with a partner, you can certainly practice SO MANY other crucial parts of your dancing skills; skills you will need to build on without a partner. You should know your own part so well, you can do it without a partner so that when you dance with a partner, your sole focus is giving them what they need out of the dance with you. Skills you should be working on by yourself before you ask somebody else to put up with your dancing on a social dance floor are:
- Posture (How will I stand)
- Movement Quality (How will I move)
- Patterns (Where are my feet going to go)
- Footwork (How am I going to get them there)
- Frame (How will I get there with my partner)
- Musicality (How and when will I move to the music)
- Styling (How will I make what I’m doing look good)
I guarantee that if you practice these elements by yourself BEFORE you practice them with a partner, your partner will thank you for it, and it will make dance life for you so much easier!
Practice not until you can get it right, but until you can’t get it wrong. Remember your goal is to get to the 4th level of learning (Dance Nirvana). The levels are:
- Unconscious Incompetence – Not knowing enough to know when you are doing something incorrectly, or how to correct it.
- Conscious Incompetence – Gaining enough information and awareness to at least know when the mistakes are being made now.
- Conscious Competence – Having to continuously think about what you are doing to ensure it is performed correctly.
- DANCE NIRVANA – Unconscious Competence – The ability to do something correctly every time without having to even give thought to it.
Here is where you’ll make sure what you practiced on your own works in actual application. You should be using this time to:
- Work out and practice new patterns
- Practice connection and lead/follow
- Receive feedback from a partner about how it feels to dance with you. Partners can help by (gently) letting you know if you are too rigid, too noodley, off time, leading/following the pattern incorrectly, etc.
Now go back to your private lessons and check in with your instructor to make sure you have fully understood all parts of your skill or pattern.
Again, your goal is to get to the 4th level of Dance Nirvana!
DANCE – Applying everything you’ve learned and all the skills you’ve honed to real life. (Burn the Calories, don’t let food sit in your belly making you fat, use those calories for their intended purposes – for living life = Literally burn calories AND use what you’ve acquired for it’s intended purpose, to DANCE – and dance is life!)
Dance skills are pretty useless if you don’t actually use them. It’s like learning to be a chef, but never cooking, or being a seamstress, but having holes in all your clothes. The skill is useless unless you actually use it. So we HEAVILY encourage you to get out into “The Wild” as we call it where you will likely encounter dancers of every level from newb, to pro and many other challenges from dizzying, or just low lighting, to ambient noise, to other dancers all over the place not doing the same thing you are doing (like they would be in a class), to no teacher counting for you or telling you what, when or how to dance. But if you’ve followed our steps, you’re gonna feel pretty good about what you’re doing, even if it is just 1 or 2 basic steps you’ve been practicing. DANCE all the patterns you’ve been working on until you’ve done them so many times you are bored and HUNGRY for more! (And understand dancing your patterns is much different than practicing your patterns. Practicing your patterns is repetitive and focuses on all aspects of executing the pattern. Dancing your patterns is hopefully not too repetitive – otherwise you need to expand your repertoire – AND the focus is solely on expressing the music and focusing on your partner, no longer yourself.)
Then get back to your classes to learn more as you should be hungry for more by now.
Competition and performance routines have their place too as they require you to really perfect each moment from start to finish and every transition in between. Preparing yourself for a competition or routine will polish you off til you shine like the top of the Chrysler building! If you want to be at the top of your game, this would be the logical next step.
Other things that will help you along the way:
What you’ll need from yourself:
- Expect dancing will be challenging. Very challenging. Expect it will take some time to learn. Expect you won’t be good right away. Expect to look and feel foolish and be alright with that. Embrace the awkward. Embrace the space outside the small bubble of your comfort zone. There’s a lot of magic happening outside of it.
- Instructors need students who are willing to receive constructive criticism with a GOOD attitude. Good teachers will correct and give constructive criticism often. After all, you have paid them to make you a better dancer. So leave your ego out the door. Don’t be offended by dance corrections, and certainly don’t argue or become combative with your instructor whose goal is to help you become better. If you can’t take corrections and don’t want to accept criticisms, then youtube would be your best option for “learning”, not a class. Come coachable.
- Know that you will eventually get better, but not without Grit, Determination, Perseverance, Humility, Discipline, Motivation, a Willingness to be Coached and Corrected, and a Willingness to Laugh at Yourself!
What did you do when you really wanted to learn something well? You WENT TO SCHOOL (take classes), you TOOK NOTES (get yourself a dance notebook and literally take notes on what you’ve learned), you STUDIED (go over and practice your material), you likely took a TEST (have an instructor test out your skills, or a trusted partner – i.e. someone who knows what they’re doing), and then hopefully at some point USED THE INFORMATION PRACTICALLY (go out dancing) either in regular life, or at your work. Learning to dance will require the same discipline.
What you’ll need from others:
As I mentioned before, not all studios or instructors are created equal. Make sure to find one that focuses on not just a good time, but actual good instruction, communication and technique, and provides an encouraging and supportive environment for being a new dancer.
The student dancers you want to surround yourself with are ones that are friendly, kind, humble and honest, but not overly critical. You want people who encourage you, but don’t tell you un-truths about just how good you are. You want people who laugh with you. And you want to surround yourself with other dancers who are as interested in improving as much as you are.
So you have people to practice with, learn a little extra from, and be inspired/motivated by.
It’s hard to practice in a living room full of furniture or on hard cement floors etc. Your local ballroom dance studio should have a large open sprung or floating professional hardwood dance floor for use so that your practice is easy for you and your body. (Non-professional flooring can be tough on your body, especially knees, ankles and hips.)
I really can’t express to you how important the right equipment for any given sport is. From the way the proper shoes will make your job easier, to the way they fit, to the way they support your feet. Having the proper footwear is essential. Generally, I just let my students tell people what a difference it makes as they are amazed at how much easier dancing is when they finally invest in a pair.
And that’s it! That’s your formula: Learn, Learn, Practice, Practice, DANCE!