Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Practice makes perfect - myths & theories about becoming an advanced dancer

The right genes, starting at an early age, dedication, motivation, passion, 1000+ hours of practice, great teachers, natural talent, exceptional physique, unlimited amount of money... What is it that makes a person into a truly great dancer?

I have collected here some theories and tips from various articles & studies, plus some my own thoughts about the path to become an advanced dancer in social / partner dancing. If you're just starting to dance you may also look at my piece about how to become a zouk dancer for beginner dancers!

What is an advanced dancer? And how to become one?

Newsflash: there is no one way to become an advanced dancer. We all know it's very individual - some advance from a complete beginner in a couple years and for some, few people though, it (seems like) could be an unachievable goal. On the other hand for some dancing is just a way to pass time and meet people; advancing in it makes no difference. For a passionate beginner dancer becoming advanced though can be a matter a life and death. The advanced dancers are admired, envied and even feared... are they human at all? And how fast can I become one? Read more about the myths of advanced dancers by Rebecca Brightly.

Veronica Toumanova writes in her note about advanced tango dancers but her thoughts are equally valid in any partner dancing. She thinks that to become an advanced dancer takes a lot of work and dedication - practicing, taking classes and going out dancing. Advanced dancer is described as a person who is musical, has a good understanding of the dance vocabulary and technique, can improvise as well as knows how to improve him/herself. In addition to all that, an advanced dancer has a personal style. S/he doesn't need or wish to be a copy of another advanced dancer but finds a form of expression that is truly their own.

Many of the dance teachers I've talked to about this also testament to these points. Some (most) say dedication and persistence will take you further than any natural talent. Certainly it will carry you longer - your body can age but you mind won't! Versatility can play a role too; even a professional dancer may only master one field of dance but behind that are years of practice in not only that style but many others. To be a great dancer you need to have a great understanding of how your body works and be versatile in how you can use it. 

A truly advanced dancer can also adapt. S/he is able to have an enjoyable dance with any partner, irrespective of their level. If you consider yourself as an advanced dancer consider also this, as Veronica continues in her note: If an advanced leader feels incapacitated with a partner below his level, then rather than being advanced, he is only "highly specialized". If an advanced follower has trouble dancing with lower-level leader, losing her balance or flow, then rather than being advances she is "co-dependent". Rebacca lists many more points that may tell you're not an advanced dancer if you're really curious.

But for a moment, instead of thinking what is not an advanced dancer or idolizing those who are let's think how you could improve your dancing - whether you're an advanced dancer who feels they are in a rut or a beginner dancer hungry to learn more!

Ideas to improve your dancing 

1. Consult your teachers and your peers

This one seems obvious but can be often forgotten... Sometimes it's hard to see the forest from the trees. Are you going to dance classes and practicing regularly but don't seem to progress like you hope? Approach your dance friends and teachers! They may have noticed some things that you haven't and they've probably already solved the problem you are struggling with. Professional instructors are obviously a great source of information, praise, critique and ideas. A private class on occasion or just an informal chat with your teacher can lead you in the right direction. A cheaper and worth while solution is also to mix your routine by asking a new person to practice with. Be open to look at your way of dancing from a new perspective!

2. More dedicated practice

In stead of the number of repetitions or amount of hours you are spending think if you could improve how you practice. Whether you are practicing together with your dance partner or by yourself (you do realise you need to do both!) find ways to focus better. Limit your practice sessions and stop when you lose focus. You could also try find a better time of day, when you have more energy. 

A great practice tool is a notebook. Define goals, review targets and make notes. Just writing down your goals and planning a schedule will help you to focus better and realise what it really is you should improve. During or after the practice write down what you did, how you could improve and what you want to practice next. It's easy to miss out on and forget new ideas or insights unless you make notes. If you are at a roadblock start by identifying the problem, what is causing and the ways you could solve it. Then try out the solutions and implement the one with the best results - don't forget to monitor those results in the future (that's also when the notes come in handy).

Another important tool is a video camera. Film yourself dancing alone and/or with a partner. Watch the videos and think of way to improve; and write them down. Follow your progress and while it's painful to see the mistakes also remember to celebrate the success - looks a lot better than before, doesn't it! 

See these sources I've also used here as references here for more ideas: Bullet Poof MusicianThe Most Valuable Lesson I Learned from Playing the Violin, Practice Make Perfect.

3. Be inspired

Dedication is the key to development. But it's easy to lose it if you feel you're going nowhere. How to stay inspired? Great sources of inspiration are dance events - us zouk dancers travel quite religiously to festivals all around the world and return as inspired as ever. If you have a dance idol (we all have them, don't we) then see if you can meet them in person, take their classes and see their shows live. For that matter, go see any kind dance shows and watch the top artists perform! Remind yourself of all the talent that's out there in the world - and that everybody also started from zero.

You can also look up for new dance music. Sometimes when I find a new great track I get very inspired and can think of new ways to move to the music. I may also look up dance demos or choreographies that are made with that track (irrespective of dance style) and get new ideas how to move to that particular piece of music.

4. Abandon the comfort zone 

Comfort zone and stepping out of it.. who hasn't heard about that yet? :D Well, you need to remember to do it every now and then! Why not try a dance class outside your normal schedule or favourite dance style? It may be that your true passion is still waiting out there - and at the very least it never hurts to learn something new. Becoming a pro in one dance also requires you to have a good knowledge how to comprehensively use your body. Learning more than one style has a clear advantage in improving that too.

There are many more fruitful ways to challenge yourself. Enter in a local, national or why not even an international dance competition; pick one that don't stress you out completely but gives you a little kick in the butt to practice more. Join a dance show; many dance schools have student shows and choreo teams for amateurs. Preparing for a show will give you plenty more practice time and new insights - and a chance to feel that buzz when the lights switch on on the stage! Or take this simple "everyday" approach to stepping out of the comfort zone; why not ask that new person to dance with at your local dance social!

5. Embrace your personal style (and stop obsessing about things that don't work for you)

All of us have a different way to move - our bodies come in many shapes and sizes. Undoubtedly there are certain ways to move that just look better than others (don't try to kid yourself that looking silly or uncomfortable equals having a personal style; that's not the case). However, it can be quite liberating to realize that there is no single perfect or right way to dance.

Beware of the trap of the advanced dancers, as Veronica Toumanova points out: "The more the dancers advance, the more they become alike. This happens, for example, when a teacher is unable to explain the intrinsic mechanisms of the dance and the students can only copy the outer form. This also happens when a community is over-identified with one particular style and this style is considered the only "true [style]". At some point you may start feeling there's only one way to dance "correctly" and this can chip away your personal style. Once you master the technique and have a good connection with your partner then you are free to use that technique and connection to find a way to move and express yourself that best suits you. This can elevate the dance to a whole new level!

6. Let go 

The fact is there is no one route in turning into an advanced dancer. There is no defined set of moves you need to master, there is "no one only way" to move your body, no point when you've learned everything or no competition that can give you a title in that... So the best advice is not to worry about it! The best moments on the dance floor are when you stop thinking and just live in the moment. You feel there's only you and the person you dance with in the whole wide world, and that moment on the dance floor. Let go of your worries and start enjoying yourself, enjoying dancing and every step you take on your dance journey! 

Do you have other tips on how to become a better dancer? Let us know in the comments!

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