Ask the Girl Episode 3 – Practice

I didn’t get any new questions for today’s episode, so I went back into my emails to see what people have contacted me about before I started this series.

The most recent question was from Nick; he just started blogging about his own ballroom journey here:

He asked how I fit in ballroom practice with work and the rest of my life. Since I had been thinking about doing a “how I practice” post anyway, it seemed like a good topic for this week’s “Ask the Girl” post!

When I would hear of dancers practicing hours and hours every day, my first reaction was always “how??”  Between a full-time job and two dogs at home, there are not enough hours in the day for me to be able to spend 5 hours (to throw out a number) practicing at the studio (at least until I figure out how to function on no sleep).  It was intimidating and a little deflating to think that is how much time you have to spend practicing in order to be a “real” dancer, and if I’m not basically living at the studio, I won’t ever become one.

For awhile, I did make it to the studio during the evening several times a week to practice on my own. I would go through the steps of my routines to warm up and then dance them again, focusing on whatever homework assignment Teacher gave me during our last lesson. But I would only last at most an hour before I called it quits. After going through the routines a few times, I was at a loss as to what to do next. I also would reach a point where I had questions for Teacher and I didn’t want to continue practicing something if I was doing it wrong (it’s happened before). Maybe I was making excuses for myself, but I didn’t want to spend more time “practicing” if I wasn’t feeling productive, just so I could say I practiced longer.

Teacher and I finally discussed it during a lesson and now I have a list of things to focus on during practice. I run through my routines and focus on something different for each round: footwork (focusing on foot pressure and angle), body direction (as in which side is leading), and frame (focusing on keeping my lats and shoulders down while my arms and head are where they should be in frame). Then I try to put it all together. If I come up with questions on one round, I have something else I can move on to and still feel productive during my practice.

I admit that my discipline is lacking, and combining that with financial pressures led me to cut back on the evenings I drove to the studio solely for practice. I continue to try to make time for practice before and/or after my lessons and the one group class I still attend. More recently, a lack of competition goals have made it even more difficult to stay disciplined and motivated to practice.

But I have learned that I can fit in practice in other ways than going to the studio. And they are proving to be just as useful.

One way is visualization. Other Ballroom Villagers have written about it too. I can listen to a waltz and visualize my routine in my head. Even if I don’t have the right music, I can still mentally practice my steps. It’s a good way to review my routines when I can’t physically dance them.

I learned I can practice rise and fall while I brush my teeth, for example, by slowly rising up on the balls of my feet and then lowering back down while keeping my core in and staying balanced. For those working on latin or rhythm, you can practice your hip action!

I will also walk around my office with my chest pushed up and my lats pushed down to practice frame. No one’s commented on it yet.

Sometimes I review basic arm styling with my free arm while I’m walking the dogs by practicing the concept of leading out and in with the elbow. Unless there are a lot of people around.

Even just practicing sitting up straight and keeping my core tight while I sit at my desk is useful, not to mention better for my body.

Even if you can’t make it to the studio to practice dancing your full routines, every little bit helps. A huge benefit of practice is the muscle memory that develops. Once a concept is worked into your muscles, you don’t have to think about it as much and that frees up brain power for other concepts. If I don’t have to remind myself to keep my core tight while I’m dancing because I spend time doing it while I’m editing reports at work, I think that counts as practice!

So how long do you need to practice?

I’m sure your teacher could come up with a specific number of hours (or they might tell you “always, you should always be practicing!”). I think it depends on what you’re looking to gain. If you want to advance your dancing skills, you’ll need to put in some practice time. If you want to advance your skills faster, more practice time will probably be necessary.

Practice can also be economical. If you practice your choreography on your own, then you won’t need to spend as much time during your private lesson on it and can use that time to work on other concepts, like technique or styling. I get frustrated and feel like I wasted a lesson when we end up spending the whole time reviewing things I could have (or should have) practiced on my own.

But remember – practice makes permanent, not necessarily perfect. Thirty minutes of conscious, focused practice will be more productive than 3 hours of lazy practice.

So let’s hear it!  How much do you practice? Is it more than you thought after reading this post?

Every Tuesday I will post another Ask the Girl episode. Leave your topics or questions in the comments or contact me directly. Don’t be shy! I’m happy to give a shout-out to fellow bloggers and their websites with their questions, but will of course keep it anonymous if that is your wish.


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