Posts Tagged ‘ballroom dancing practice’

The Most Important Part of Ballroom Dancing

Monday, December 21st, 2009
Rumba

Rumba

What is the most important part of ballroom dancing?

Practice is the most important part of learning how to dance.

You probably don’t want to hear that. I am no expert, but I believe that the only way to improve our ballroom dancing skills is through the physical development of our body and muscle movements, particularly our upper leg muscles and back muscles. It is this muscle memory that ensures the predictable outcome of dancing to the music with a partner. I find that dancing is like any physical skill in that it can be learned well through practice.

The correct technique feels wrong at first.

When learning new dance steps and patterns in ballroom dancing, I often find that the correct technique feels wrong at first, while the incorrect technique feels natural.

If what I am doing feels natural, right and comfortable, I tend to receive feedback during the dance classes from the instructor that corrects errors that I am making. I learn from my mistakes. Practice is where I make mistakes and find my errors and weaknesses. It gives me something specific to work with.  Once identified, I can turn these weaknesses into strengths through practice.

Failure is a vital part of the learning process.

As a new ballroom dancer, we must be willing to fail. When learning new patterns or steps, we need to commit our entire body to the step. We need to ‘act as if’ we have been doing this step for years already.

It’s OK to make mistakes when we are learning something new. In fact, it is desirable. In dancing this is how we train our muscles. The same mistakes will only persist if we keep doing the same thing and are expecting a different outcome each time. Learning to dance can be like learning to walk all over again. After all, children learning to walk make mistakes and never give up.

I do find that with practice – over time – the correct technique and dance steps will feel right and become more natural. This is because through repetition we can transform unfamiliar body movements into the familiar, consistent movements required for effective dancing.

Practice increases confidence.

During practice time, we build our confidence naturally. The use and training of our muscles will increase our confidence on the dance floor. The confidence comes from our increasing competence – knowing what to do and how to do it.

Only after lots of practice is it wise for us to attempt in public what we have nailed in practice. I believe that it is better to raise the level of our physical capabilities before learning more complex steps and patterns. That is, get the basics right first.

Set attainable goals for each practice session.

When we want to learn to dance, setting short-term and underachieving goals work best. Especially if we write them down. (It is well-known that people who write down their goals are more successful than those who do not.)

Taking baby steps works better than giant leaps forward. This is why we set underachieving goals. The intention is to do less than we want to. Instead of practicing for an hour, commit to only 20 minutes or less. By doing so we will feel underwhelmed and look forward to practicing, instead of being impatient and pushing ourselves to overachieve. Too much effort may well work against us and be counter productive. Once stress, pressure or emotional reactions have occurred in the practice session, it is time to stop.

There is no need to practice for long periods of time. Shorter, frequent intervals are best. For example, two times a day practice for 10 minutes is better than one hour once a week.  It is easier to find this time than a few hours per week. This approach lends itself to the step-by-step way of learning ballroom dancing. Each new step is dependent on successful learning and improving the correct technique.

In summary

By being willing to fail and creating an authentic, practice schedule with realistic and easily attainable goals, we will find that our dancing becomes better and more enjoyable when we do.

How to Learn Ballroom Dance Steps

Monday, September 28th, 2009

ballroomdancing3

My First Ballroom Dancing Steps

The first basic steps that I learned at my ballroom dancing lessons were the Jive dance steps. I remember watching a demonstration of the basic steps with some turns thinking that the dance looked cool. I doubted that I could do them as well as that. When I also had to learn the basic steps to the Rumba and Waltz in the same first dance class, I thought that there was no way I was going to be able to do these dances any time soon.

Although the basic dance steps seemed straightforward and easy to do. It did take me some time to get the hang of them.  I had trouble harmonizing my feet and my mind. I knew what I wanted to do, but couldn’t seem to do it. I kept messing up and making mistakes. So did my dance partner too. But it was okay because we were still having fun.

Practicing Dance Steps At Home

I now know that this is a common experience for me when learning any new dance step. There is always a learning curve before I can do them well. It takes me awhile to get  used to transferring my body weight from one foot to the other within the period of time required by the music. Once I get to know the feel of having all of my weight over the next foot, I tend to make progress because the foot must be supporting the body on each step for dancing to happen.

What works for me is to practice and learn the steps at home on my own soon after doing them for the first time in a ballroom dance lesson. Every day, or every other day, I like to try out the steps for 5 minutes or so – without music at first – until I feel like I know what I am doing. There comes a point with enough repetitions when it just clicks and I can do the steps consistently. Sometimes I practice along with a dance steps video so that I can see what others are doing while I practice the steps.

Learning the steps for such dances as the cha cha cha, jive and rumba etc. is simply about repeating an action the same way each time. If we do the basic steps 1000 times, we might not become brilliant dancers, but we will know a lot about doing those basic steps in time to music.

Learning Dance Steps Without Music

When learning without music, I find that there are three things that help harmonize my mind and body:

  1. To say the steps out loud while doing them
  2. Exaggerate the steps (raise my feet higher than usual)
  3. Look up (rather than looking at my feet) all of the time while practicing the steps

Learning Dance Steps With Music

After practicing the steps without music, I start trying to dance the steps in time with the music – a slow song first, then faster ones as I get the hang of it.

Copyright: Stefano Bussolon (flickr)

Copyright: Stefano Bussolon (flickr)

When learning with music, I find that there are three things that help harmonize my mind and body:

  1. Move my feet on the spot to the beat of the music following the basic pattern of the particular dance (e.g. slow, slow, quick, quick)
  2. Take little steps forward in time with the music following the basic pattern of the particular dance
  3. Keep the steps small when doing the correct footprints of the dance

Learning Dance Steps With A Partner

When learning dance steps with a partner, I find that I must commit myself to the movement. My body has to move before my feet do. When I move my body first, my legs and feet respond accordingly and accommodate this body movement. I see that the direction of movement has more to do with my body than my foot placements.

I have found that I have to commit to the movement in order for my dance partner to know what we are doing. When I step forward, she will step back and vice versa. She can only do that once I have started to move with certainty. Committing to the movement as a couple allows us to feel the movement and come to know what a dance step is meant to feel like.

When I first started dancing, I used to worry about stepping on my partner’s foot. But when I commit myself to the step, my partner automatically moves and leaves the space for my foot to step into. If I am hesitant in my movement, I often step on her foot.

When learning with a partner, I have also learned that we must be proficient in the dance steps before we can teach others how to do them. People are different. Some pick up the steps faster than others. That’s just the way we are. When learning, patience and kindness always help.

And Finally,

Even though it’s normal to do so, I find it best to not compare my current dancing ability with others. I know that over time with practice and attention I will improve as a ballroom dancer. I know that there will come a time when the dancing becomes automatic and I realize that I can do the steps of a dance consistently without thinking.