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.
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.