Jumpstart your dance practice regimen! I’m always talking about practicing. The questions I often hear are: “Yes but what do I practice? How do I practice? How long and how often?”

These are exactly the type of questions you should be asking! So today I’m revealing my personal dance practice blueprint. It’s based on my research and real-world practice habits with my partner, Paul. Though it will take a whole book (or regular private lessons) to address these questions in detail, this template is a great start.

First I’ll show you the basic blueprint. Then I’ll explain they whys and hows in the second half of the post.

The Dance Practice Blueprint

This is for a 2-hour practice. For a longer practice, increase the amount of time you spend on each task. For a 1-hour practice, work on two tasks for 20 minutes each, or one task for 40 minutes.

Prep & Warmup

  • Review notes from previous practice – 5min
  • Create 3-item task list – 5min (see suggested task list below)
  • Warm up (if necessary) – 3min

Practice

  • Task 1 (Solo work) – 30min
  • Break: 5min
  • Task 2 (Partnered or solo work) – 30min
  • Break: 5min
  • Task 3 (Partnered or solo work) – 30min

Post-Practice

  • Take notes – 5min (record insights, questions and problems, and possible solutions)
  • Stretch – 7min (see suggested stretches below)

Blueprint Details

The Life-Changing Habit of Note-Taking

Good note-taking increases your information retention and absorption. You’ll remember more and learn faster. Need I say more? Lucky for you, the practice blueprint includes a place to jot down notes.

Review your previous notes before each practice. Jot down quick notes after each practice:

  • Insights are any new thing you figured out during practice. You don’t want to forget any epiphanies you had! These don’t have to be huge insights. “[Move A] works better if I hop less on 3,” is perfectly insightful if it helps you remember.
  • Questions and Problems are anything that’s unresolved or frustrating.
  • Possible Solutions are any ideas you have to answer your questions and problems. These are things you want to try at next practice, people you could ask for advice, videos you could watch.

The Task List

The first task should be solo work. See also, “The Necessity of Solo Work” section below.

Why only three things? Because it’s manageable and not overwhelming. You can do fewer tasks, if you like, but don’t do more.

Stuck on figuring out what to work on? Here are some suggested tasks. These are especially for lindy hoppers, but they can easily be adapted for other dance forms:

  • Solo list: solo jazz moves, movement drills, connection exercises, choreography, creativity exercises, rhythm, balance, turning, momentum and flow, contrast, pulse
  • Partnered list: connection, fast dancing, slow dancing, specific moves, routine, creating choreography, role switching, swing out, contrast, momentum and flow, pulse

If you’re still stuck, you have three more options:

  1. Ask someone else to show you what to practice (e.g. a teacher or more experienced friend).
  2. Work on what you already know. For beginners, this usually means moves. Try to make new discoveries and observations about how these moves work.
  3. Watch videos on Youtube, LindyHopMoves.com, iDance.net, RhythmJuice, or another video site and try to recreate the moves/movements.
PRO TIP: If you find that you want to work on a bunch of small things, see if you can batch them together into a larger task, like “review solo moves” or “swing out connection.”

The Warmup

The warmup sets the tone for the rest of your practice. It gets blood flowing to your brain (which you will need in order to think better); it puts you in a better mood; and it warms up your muscles and soft tissue to prevent injury.

Do some kind of light cardio: Jumping jacks, running in place, futzing around with solo movement. You can also include light stretching if you need it. Don’t do serious stretching—it temporarily weakens the muscles. Save that for after practice.

Don’t do a social dance or routine for warmup. If you need to practice a routine or social dancing, make that one of your tasks.

PRO TIP: Warm up only if necessary. If you just went for a brisk walk or jogged up a couple flights of stairs, for example, extra warmup time may just reduce your energy level.

The Necessity of Solo Work (Task 1)

In partner dancing, you have three main things to connect to: yourself, your partner, and the music. You must be a dancer in your own right, with or without a partner. There is no form of partner dancing which does not require both individuals to actually dance.

All dancers must be actual dancers. Photo credit: Un Milonguero Mejicano.

Without doing solo work, you risk developing a false belief of your own competency. Translation: You’ll suck and not know it. And then you’ll probably blame your partner, since partnered dancing covers up our individual mistakes.

Always do solo work for the first several minutes of practice. If you are trying a partnered move later on that’s not working, break apart and figure it out solo.

Breaks

Take ’em. Your brain needs that time to zone out and relax. Afterward you’ll be able to focus better.

Stretching

Dancers get tight in certain muscles because we use them a LOT. If you never stretch, you will lose flexibility slowly over time. This means crummier joint movements, reduced range of motion, and possibly aches and pains. BOO!

I suggest stretching the following well-used muscles: quads, calves, psoas (aka “hip flexors”), hamstrings, chest or shoulders, forearms and lats. Click each to see how they’re done.

There are many ways to stretch. One simple way is holding a comfortable stretch (you should be able to breathe normally) for 20-30 seconds. If you stretch the muscles I’ve suggested above, that will take exactly 7 minutes.

PRO TIP: You are most likely to skip this portion of practice. Before you begin practice, tell yourself, “I’m definitely going to stretch after practice today.” If (and only if) you complete your stretching routine, give yourself an extra reward for being committed to your long-term success.

More PRO TIPS:

  • You might work on the same 3 things at every practice for a month or more. This is a-okay.
  • Set a timer for each task to keep yourself on schedule and mandate breaks.
  • Sometimes you may only get through one or two tasks, even in a 2-hour practice. It’s okay to be flexible with your scheduling.

Secrets of Better Dance Practice tileIf you need more help getting your practice groove on, download my course: Secrets of Better Dance Practice.

Try using this blueprint! Then come back and tell me how it goes. The Dance Practice Blueprint is copyright free, so please share!

Photo credit: blueprint background from Vincent X