Have you ever wondered obsessively about the best way to improve your dancing? If you don’t know the answer, chances are you’re wasting time doing things that don’t help much.
Join the club! You’re in luck; today we’re having our first meeting. The topic is Useless Activities.
As a recovering time-waster, I can speak authoritatively about Useless Activities. And by “useless” I don’t mean vile and abhorrent and without value. I mean that these activities don’t actively make you a better dancer in most circumstances.
If you hang with me throughout, I’ll give you antidotes for each Useless Activity, as well as the one Most Beneficial Activity you can possibly do to improve your dancing.
For many of us, the bulk of our dance time is social dancing.
Social dancing is good for getting into a creative flow, or to gain experience dancing with different people.
However, for most other things (like quality of movement, fixing a bad habit, breaking down a step), there are better ways to practice. In fact, using a social dance to practice such things will hold you back.
Why? It’s hard to concentrate properly at a dance (and when you do, people think you’re either snooty or constipated). Instead of getting the high-quality practice you need, you’ll end up mindlessly repeating whatever you’ve got in muscle memory. Mindless repetition is the enemy of improvement.
Think of social dances a way to get mindful repetition on what you’ve been working on. Think of them as a testing ground. Or think of them as a reward! But if you want to be the best dancer you can be, you have to do more than social dance.
Watching YouTube Videos
Watching videos without a strategy contributes very little to your dancing and can suck away a LOT of time. Unfortunately, the problem again is the mindlessness of the activity.
You might say, “Hey, I’m just watching for entertainment! Can’t I have a little fun without working on something?” Even if you think it’s for sheer enjoyment, part of your brain is likely looking for something inspiring. A move that catches your eye, a routine you can share on Facebook, the secret of lindy hop. Why not make use of that desire?
When you’re watching, know what you’re looking for, take notes, and bookmark good videos. That way you have something to show for your time.
Oh, and for the love of lindy hop, set a time limit before you start! Set an alarm on your phone if you have to.
Critiquing Other Dancers
There’s only so much time in the day, so much mental space you can allocate to dancing. Why use up a lot of it thinking about other people’s dancing?
The justification is, “But I’m figuring out my tastes!” or “I’m discussing the finer points of dancing!” If that’s true, then come up with a strategy to make your critiques useful to you.
Doesn’t sound too fun, does it? That’s because “critique” is the polite term for what I’m talking about. Criticism and shit talking more accurately describe what’s normally defended as “critique.”
(If anyone needs clarification, I’m referring to the colloquial meaning of criticism—finding fault—rather than the academic meaning.)
I’m sure I don’t need to explain why criticizing other dancers is a waste of your mental capacity. Focus on your own dancing.
Criticizing Your Own Dancing
You know you have lots to work on, and you get bogged down with thoughts about how bad you are. Or how much work it’s going to take.
I’m intimately acquainted with this habit. My brain moves fast, and often I have a running commentary on my dancing. For years, it sounded like: “Ug! That was awful,” or “Ah, another mistake! This person must hate dancing with me.”
Not especially helpful, eh? You might be able to identify.
To make my brain’s constant chatter useful, I developed the “yes-no” feedback method. Here’s what to do:
- When you’re practicing something, continually ask yourself: “Does this feel right?”
- Answer yes or no.
In real-time dancing, this sounds like: “No… no… yes, no… no, yes…”
The ratio of yeses to noes doesn’t matter. They are equally useful! What matters is that you learn to evaluate your dancing in real-time without bogging yourself down.
When you have those judge-y thoughts about your dancing, translate them: “I guess that’s a ‘no’ then.” The key is letting the judgements pass, rather than letting them take root and fester.
Every minute you spend accepting your self-criticism is a minute wasted, yo.
By itself, dancing in a competition does zilch for your dance ability. It can give you useful information about your dance ability. But as a training tool, it sucks balls.
Why? Because judges are notoriously variable in their opinions. Because you’re only dancing for a few minutes total. Because chances are you won’t remember much of it, anyways.
If you want to compete, use it as a training goal. Prepare for it like you would a test. For a Jack & Jill, you’ll be far ahead of the curve if you simply spend one focused hour warming up and working on a few variations you like. Most dancers spend more time picking an outfit.
I’d love to tell you workshops and camps are the best place to get better at dancing. After all, you’ll probably spend most of your dance dollars on them.
Alas, classes may be good for learning material, but they are bad for getting that material refined and ingrained.
The bottom line is:
Mindful, focused practice is the best way to improve.
It’s the Most Beneficial Activity. If you’re going to spend time agonizing about how you’re not as good as you want to be, do the one thing actually works. Practice.
Here are two more articles from the blog “Study Hacks” that have been informing my practice lately:
- Advice On Getting Better From an Accomplished Piano Player
- If You’re Busy You’re Doing Something Wrong: The Surprisingly Relaxed Lives of Elite Achievers
If you need more help getting your practice groove on, check out my online course: Secrets of Better Dance Practice.
You can also get my weekly practice tips and exercises for free by clicking here.
Are YOU a recovering time-waster? Share your experience in the comments!