Just last week I was dancing in a competition within my studio. Nothing major, but it is a good break from usual classes focused on medals because you get to work on a routine. I didn’t win, and I could have been happier with how I danced, but it was all fun. Also, it reiterated two key lessons about the nature of practice and how you can apply them to dance.
Leading up to the night, I started to realise that I was not as along with my development as I would have liked. This motivated me to take a lot more action than I had been. I started going to the university where I work and using some of the large rooms for practice. Because it was Waltz I really needed a chance to stretch my legs out. And that’s what the big room was for.
During this focused practice I noticed a lot of smaller things that I needed to work on and was able to do so. I am now of course wondering how much better I would have danced if I had started putting this much effort in earlier. And that’s the lesson that was really reiterated to me. If you want to improve, then you need to put some time in. Quality time of course and you should always work smarter than harder, but time is still needed. My teacher actually told me that there were some extra things she wanted to work on, but felt that we ran out of time, and left them for fear the extra information at a late stage would cause problems on the night. So it was pretty clear to me that I needed to put more effort in.
There are two ways to ensure that the effort goes in. One is to work on routine. A fellow dance student has an alarm in his phone to go off each day at a set time. That is to tell him that it is time to practice for an hour. You can imagine how an hour’s practice a day would improve your dance ability. Now it need not be 1 hour. Maybe only 10-15 minutes, but doing a bit each day will make a lot of difference if you do not. Another way is to have goals. Ever heard of the saying ‘things take as long as they take’? If things are more urgent, then you naturally work harder at them. That’s what happened with me. The issue is that it was too late. I spoke with my teacher, and the plan is to set dates for stages of each stage of development: one for learning a routine and then one for mastering it and then the date of performance. You might feel you need to have some dates to keep you focused on improving your dance. I know some people who just go day in and day out with no real improvement because they set no date for a goal and do not dance often enough. Make sure you’re the opposite of that.
This was actually my second go at this type of a competition (it a fairly major one at my studio) and this time felt much better than last time. This is the other lesson. You can practice to get better at stress so that it is not a big deal. The major issue with confidence in dance is novelty. When things are new we are easily distracted, and we choke. It is also the case when the stakes seem higher; we focus on those instead of dancing. As we become more familiar with them they distract us less. I was actually talking with the guy who won my division. He is in dance sport as well and spends about 10-20 hours a week practicing. He actually felt that the comp we were in was more daunting because each person (couple was the student and their teacher) danced alone. In dance sport everyone dances together. He felt this made the experience more intense. Also he felt that in dance sport one simply danced for oneself, but in this comp he was dancing to entertain as well and that was more distraction. It is easy to imagine how an expert performer/entertainer dancer would feel stressed in dance sport thinking about the judges allocating numbers to their dance ability. The issue is not which is harder. The issue is that what’s different is hard. So no matter what might stress you in dance and cause issues of confidence, know that practice will conquer it. It is easy to forget this when dealing with the stress and fear so it’s good to be reminded of it.