How to Practice Like a Pro
"Practice, practice, practice" "Practice makes perfect, you know" "Why don't you practice more?!"
Who hasn't heard these comments before? ;-)
We all know that to get better at anything, we have to practice. But what does that mean and how can we do it efficiently? Here are 3 tips to get the most out of your practice time.
Tip #1: Limit your practice time
Are you surprised to see me suggest shorter practice sessions? Here are my recommendations:
Total beginners (age 2-4): 10-15 minutes per day
Beginner students: 15-20 minutes per day
Intermediate students: 20-25 minutes per day
Advanced students: 30-45 minutes per day
Why is this? We know that, in general, the more you practice something, the better you will get at it. However, shorter sessions of more focused concentration are more helpful to your learning process than long sessions where your mind wanders or you get tired out. The mind is like a muscle – its stamina needs to be built up over time. Notice that each of my practice recommendations say "per day". Consistency – having your mind connect with what you are learning 4-6 times between weekly classes – is hugely important. That way, when you practice, you are building on what you did the day before, instead of spending the time relearning what you already figured out.
Tip #2: Have a plan
Now that you know how long you'll be practicing for, it's time to make a plan. There are three levels of planning that you need:
When to practice: This will be different for everyone, but it's usually best to set a consistent time for every day. For most of my students, early before school/work or first thing after you get home and have a snack tend to work best.
What to practice: Have a clear plan for what you want to achieve in the week. This could be a combination of conquering an exercise, figuring out a rhythmic pattern, and memorizing a new adavu or jati. Luckily in our classes, we keep helpful notebooks – most of this planning is already done for you!
How to practice: This is often the trickiest step! When you're learning something new, practicing effectively is not just turning on the music and running through it over and over again. You're just making your mistakes stronger! Instead, break pieces or steps up into small chunks and learn those carefully. Go over the transition from one step to another. Make sure you're incorporating your technique (aramandi, back, knees, heels, smile, looking, etc). Then add a third step, and a fourth, and keep building that way.
Tip #3: Practice when you're not practicing
Having a dedicated practice time when you get up and dance is very important. However, when you have the opportunity, you can use one of these methods to touch base with dance and boost your practice time!
Music and notes: Keep your dance notes and music with you, always! One of my favorite ways to practice (and choreograph!) is when I'm on the subway or waiting for something. I put my headphones in, look over my notes, and run steps over and over in my head. When I had a break in school or when I'm traveling these days, I try to remember and memorize the rhythmic sequences I learned in class. Sometimes I even do the hand gestures or tap out patterns quietly with my hands on my thighs or my feet on the ground while sitting. Remember, dance is 50% physical and 50% mental, so this type of practice is very useful!
Stretching and exercise: Dance is a physical activity! Take 60 seconds to reach down to your toes and do a couple twists as soon as you hop out of bed in the morning. I promise, it will change your whole day! If you play a sport or like to swim or run, incorporate some of your dance exercises in your warm up. Leg kicks are great for loosening up, lunges are awesome for stretching your thighs and opening your hips, and what better way to awaken your body than by doing some jumps? :)
Smile at yourself: Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror, alone, and smiled? This sounds funny, but it can be hard! When you're in the bathroom, practice smiling, frowning, making other faces, moving your eyes and neck, and getting really comfortable with your expressions. The more real it feels and looks to you, the more honest your expressions will feel to the audience!
Now you're all set to figure out your own practice plan. What tips will you use in your practice? Do you have any tips that I didn't mention above?
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