THE SECRET TO BETTER LEARNING - INTENTIONAL EFFORTFUL PRACTICE
You’ve gone to classes, workshops and watched countless videos. You’ve gone from beginner to intermediate or even advanced but never spent enough time perfecting the basic technique? Maybe you’ve even performed as part of a group in a show.
You go to class with the best of intentions, but even still you’re not where you want to be. You can’t seem to remember the choreography or you still can’t shimmy without getting stressed! There’s nothing more frustrating for a dancer - it can make you feel like you have 2 left feet!
When I started learning belly dance I consumed every course, workshop and how - to video that I could find. It was fun but I didn’t always feel like I was improving or making progress. I would write down pages of notes at workshops and then instantly forget what I’d spent so much time learning, not putting what I’d learned into practise or seeing any visible improvement or results. In fact it was the opposite, despite learning a lot, I felt stuck, I’d plateaued!
I get it. I’ve been there too! But there’s something you can do about it! Its very simple! Just ask yourself if you’re practising in the right way! To improve at anything all it takes is to practise with intention…
HOW CAN I PRACTISE BETTER?
Putting in the hours in class is important but we need to focus on improving our skills with intentional effortful practise. This means that the quality of our practise is just as important as the quantity and in part involves zeroing in on the things that we’re bad at rather than just leaning on or supporting ourselves with the things that we’re good at.
Mastery in nearly any endeavour is the result of deeply understanding simple ideas. For most of us, the answer to becoming better dancers is consistently practicing the fundamentals, not brilliantly understanding the details.
Some of the best things in life really just need to be practised. American basketball player John Wooden famously said “Champions are brilliant at the basics”. If you want to get better at something there’s no magic ingredient - it’s about drilling the basics again and again until it becomes automatic.
GOALS FOR FOCUSED LEARNING
Here are a ideas of things you can focus on to help you be fully engaged in class so that you can more easily learn and retain a choreography or improve your technique:
focus on the transitions between moves. Examine how a figure 8 can flow into a circle, or how a movement with the hips or pelvis can be connected to an upper body move with a wave. Practise making these transitions fluid.
check if your movements are stronger on one side of your body, or if you’re more flexible on the right or the left. Work on strengthening or flexing the side that’s weaker. Always practise moves in both directions and/or both sides of the body and spend more time practising the side you find most difficult.
try to find a connection between the movement and the music. If there are strong beats in the music, or a section of melody that sticks out, you can use them to help you learn the choreography. Connect the movements to the cues in the music.
focus on the irregularities of footwork and timing. For instance investigate where the footwork diverges from following a regular beat, maybe where there’s a pause or 3 steps to 2 counts.
ask your teacher for correction as often as possible and slow down to incorporate her feedback.
A ROADMAP TO GET YOU WHERE YOU WANT TO GO!
Learning anything is a journey and without a map you often get lost! Create a plan of what you want to work on or decide before each class what aspect of dance you want to concentrate on. Maybe its posture or arms that you want to focus on today in class and having this intention in mind is already a great step to improving your technique.