At the time of writing this article (March 17th, 2020), the COVID-19 pandemic is just beginning to make its run through the USA. While countless businesses and events are closing their doors to do their part in slowing the spread of the coronavirus, the dance community, reliant on both large gatherings of people and physical contact, is being hit particularly hard.
Everyone’s emails are glistening with the same notification from competitions, social dances, instructors, and studios alike: cancelled. Everything from ten-person seminars to National Championship events has been shut down or postponed indefinitely.
Don’t get me wrong, this is stressful, and it’s okay to grieve over the mass of cancellations. But with this in mind, many people will find it tempting to take a step back and have a brief hiatus from dancing, calling it “impossible” under the circumstances.
That’s where I couldn’t disagree more. While you may feel society around you is collapsing and there’s little you can do about it, you still have absolute and total control over your schedule, and should not take the added difficulties as an excuse to throw away your practice time.
Your commitment to growth has nothing to do with external factors; if you genuinely want to improve, you adapt.
With this mission in mind, I’ll begin by issuing a challenge: keep the number of hours you put into your dancing each week the same. You may need to rearrange them a little to fit your new atmosphere, but if you were practicing 8 hours a week before COVID-19, you should earmark 8 hours of your new schedule for dancing just the same.
The question then becomes, what should you do to fill your practice time? Although traditional practice spaces may be unavailable, your partner locked under quarantine, and the regular classes you attend cancelled, there are countless other ways you can commit those hours to improving your dancing. I’ve heard plenty of creative ideas, but I’d like to describe what to me are seven of the most intuitive and accessible options:
1) Solo Practice
You knew this was coming. If you weren’t solo practicing before, you have a damn good reason to start. Now, if you’re in the same boat as me where your dance floor was shut down, you’ll have to get creative with your space. Hardwood floors are best, but realistically, most kitchens or bedrooms will be large enough for you to do a half natural (after you move the furniture around, that is). You can certainly find enough space for Latin/Rhythm basics, and even if you don’t have a good floor, you can work your ribcage, your back, your arms and your posture anywhere there’s enough room to stand.
I’ve written a number of articles on how to solo practice effectively and will likely write several more, but the key things to remember are this: have a plan. Schedule in advance what you’re going to drill and how much time (or how many reps) you’re going to dedicate to it. Focus on improving one or two things at a time. Visualize your partner as clearly as you can, or if you’re not comfortable with visualization, grab a broomstick. And finally, be laser focused, it’s easy to get distracted when your partner isn’t there to keep you accountable.
For most people, the things you need to improve upon first are in your own body. You don’t need a partner there to work on them. Take this quarantine as an opportunity to learn solo practicing as a skill and both you and your partner will be overjoyed when you come out of it.
2) Connection Drills
Let’s say you have access to another person. What can you do with them that doesn’t involve a dance floor?
Connection. Too many couples neglect it and never dedicate the time to just drilling connection. Ask your coach for a few drills to work on feeling your partner in space and learning how to communicate more clearly through your body. You can practice in a basic two-hand hold or you can venture into more exotic drills and see how you improve. If this is a new practice for you, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much it influences the rest of your dancing.
3) Read a Book
If physically dancing isn’t an option for you right now (or if it is and you’d just like to switch it up), pick up a book on dance technique or movement theory. Reading can present you with a new repertoire of ideas, some of which could revolutionize the way you move.
Reading Rudolf Laban has lit important light bulbs in my own head: Choreutics is a fantastic albeit abstract description of how a dancer ought to move. Modern Educational Dance outlines the kinesphere and how to use it. Ruud Vermey is incredibly informative in Latin - Thinking, Sensing, and Doing in Latin American Dancing, which describes some of the underlying theory behind DanceSport in particular.
Outside of dancing, consider picking up a book on Zen theory to improve your
learning speed, or one on anatomy to better your body awareness. There are so many routes you can take to improve your sport, so start by picking one you’ll really enjoy. 4) Video Review
Painful as it can be, go through recent videos of yourself dancing and take careful notes. Watch closely, both for the things you do wrong but also for the things you do really well. Take these notes as a guideline for future practices.
You can also study the dancing of your favorite pros. Be careful with this one, however, as it’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole of just watching dance videos for fun. The intention has to be to study them, not to watch them. Take notes and view the same video repeatedly, looking for why you like their dancing and what they do well.
5) Watch Technique Videos
On the matter of watching videos, there are countless resources online for you to find lectures and technique videos from the greats. Many can be found on YouTube, but there is also a wealth of them on subscription websites, where you pay a fee to get access to their lectures. See what you can find for free first, but even when there is a price tag, the value you get for your investment is typically well worth it when used wisely.
6) Review Old Notes
Go back through the notes you’ve taken from lessons, seminars, practices, video review, etc. Taking notes is wonderful not only to help cement new ideas in your head but for the reference available down the line. Almost every time I do this exercise, I find some brilliant piece of knowledge that I failed to absorb or virtually forgot existed. You can only take so much from your lessons at a time, but recalling the concepts through a medium like this will improve your understanding of the material even further.
Lastly, find other ways to get your mind and body in better shape for ballroom! Need to develop your stamina so you don’t pass out during that last Quickstep? Take up running. Want to improve your flexibility and overall bodily health? Stretch. Need to better your muscular awareness? Practice weight training.
There is an endless list of non-dance activities you can do to cross-train. I myself have ran, lifted weights, stretched, rowed, boxed, and more. My next cross-training venture is to take up Tai Chi and I cannot wait to get started. Pick something general in your dancing you’d like to improve upon and think about what other activities that skill is integral to. I’m certain you can find a few things at least mildly exciting, and while some of them will be difficult under quarantine, more will be accessible to anyone who can go outside.
Overall, the lesson to be learned here is that your life doesn’t stop just because your situation got harder. The world around you will bend and break, but you need to be ready to change your plans and keep moving forward. Stay safe, be smart about your practice, and honor the commitments you make to yourself.
(Published in Sheer Dance magazine April 2020)