Really, it’s time to rethink your solo practices. Ranks of dancers reject the idea of practicing rounds and rhythms on their own rushed time, but some realize the radical revitalization that can occur in their technique with a few regular hours of regimented solo practice. Realistically, revamping your practice time in this way can rev up your efficiency, develop your reflexes faster, and rock your partner’s world as they rejoice in your remixed dancing ability, allowing it to ripple out into the rest of your performance.
Whew. To, I’m sure, everyone’s disappointment, there is no way I will continue the rest of the article with that many R’s. It was fun for the introduction, but for now I’d rather focus on five particular R-words that represent five components of effective solo practice.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I like to use it as a mental note to incorporate some of each in every week; there are plenty of exercises you can do, but the purpose of this is not to structure your time for you or explain every drill, but rather to give a few examples of how to be more deliberate with your solo time. Whether you have two hours or fifteen minutes, you can direct your attention to just one of these or hit on all five to keep your dancing sharp. That part is entirely up to you.
If you’re not taking notes on all of your lessons and writing about the lightbulbs that go off in your head, you’re not letting yourself learn as fast as you could. Regurgitation is a crucial element of internalizing information, and can be done on a cute little notebook you keep in your dance bag. After every lesson, write down what you learned. If you figure something out in technique, timing, or any other facet of dance, describe it in detail. Putting your hands through the physical motion of writing the concept down not only forces you to articulate the idea in a clear, tangible way, but also allows your brain to process the information a second time and commit it to memory.
When so much of dance is about muscle memory, repeating an action until it’s ground into your body and subconsciously executed is a fundamental piece of practicing. The awesome thing about solo practice is that when you only have one person to coordinate, you can do more reps in less time and be incredibly efficient with your practice.
There are a few ways I’ve enjoyed putting repetition in my solo practices: one is to set a goal that you will complete a given action X number of times. The other week, I walked into one of my practices with the commitment that I would do one-hundred feather reverse three’s and couldn’t leave the studio until I had done so. Picking out some figure and repeating it this many times allows you to pay more attention to the elements that might go unnoticed in a regular practice.
Another great way to use repetition is what I like to call “the game of 5’s”. You pick out a move, or figure, and every time you do it correct, you add one to your tally. Every time it’s not to your satisfaction, you remove one. Continue until you hit five. This may take five reps and it may take five-hundred, but the motivating factor is that unlike the previous mode of repetition, you’re now punished for poor form and have more motivation to put your best foot forward on every attempt.
Another phenomenal way to polish your technique is to make the moves harder. Resistance training in the context of ballroom and latin dance can look like a lot of things, but all of them are focused on strengthening the muscles you use when you dance to bring more ease of motion when you are weight-free:
Target your back by finding frame with a dumbbell in each hand, then dance as long as you can until you have to reset
Use resistance bands stretched around your back and in each arm for the same purpose
Bind your legs with resistance bands as you move around the floor
Use ankle weights to build your leg swing, develop your leg-lines in latin and rhythm, and strengthen your lower body
It is important to remember that these are to be done carefully. Start with light weights and slow speeds and you can build from there; nobody wants a 25lb dumbbell dropped on their foot.
No weights, no crazy repetitions, no gimmicks. Just dance your routines (or improvise new ones) without your partner. This allows you to focus entirely on your body movement with complete disregard for any ways your partner might be compensating for you or holding you back. It’s helpful in this to do “shadow dancing” where you visualize your lead or follow on the floor with you to keep your mind aware of spacing and other issues that might arise, while simultaneously strengthening the mental connection between the technical developments you make now to the way you dance when there is another person in front of you.
Get a half-decent tripod and record yourself. A lot. In fact, this can be incorporated with nearly every other activity in solo practice. It allows you to watch back your rounds and check your technique with those weights in your arms and through those endless repetitions, giving you a chance to see what the judges are seeing and make the corrections you otherwise wouldn’t notice.
Recording is especially nice on your own for the same reason repetitions are: you can operate with dramatically more efficiency than if there was a person there with you. There’s no waiting to connect with your partner, no chit-chat as you walk back to your phone and talk about the set, it’s just you and the camera. Assuming you can keep yourself accountable, you can move seamlessly through the sequence of dance, watch, note changes, and repeat with incredible speed and get into a flow that’s far more difficult to access when there’s a partner with you.
Solo practice is difficult, and although it certainly isn’t as fun as dancing with another person, it’s incredibly beneficial to your technical development and woefully underused. If you want to get a competitive edge, schedule some alone time and keep yourself accountable for it. Be intentional and you will see results.
(Published in Sheer Dance magazine September 2019)