By Jonathan Wolfgram
It is by no means uncommon to have an unproductive day of practice from time to time. You might be sore or your partner might be having a rough day, and although it can be frustrating, this is to be expected in any sport as partnership-reliant as ballroom is. But, if you’ve ever looked back at your practices together and thought, “Wow, we’re NEVER very productive,” there are plenty of steps you can take to make your time together not only more useful, but significantly more fun. Having a great practice routine is not difficult, so I’d like to briefly share with you three things to remember that will help give structure and efficiency to your practice time: start positive, stay positive, and set clear goals.
1. Start Your Practice Right
The key here is to throw yourself into a positive attitude right away. This will set the tone for the practice and make both of you more receptive and engaged in dancing.
- Don’t forget the niceties. Always begin your practice by smiling and being genuinely happy to see your partner. Ask them how their day was and what they’re looking forward to. Relax and just talk to each other for a few minutes. These are all very simple things that will not only jumpstart your time together with a positive attitude, but it will make the tone of the practice more conversational and thus make communication much easier.
- Stretch out. Dancing is a physically intensive activity, and a lot of acid can build up in your body in the process. Not only will you be painfully stiff if you get stuck in the habit of not stretching, but you can hurt yourself if you don’t allow your body to breath for a little while. This time is also phenomenal for talking with your partner or making plans, so be sure to use it and abuse it.
- Warm up with something fun. At the beginning of every practice, my partner and I kick things off with a West Coast Swing. We do this not to work on swing technique or practice the dance, but because we have a great time and it gets our bodies moving before we start drilling ballroom technique together. You can dance a Hustle, a Salsa, a Single Swing, or anything casual that you both enjoy to warm up and set the mood for the practice.
2. Stay Positive
Now that you’re warmed up and have the right attitude, do everything you can to keep it positive for the remainder of the practice. A few things to remember to hold onto this:
- There is no negativity across the partnership. Feedback is important and you should absolutely tell your partner what you’re feeling, but you should never insult or degrade them, for technique or for any reason at all. Any kind of hostility will stomp on the positivity you’ve worked hard to achieve, so be sure to treat your partner well.
- Dance can be frustrating, and it’s neither of your faults. The technique and details you are working on are hard, so don’t be upset when they don’t come right away. You’re working as hard as you can and your partner is doing the same.
- Dancing is fun; remind yourself of it. Most of us probably enjoy dancing at least a little bit, but it’s easy to get lost in competitiveness and work and forget to appreciate it. If you ever feel like you’re having a dreadful time or that you’re frustrated with the sport, take a step back and be thankful that you have someone there to dance with and that you’re passionate about what you do.
3. Set Clear Goals
Having a smile on your face is not the only necessity for a successful partnership. In fact, one of the most useful things you can do is to set goals in a clear and rigorous manner.
- Figure out your long-term goals. Talk with your partner and agree both on where you want to be and when. This could be dancing Silver Smooth in four months or dancing Champ Latin in three years. Be specific and you can work out a game-plan to make it there.
- Set goals for every practice. Discuss what you want to achieve and how you will achieve it, and once again, be as specific as possible. For example, say, “I want to clean up the rotation on our cortes and I want to work on our shaping drills to do it.” Fill your time with as many goals and accomplishments as possible. Probably the biggest mistake all of us have been guilty of making is to spend your entire practice saying, “let’s just dance a round and see how it feels.”
- Write them down. For both long and short term goals, whip out a phone or computer and jot it down. It will cement the goals in your mind and you’ll have a concise point of reference if your ever get sidetracked. It’s important to revisit your long term goals often and important to hold yourself accountable on a day-to-day basis, so be sure to get into the habit of putting your goals into words on a page.
Overall, every partnership is different, so it’s important to experiment and see what works best for you and your partner. Regardless of your process for goal-setting or the ways you keep a smile on your face, I encourage you to take this advice for a spin and see how much more you can get done. Not only will be significantly more productive and engaged, but you’ll have a lot more fun while doing so.