Small things add up over time. By the time you see the results, it indicates that you’ve done many things that seemed to be unimportant, and non praise worthy. For example: Practicing triple stepping to your favorite mid tempo song the correct way to 3 songs a day doesn’t seem like a big deal. In fact, the next day you won’t feel any different. It didn’t destroy your existing dance vocabulary if you neglected do it, nor did it make you an instant Lindy Hop Master. At least not right then. That is the secret. By the time you’ve obtained the results you wanted, you’ve already done the work, when most people would want to equate your progressive discipline as “talent.” Most would rather cram all their efforts into one dance weekend then relax when they return home, practice on occasion, and then wait for the next big event. Doing easy things over a period of time is what you want to aim for.
The key is make them easy to do, and easy not to do. This will make it easy for you to not make an excuse about the lack of time or difficulty level in your commitment. This is the secret of how everything in nature works, but we live in a culture that promotes the violation of everything you do in your life naturally. Robbing a bank, looking for the next amazing diet pill, winning the lottery, or taking a class and expecting perfection after the first couple of tries are all extreme examples of trying to omit the process. Cultivation is the key, and seems to be the invisible part that no one sees you do or won’t praise you for doing. “But what if you don’t have someone to practice with!” My response may seem elementary but profoundly significant. Do what babies do. They imitate what they see, mess up, then correct over and over until they get it. This happens even if they don’t understand language.
Their body knows that it’s designed to master things over time. I’ve never met a adult that still crawled like a baby and said they just gave up on that walking idea. Like babies, you will eventually master whatever it is you want to accomplish, even if you don’t fully understand the how in the moment. Just do the what for now. Pick a lead that executes many shapes you like, pick 2 shapes, and mimic the leads positions while practicing without a partner. By the time you get to the next event and execute the shapes with a real partner, you’ve eliminated the anxiety that comes with not knowing where you want to go. Now all you have to do is polish the way it should feel. Think like a solo dancer.
I would suggest doing the same thing leads do. Pick a follow that you would like to emulate, and then mimic her shapes and body movements in motion. That’s it. You don’t need a partner to lead the shapes that you practice with your body. Let the lead decided the where to go on the dance floor, and you decide how well you would like to look in finishing those movements.
The styling can be handled without him. If you need a sense of momentum in styling your movements, practice absorbing into your living room wall, or pulling away from your bathroom door knob. The idea is that you can adjust how you look individually, and then practice how you feel with a partner. You can be a copycat as long as you copy the right cat. In school, if you copied from one person they call it plagiarism. In college if you copy many people and cite them correctly they call it research.
If you want to rock the Nina Gilkenson swivels, do it. If you want to copy Laura Glaess’s silky stretchiness do it and make it your own. If you want to do the Annie Trudeau aerials, try flipping off of your living room couch onto the coffee table. (Maybe not that last one.) The point is that both leads and follows can do something with what they have, and the ideal situation is to make it easy to do everyday. Use inspiration from dancers to help you become yourself over time, and show them you’re gratitude by applying their principles on the dance floor, take a private, and on occasion compensate them anonymously. Money talks.
If you have a partner, limit the time you “began” a “new idea” together. Wait what! Yes I said it. Work more apart than together when the lead wants to try something new. This is an argument eliminator, and it helps maintain the fun in creativity. Follows should never have the mentality of knowing where to go next. This is always the leads job, and he can eliminate most of the stress that comes with working with a partner in the beginning stages of an idea by figuring out where he wants to go first in theory by himself.
Subsequently, follows can follow more effectively when a lead is more clear about “where” he wants to go, and can help polish the rough edges with him on the back end once his idea is more clear. You’ll be amazed how much time is saved by this method. On occasion, leads borrow the follow and let them know you’re not looking for a perfect response from them, but that you’re trying to “visualize” with a physical body where you might want take her in theory. This relational technique is like asking them where they might want to go for dinner that night without actually taking them until later.
You don’t have to feel the result from the follow to determine if you have a good idea. This is relieving for the follow, and eliminates a need to examine how well they are responding. It is very difficult to communicate a new idea with someone who depends on responding to an understood idea. (read my article on: “Benefits of solo dancing” if you have trouble with visualization.)
In conclusion, these are things that have proven to work for myself since I’ve tried them with hundreds of leads and followers the past years. They may not work for everyone, but everyone should have the opportunity to model someone successful. I’ve also even used this method in creating choreographed pieces of work with my friend Annie Trudeau. View that performance here:
Set a goal for yourself. Focus on one thing that you can work on by yourself and do it 19 days for 15 minutes a day. Write me and let me know how you are progressing. If you don’t have the time to practice 15 minutes a day because of time limitations, look out for my blog on “Why dancers should start a business” in a few weeks. Hope this can help accelerate your dance journey. Have a stress free day.
Here is a great resource if you want to up the level of your practice: