Practice makes perfect!


We all know the saying “practice makes perfect” from our school days when we had to revise our multiplication tables or rattle off the names of important people in history. As dancers we are intimate with this saying, or at least should be intimate with it.

Practice is a word that has come up a lot in different areas for me lately, starting with my sister talking about an article she read online about practice and how long it would take to “master” something. Apparently it’s 10 000 hours over 10 years. This makes me feel as though I will never become a master at anything, it would require 1000 hours a year, which equates to about 20 hours a week. There are 168 hours in a week, if you take off 10 hours every day for things we have to do [eat and sleep] you are left with 98 hours. Minus your 40 hours of work a week [assuming you work a regular 9-5 job from Monday to Friday] You are left with 58 hours. Minus your 20 weekly hours to do your desired skill, you only have 38 hours a week in which to do other things.

But who wants to live life in such a rigid schedule? So stop feeling guilty! It was not my intention… I am just reporting what I have read! Another article that I read yesterday [here] which talks about how we need to be exposed to background stimuli as well as practice our task to become masters. I cannot even begin to express how much I agree with that idea/theory.

A great deal of previous work has shown that simply presenting the stimuli to the participant is usually not enough. They actually have to do the task. This is where our group comes in. Basically, what we say is, yes you do have to do the task, just not for the whole time. The main result is that if you practice for 20 minutes, and then you are passively exposed to stimuli for 20 minutes, you learn as if you have been practicing for 40 minutes. You can cut the effort in half, and still yield the same benefit. This finding could be important for clinical training programs, such as the ones that attempt to treat language-based learning disorders.
While I don’t agree that it’s good to cut the learning time in half, as expressed in the quote, I do believe that you cannot attempt to become a master at something if you do not expose yourself to the relevant stimuli. In our case it would be music, videos, attending performances or even READING about the subject of belly dance. I have, and always will, push this ideal onto other dancers. Well, perhaps not push, but definitely tell others about it. I have found that because I am constantly exposing myself to videos, music, and loads of other things I get better at what I do faster. If I have never seen a move in my life before and I try to do it, I can’t get it right. If I [repeatedly] watch a dancer doing a move and _then_ go home to practice it, I generally manage to accomplish it faster.

I have this bizarre method for learning new moves and exciting combos from watching videos. I watch a video on YouTube that I really enjoy every day for about a week. Every day I fantasize about a particular move [at one point it was Rachel Brice’s backbend] and I will do it around the house every now and then. After about a week or two, I finally do it at the studio in front of a mirror. Only then will I start correcting myself and tweaking the move to suit me. Take, for example, this Rachel Brice video. I have bookmarked, favourited and linked this video absolutely everywhere because it just _exudes_ what I want to be as a dancer – Confident, competent [although Ms Brice is _well_ above competence!]  and communication with the audience.  (My 3 C’s!) At roughly 4.10 she does a shimmy undulation step that I have practiced so much I have driven a hole in the ground from where I dance. I obsessed about this move and am now fairly confident that I can pull it off with a bit more practice.

Unfortunately, I am inherently lazy and when I get to a point where I’m almost there, I give up and move onto something else. Although I probably wouldn’t use the word “give” up… I think I just get bored and move on. It’s a good thing I take classes on a weekly basis (horaah! 1.5 hours down!) and give class once a week (Horaah! 1.25 hours down! A total of 2.75 hours!) or I probably would never practice.

To remind myself how completely inadequate I am, I watch YouTube videos and the few DVDs I have here at home. Nothing brings me down to earth more than a Rachel Brice performance. She could probably stand on her head and whistle Mary Poppins out of her arsehole and I’d try to copy her… but still fail miserably. In fact, she’s so talented she’d probably do a better job of being me if she tried. I think something that makes me feel worse is watching performances of her from 6 years ago and realizing that since then… she’s only gotten BETTER. O_o

I’m sorry, this isn’t a “Rachel Brice is awesome and I wanna be like her lulz” blog, but if I could have anything in the world it would be her dedication and skill. *big sigh* But here is a picture of her being awesome, just because I can:

*sigh*

But back onto the topic of practicing, I think exposing yourself [ooh!] to videos can only help you! It can show you what is out there, it can inspire you to practice and I’m still completely convinced can actually improve your skill. Sometimes it completely subconscious and you will do an accent with your hand and you don’t realize it until you watch the video later and say “hey! That’s where I got it from!” [In fact, on rewatching that Rachel Brice video, I realized that whenever I’m improvising on my own I do the move at 3.50 [the little kick type of thing]. It’s not exactly the same, but similar. As well as the undulation down and kick at 4.01.

I’d like to try and [for the next week] practice dancing every dance for at least 1 hour. I know that’s its 3 times less than I should practice if I want to be a master, but I have to start somewhere. I will keep a diary of what I have done and then write it out here (in one solid blog post as opposed to many!)

What is your practice regime? Are you strict with yourself? Tell me in the comments!


Disclaimer: I am not looking for compliments on my dancing, I know that I’m not a bad dancer! 🙂 And although I do feel horribly like a duck trying to do ballet after watching a Rachel Brice performance, this only drives me harder to practice and get to the point where I can even be 0.5% as good as she is. 🙂 So it’s not all Negative-Nancy like I sound, I promise.

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6 comments

  1. Great post Alex!

    Sigh…yes I doubt we ever practise as much as we want too 😦 I clock in at a minimum of 3 hours a week (but that includes my weekly dancing class and the lesson I give the 2 girls so maybe thats not really fair) and on a good week about 5 hours. BUT, as you say, its also about inactive stimulus. Everyday I read something, watch something and more days than not learn something new. I try to go to as many performances as I can. I fantasize about new moves and dance costumes. And lets not forget the shimmying while washing the dishes and the pop and locks whilst brushing my teeth! (us dancers are a strange bunch!) But yes, I definitely would like to practise more. I think I will have to put that in my belly resolutions, which i think I will need to update soon…

    Alot of food for thought!

    I intend on having a look at the awesome Ms. Brice’s video soon as I get a gap!

    1. I honestly believe {and I’ve told my beginners this!} that if you shimmy while doing the dishes, hanging up the washing, setting the table, whatever, then you DO get much better at it and improve faster in class. It’s small things like that that can make a difference!
      Thanks for your comment! 🙂 Always love hearing what you have to say!

  2. I don’t do as much as I think I should. But that said, I can’t stand still.
    I’m waiting for public transport, I’ll shimmy or practise vertical hip drops (straight up and down). I dance around the house, and practise my arms and zill timing by clicking my fingers and moving my arms in the right shapes while I wander around the office.
    I dance at least twice a week at classes (and am about to start Zumba with a belly teacher leading it!!!) and head out on the town and try different moves to “normal” music while I’m out and about (and am very glad that the boys like to look after me from the randoms!)

    But I don’t feel like I do enough for what I’d *like* to do… I think we all fall into that category at some stage (most of the time).

  3. I just have to say that I am totally intrigued by this art form.Bellydancing has been an absolute gift for me.I am full figured but have developed so much confidence since I have started dancing.I practice as much as I can but that three quarter shimmy is KILLING ME!!! I just cant do it quickly.Does anyone have any suggestions!

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