my practice

In the comment section of my now not-so-recent rant about how people should practice their dance, a local dancer named Laura asked how I go about structuring my own practice. Being more aware and articulate about my practice is getting easier, since it's part of my Pewter curriculum and I've also started getting ready to take 8 Elements in April. So making this post is easier today than it might have been in the past.

To reiterate, I've always practiced dance, so maybe it's a brain muscle that's well developed for me. As I've mentioned before, it was a rule in my house that if I wanted lessons or classes in something, I had to show that I was working to get better. That idea has stuck with me, so I rarely pursue things that I don't have time to work on. I'm outrageously bad at being a hobbyist.

My practice is not always as long as I'd like for it to be, but I try to keep it consistent in terms of when, if not in terms of how long or where. Whenever I try to make sure my setting is "perfect" for practice (e.g. "I have two hours undisturbed for practice, I am not stressed about anything, my body feels great, I'm in the studio/gym/space with mirrors and adequate space, etc.") I get obsessive and get nothing done. I don't demand that level of preparation or exactitude for most thngs--I'll read, write, work, sit or socialize anywhere at any time, so I can only assume it's a particularly deceptive form of procrastination.

Scheduling-wise, I usually practice 5-6 days a week, between 20 minutes and an hour and a half. Sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes at night. When or where is way less important than I used to think. I don't beat myself up if I miss a practice. Anymore. I don't count taking or teaching class as practice, for obvious reasons. I count cross-training as non-negotiable, but again, not practice.

So here is a vague outline of what my practice might look like. Regardless of the length or focus of the session, I usually do something from each section, but in a longer session I might choose more than one thing, or do it for longer, or with more variations. In a smaller space, I might not get to do across the floor work, and if I'm really strained for time I won't do any static stretching. I usually foam roll before and after activity, it's for flexibility rather than safety.

Warm Up:
Cardio type things. In a larger space I might:
In a smaller space I might:
  • do jumping jacks
  • burpees
  • something else that makes me get warm and sweaty
On my laziest days, sometimes I've just done shimmy drills, but it's only marginally effective for getting super warm, super fast.

Sometimes this moves around to after across the floor, but I keep it to before all my isolations/layering/technical work. I like to activate the core muscles that I'm going to use before isolating them (glutes, abs, obliques, quads, hamstrings, upper back) because it gets so much easier to be sure about what I'm using in my movements (just like with lifting)! It also gets easier to work muscles to technical failure later, which is something I try to do in my more ambitious practices. It usually includes movements like:
I hate crunch type activities. But you could use them if you were so inclined. I like to change it up now and then for fun.

Across the Floor:
This is probably my favourite part because it reminds me of being a kid/teenager in dance class. It was always my favourite part. I do all kinds of stuff across the floor, depending on my mood, what I'm working on, if there's anything pertaining to choreography that I'm drilling, etc. I wouldn't normally add "bellydance" movements here, I save that for later. This is more for full body movements or patterns (there are YouTube videos linked to many of the steps I mention below to give an idea of what I mean, but the list isn't exhaustive, it's specifically tailored to my current interests and needs):
My projects lately have been chaines turns, pose turns, and leaps  (I am pretty freaking rusty at leaps, but jumping feels super good). It can be as simple or as complicated as necessary, depending on just about anything. It's been a really long time since I incorporated a lot of jumping or kicking movements in my dancing, but I find myself wanting to lately, so I'm focusing on them here. That can and will totally change over time. And don't mistake the fact that the dancers I've linked to here being pretty good for some implication that I'm at that level with all these movements. I struggle more with some than with others.

To reiterate: while I don't consider this the time to work on traveling bellydance movements, neither does it need to be anything as technically complex or as classical/Western or ballet-ish as what I've been working on. This is an awesome time to do walks, runs, foot patterns, or any other traveling movement pattern that incorporates a full body cycle. 

Isolations/Technical Work:
Bellydance stuff. Glutes, slides, squares, locks, lifts, etc. I'll keep track of what I practice or what I sucked at in class or what occurred to me to try layering as I was falling asleep. If I'm really bad at something, I'll try it again next time I practice. For example, twists have always been a major chink in my armour, so I worked steadily at them over the past month to the point where they actually look pretty good now. Granted, I had some guidance from my teacher on that, but I think it's a good strategy to spend the most time practicing the thing you want to practice least.

I usually choose a muscle group (like glutes, obliques, back/abs, etc.) or a movement type (squares, circles, slides, etc.) and then drill it through a bunch of different means:
  • standing straight in the mirror
  • en relévé
  • on one leg (often with the other leg moving through a variety of positions)
  • in a squat position
  • layered over footwork (walking, step-touching, pas de bourré, chassé, cross-touching, box steps, etc.)
  • layered with other body isolations
I work in different ways on an area that I'm actively trying to improve--lately it's been hands. It can be something more abstract like a body part, but it can also be something technical. I don't get too worked up over what it is, as long as I'm working. I'll invent or find exercises to work on that one thing. Dance books are awesome, and taking lots of classes and workshops can give ideas about what to try and how to work on it. When I'm in heavy rehearsals for a piece or show, it can even just be running choreography or drilling the parts that aren't adding up.

I work on making new choreography, experimenting with different movements that I've taken in a class or thought up, improvising with different concepts in mind. It varies from day to day and week to week.

So I think that's kind of the long and short of it. One thing I could probably do better in the future is log my practices better. I don't keep track well enough of how much I'm practicing or what I work on. I just do it. So I'll make that a goal going forward.



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