Practice Between Classes

A student recently emailed me asking for advice about how to practice. She was chatting with a dance classmate on the post-class train ride home, and realized neither of them were sure how to practice between classes. I wrote her back, she seemed please with my response, and I thought others who attend weekly in-person dance classes might be interested as well. Here is what I wrote:

Hi!

I understand about not knowing what, or how, to practice. Here are some initial thoughts/advice that has worked for me over the years, as well as many of my students:

Bring a notebook with you to class, ideally a dedicated dance/movement notebook, and write down what you remember immediately after class (on the way home, when you get home, whatever works). It can be movement, combinations, feelings, one-liners, impressions…whatever is sticking with you. Get it down while it is still fresh.

Within a couple of days be sure to look at those notes again to ‘decipher’ them, and rework or rewrite them as needed so they make sense as time goes by.

(Note: I am a pen and paper person, but this could be done on a tablet or phone as well, I am sure!)

Related idea that takes a bit more time/resources: Video tape yourself when you get home from class doing what you remember. Invaluable.

Listen to Arabic music. Lots of it, not just when you are in practice or dance mode, but for fun when you are puttering around the house, doing what you do. Let it ‘normalize for you as a genre.

If you hear a song you like in class, ask me about it!

Go between focused practice and free practice. In other words, once you get your own notes started you can be methodical about making a plan for what you want to work on. But I also hope on days you want to dance but aren’t sure what to do you will get comfortable just putting on a song and dancing to it without a plan (though sometimes a practice plan forms from there as you go, and that is great, too).

Watch dancing. See what you like and see what you don’t like, and then try to decide why. Is it charisma or costuming? Get past that and try to look at the movement, the reaction to music. Live is great, but video is fine, too. You tube is amazing for this!

Hope that helps with a bit of a start.

Monica

Time off? What’s that?!

I have made a little list of things I do to stay bendy and steady in both body and mind when I have a non-structured month off, and thought I’d share it here.

Take dance classes, specifically classes I can’t take when I am in the throes of my own teaching, taking, working, and performing/prepping others to perform. I drop in to stuff last minute and get to be a beginner in styles not my own.

Take other classes. For me that usually means art making stuff, and in January I’ll be taking a weeklong intensive working in the metal arts (jewelry, not music), a side hobby and interest of mine. I also try to hit movement classes like Feldenkrais and Alexander technique, and am much more regular at my very favorite Iyengar studio here in town. Sometimes I’ll sign up for an herbal medicine or plant identification course, or work on tarot cards and fun stuff like that. Pretty much anything I can nerd out on for a bit makes me happy.

Do something movement oriented at home, every day. For me that usually means yoga, although I also tend to go through some dance videos/DVDs I have. I’ll list some links of favorites at the end of this post.

Read like a motherfucker. To be fair, I do that all year round, I just get to do it even more when I am off. I have my library card number memorized. (Yes, I also curse.)

Cook. Being off for a spell also means less cash around, so I get to cook more and try new to me recipes along with favorites I don’t always have time to make when I get busy again. Nourishing oneself is never a bad idea, and I love food.

Clean and organize. This is the time to clean out the sock drawer and sweep away all the dust bunnies hidden in corners and under rugs. I want to start back into my routine with a clean, safe, home base to work from. This is directly connected to being creative. My mom used to say “Messy bed messy head!”, and she had a point (I still say my messy desk is a sign of genius though, but that may be my inner procrastinator talking). I catchup on my podcasts and become the master of my world for a minute (knowing full well it will fall apart again–cycle of life, baby!)

I’m also a musician, so I try to practice music making every day as well (I don’t always succeed, but I try). I do succeed in listening to music every day. Actually, I’m super good at listening to music, really a natural talent. 😉

I will occasionally do The Artists Way when I have big chunks of time as well. Not up for it right now, but it is a nifty program for creative types (aka all humans).

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I am not a big dance/movement instructional DVD person, but I enjoy a few now and again when I need a push and feel like a hermit. I strongly encourage dancers to watch a lot of performances whenever they can both live and recorded. You can dance along to videos of performers you love and make a mini-lesson for yourself. If you have taken class with me you may have been given homework a few times on how to structure this kind of learning. I still do this myself!

That said, here are some recorded classes/instructionals I have consistently gone back to:

J Brown’s Yoga Video

Cassandra Shore’s Conditioning Class

Autumn Ward’s Beautiful Technique From Step One

Erich Schiffmann’s Freedom Style Yoga

How do you stay focused when you don’t have looming deadlines of performances or classes to prepare content for?