The key is practising the steps outside of class to build up both your mental memory of the sequences but also to teach your muscles the steps so that they can do what they need to without taking your full concentration. Once your mind is free from your feet, you can focus on what to do next, where you want to go on the floor and really enjoy what you are doing.
Most of us will walk through steps in our kitchens. But that isn’t really enough. Even when I can happily do a sequence of steps in the kitchen, I find that I often lose the steps when I’m at a dance, because, perhaps, I learned to do the spin when I was in front of the fridge and without it I lose my bearings.
Even if you have a big kitchen, it is probably still not big enough. If I take the sort of steps I would on the dance floor in my kitchen I’d hardly have enough space for a natural turn or an opening out in the cha. If you take small steps in the kitchen you are just training yourself to take small steps at a dance which will limit your technique.
Practising without music is completely different to doing it with music, but finding appropriate tunes can be tricky. Having a variety of musical pieces for the same dance is really beneficial when it comes to getting comfortable with a dance.
Practising steps without a partner is only useful to a certain point. When you then try them with a partner, steps that seemed easy in solo are suddenly foreign and there is “the confusion of your partner’s feet”.
So to really make progress then one needs to bring all these elements together at the same time. You need space, music, a partner and freedom to concentrate on the steps that you have just learned or which you need to improve. And you need to do this often to make it stick.
The Tuesday practices are a real opportunity for people to improve. Dancing more than one night a week on a regular basis significantly improves one’s ability to remember steps and to do them more easily. Practices also help to switch from the fairly passive role in class to the more proactive role of setting yourself goals. You then get much more from the lessons too.
Most people at the classes will have been in the Elmgrove at some point, but it is now better than ever. It has always been a good sized venue but now there is a powerful gas heating system so it is not a chilly as it once was. They also have fairy lights over the dance floor which give the hall a more welcoming feeling.
Eric produces compilations of music which are played at the practice sessions. These include some of the popular tracks that you will recognise from class or dances in the past, but Eric is always working to find new tracks to keep the selection fresh and interesting.
So far, mainly more experienced students have been coming to the practices. These students already know how important practice is (that’s how they got to where they are now) and don’t want to miss out on this facility.
Newer students may be a little apprehensive about coming along, but should not be. First of all we were all beginners at some point and know how that feels. Either people won’t even notice what you are doing, and if they do see you struggling, will more than likely offer help or advice. Although Michal and I are not teachers we can certainly help people who have forgotten steps or need a little bit of advice if you are stuck.
The only thing stopping some people will be the lack of a partner. At a practice generally people come with someone and there isn’t the sort of switching around that occurs at a dance. If you don’t have a regular dance partner, why not ask whoever you are dancing with in class if they have been to a practice session and suggest going to one to try it out. It’s not a date and it’s not a big commitment. If it goes well then you can do it again and if not you can ask someone else next time.
Hopefully we’ll be seeing you at a practice soon.
Dance Practices at the Elmgrove Centre 7:45pm-9:45pm every Tuesday during terms, £5 (£4.50 concessions) per person per session.