How to Practice

We’re all busy people, and I understand that your weekly belly dance class is all the “me time” some of you can get. For that reason, I make my lesson plans with the assumption that you’re not practicing. (This goes for Levels 1 and 2. Level 3 will assume modest weekly practice.)

However, I think it’s important to know how to practice, whether you choose to do it regularly, or once in a blue moon.

Why Practice?

There are lots of reasons why you might practice:

  • Reviewing Class Material
  • Working towards a goal (improve your shimmy, move to the next class level, etc.)
  • Preparing for the recital
  • You just feel like doing some dancing

How to Practice

Every practice session is different, but here are the elements you have to choose from:

Warm Up

This is the most important part of your practice session, and should never be skipped. It helps prepare your body to dance, and your mind to learn. You can use our classroom warm up, or make up your own. At a minimum, I recommend including sweeping arm moves, hip circles, slow roll-ups, and basic stretching.

Decide What You Want to Work On

Do you want to polish specific moves? Review combinations or choreography you learned in class? Work on improvisation? I recommend choosing no more than 4 topics per practice session. If you have less than an hour, choose fewer things.

Example: if you have an hour to practice, you may choose to review hip circles, hip drops, one combo we learned in class, and this week’s improvisation drill.

Gather Your Things

Get your hip scarf, class notes, and music. Be sure to choose music that’s appropriate for what you’re practicing!

Example: If you’re practicing slow moves, choose slow music. You can use the same song we used in class when we covered that material, or something with a similar feel and tempo.

Slow, Focused Review

For each topic you’re working on, start with some slow, focused practice. Do the movement, combination, or drill over and over again, in slow-motion. First, work on mindfulness: notice what’s happening in your feet, hips, and arms in each moment. Next, identify one or two specific details that you’d like to improve in that movement. Finally, spend some time working on those details.

Example: You practice your hip circle, feeling the stretch in your side on the sides of the circle, and the way your weight shifts around your feet. You notice that you’re letting your pelvis tip at the back of the circle “duck butt”, so you decide to work on that. Just paying attention to it doesn’t seem to help, so you work with just the back half of the circle for a while, being careful to keep the lower belly pulled in, and the lower back long. When you return to the full move, you can avoid duck butt if you pay attention, so you practice at this speed for a while longer.

Bring It Up to Speed

Practice that same material at a more moderate speed, and see if you can maintain the same level of polish. If that’s a challenge, continue to practice at this speed. When it becomes easy, try it at a faster speed.

Note: if you’re practicing soft moves like hip circles and figure 8s, try the opposite as well: try working up to doing it S-L-O-W-L-Y.

Practice in Context

To integrate all the progress you’ve made, practice that same material in a performance context. If you were working on individual moves, practice them in some combinations. You can practice combinations we learned in class, invent your own combos, or just put on some music and play around with that move.

If you were working on a combo, choreography, or improv drill, repeat that material several times with appropriate music. Stop thinking about the technical details, and focus instead on relaxing, smiling, and letting the dance flow.

Cool-down

If you’ve been working hard, take a few minutes to cool down with some gentle movements and stretches. Arm sweeps, hip circles, and roll-ups are equally good for warm-ups and cool-downs.

Reflection

You may want to spend a few minutes at the end of your practice session reflecting on how it went. What did you work on? What difficulties arose while you practiced? What went well? Did you see an improvement by the end of the session? What additional work would you like to do on this material? What other material would you like to work on in the future?

But I’m Not Going to Do All That!

Of course not! What I described above is a very full practice session. Depending on your goals and how much time available, you will only do a few of those things in any given practice session. For example, if you just feel like dancing, you may just warm-up, practice the class combos, and cool down.

Keep It Simple

You will make more progress in your practice session if you keep your goals focused and simple. If you choose too many things to work on, you won’t make much progress on any of them. That will leave you frazzled and demoralized.

Ditto for the areas for improvement you identify during slow, focused practice. You may identify several things that need work, but choose only one or two for now. You can always come back to the rest later.

Summary

While I don’t require you to practice in Levels 1 and 2, you may choose to practice if you have a specific goal, or just feel like dancing outside of class.

Each practice session will include a different mix of planning, warming up, focused practice, practice at speed, practice in context, cooling down, and reflecting. Depending on how much time you have and what your goals are for the session, you may include many of those sections or just a few, and long sections or short ones.

Regardless, be sure to keep your topics focused, so you can make the most progress.

What You Can Do Right Now

Prepare a small music collection in case you suddenly feel like practicing. You’ll want to have a warm-up song, a slow slinky or lyrical song for practicing slow moves, a medium-tempo upbeat song. A mid-tempo song with a heavy beat and slinky feel can serve all three purposes. You may also want to add medium-fast and fast songs for building speed and practicing shimmies.

You can find my recommendations in How to Choose a Practice Song. Let me know if you’d like more recommendations.

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