Posted by on Nov 27, 2016 in Blog

Students often ask how they can get better quickly. There is no instant fix. However, there are two main things to address. The first is foundational mastery. The second is adjunctive training.

Two body systems integral to dance progress are our nervous system (brain, nerves) and and musculoskeletal system (muscles and bones). The skeleton is bones providing framework for the muscles to attach and influence the skeleton. The muscles are tissue that can change length to move the skeleton. The musculoskeletal system doesn’t do anything without the input of the nervous system. To move, we need the brain and nerves acting as directors . The cool part about the nervous system is that it is programmable. With enough hours of repetition, it can start to work without much conscious influence. These movements that happen as a pattern with little conscious input are called engrams. Think about driving a car. You don’t think about it once you have been doing it for a while. The same happens with dance and athletic movement.

There is an amazing book called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell that examines how people are able to excel. The gist is, it takes 10 000 hours to become excellent. This is where the point of mastery requiring repetition comes into play. Every moment you put into your dancing contributes to those 10 000 hours. I hear those struggling with achievement in dance say, “well, when x, y, z, and b happen, that is when I will start to get good.” They are waiting for the perfect storm. Unfortunately, that is not how it works. You have to put in repetition over a significant period of time (10000 hours equals 417 straight, 24 hour days) to start creating those engrams that will allow you to you to start layering in more than the fundamental movement.

Brains are amazing machines, however, like any machine, it can be overloaded to a point of diminishing returns. So, once you can start getting part of your movement into the engram phase, then it frees up your beautiful brain to be able to take on other aspects of the dancing. You’ve seen it yourself, you learn a part, then the teacher layers in another part and what you were previously working on goes out the window and you become discombobulated. This is the brain overload which means mastery is not there due to lack of repetitions.

Now, repetition is good, but it can be limited in developing dimension in your dancing. If you were to just practice your basic over and over again, you would become very good at your basic, but that would not translate to much change. This where the second point of guidance of challenging yourself physically comes in. For example, if you went to the gym and you lifted the same amount of weight for 1 month straight, doing the exact same exercise, you would not see much change in your physical development. The same happens with dance. This is where cross-training comes in handy.

Cross training is often not intended as an activity where you expect mastery from yourself. Rather it is an adjunct to helping you attain variety while building on mastery of your foundational movements. For example, conditioning or strength training will give you functional strength development that will support your foundational mastery. Contemporary will give you control, flow and release that will support your foundational mastery. Technique theory will give you an understanding of concepts that can be layered in with your foundational mastery.

So, if you are looking to advance your dancing skill, you need to look at your time investment in your foundational skills in that genre. You also need to look beyond your genre and see what cross-training you can bring in that will build you without undermining your progress in your foundational training.

Want to know more about this? Email us to book a private lesson with our director for an assessment and she will design a program based on your goals and dreams to get you moving quickly in the right direction.