If Practice DOESN’T Make Perfect, what does?


We’ve all heard of the saying, “Practice makes perfect”. However, that’s a pretty gross simplification of the truth.

Scientific research has shown that it’s really HOW you practice that makes perfect, not HOW MUCH.

That explains why some students who practice all the time, make little progress, whereas someone else who practices only a little, can improve more. That said, the combination of consistent practice with practicing the right things, can exponentially improve your skills at just about anything. Conversely, if you are consistently practicing the wrong action, then you are actually making a BAD HABIT that can be costly to correct in the future.

To actually reap the benefits of practice, you need to practice DELIBERATELY.

In this short video below from TED talks, it describes how deliberate practice works and how top competitors and athletes utilize this form of practice to expand their “talent” and vastly improve their skills. Ideas that you can use to apply to your life.

Now, how can YOU use these tips to improve YOUR dancing?

1. Be specific about what result you want to see 
Be deliberate and specific about what you are working on. Don’t say, “I”m practicing Samba”, or “hip rotations”. Instead focus on a very specific area such as:  “I’m practicing keeping my back leg/ knee very straight in a botafogo by squeezing my thighs, glutes and pointing my foot, to get a strong leg line”. Identify a specific end goal (picture in your mind), then add on the actions you need to take to make that goal happen. And practice those actions!

2. Look in the mirror 
When you are learning, you have to train your eyes to notice what you are doing wrong and what you are doing correctly. The mirror should be your best friend. I would strongly suggest that you get a mirror, even a small one if you are practicing at home. Unless you are a more advanced dancer, you absolutely need to look in the mirror to make adjustments.

3. Track your progress in a journal
As a dancer, self-awareness and physical awareness are both important. By being mindful about how changing a certain part of your body can make a difference, you practice being mentally and physically aware of what every part of your body is doing. I keep a journal of all my practices and lessons. This way, I can track revelations as they happen (and believe me, they happen regularly if you practice deliberately!), and why some things work, and others don’t. The journal helps me make the connection between mind and body. Besides, it’s also motivating to look back at the work and commitment you have done, especially on the days you don’t feel like practicing! 😉

4. Ask Questions
I find that students who are not doing a pattern or technique correctly, are often unclear about how/ what is really supposed to happen. You can start with these questions:

  • What is the direction of the steps? Side step, diagonal, back, forward, outside partner etc. (first in relation to yourself, then to your partner, then in line of dance)
  • What is the weight change involved for each step?
  • What is the timing of each step?

By having clarity, you can deliberately practice those areas to improve your skills.

5. Making corrections a habit
When you take a lesson, make notes right away when your instructor gives you a correction. If you video yourself, then watch the video on playback right after, so that you can catch your mistakes and practice the corrections right away. This will train you to have a mental and physical awareness of how to make the correction when you are practicing by yourself. Then you practice the right movement over and over again, until it becomes a habit.

This is a big reason why those who take lessons regularly can benefit greatly and improve faster, as they are constantly having the instructor make corrections as the mistake is being made. This reinforces the skills within the mental and physical body more effectively. 

To get the most out of a lesson (especially a private lesson), have some questions lined up, and ask for some exercises from the instructor that you can do on your own, and go in with some specific results you’d like to see in your own dancing.

Let me know what you are working on and what specific results you are looking to achieve in your dancing!


For those who want to read up more about deliberate practice, I’d recommend this book: PEAK – Secrets from the new science of expertise by Anders Ericsson. It certainly opened up my mind about Natural talent. 🙂 

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