You make your habits, then your habits make you.
Try this experiment: quickly fold your arms. Easy, right? Now fold them the other way. e.g. if the right arm was on top, this time put the left on top.
Most people will discover a moment of confusion or even discomfort, however, there is NOTHING physiological that requires the right or left arm to be on top. It just ‘habit’. Same as how you tie your shoes, or even which leg you put on the ground when you stop your bicycle at a light.
Whatever your goal, just starting, professional dancer, the stage, the club, or the commercial dance world, you’ll want to maximise every moment in class.
Scientists now know that what we do is as much or more a matter of the habits we have than the effort we put in.
While chance always has a role successful dancers have, in most cases, simply developed habits that help them be successful, whereas unsuccessful dancers have a number of bad habits they have allowed to go unchecked.
These time-tested habits will help you grow and benefit from every lesson, with little or now extra effort. Choose one or two to start. Experiment with them for a month and come back and let me know the results.
- Have a specific goal for EACH lesson. It can be as simple as I am going to get every head movement right or I’m going to nail the ending no matter what. Studies show that even a small goal will improve focus and results.
- Stand where you can see and be seen. You would think this is obvious, but I have taught a LOT of classes and I can tell you that those dancers who hang around the back of the room are usually the dancers who fall behind. If you aren’t in, or can’t get to the front, and space permits, find a gap between dancers to stand so you can see the teacher and yourself. At the first opportunity move yourself to where you have a direct line of sight to the teacher. You won’t regret it.
- Don’t be territorial. It’s natural if you’ve been to a class on a regular basis to feel that a certain spot is ‘your spot’. However, the brain has evolved to minimise the number of things it has to focus on and can get lazy. Staying in the same place in the room can make you feel comfortable but may not be aware that are developing the habit of corner eye surfing. Don’t believe me? Move to another part of the room (see below) and see if you do as well as in your normal ‘spot’. By the way, it is unlike that you’ll be in your ‘spot’ at performance time.
- Be a good student. This has two parts a) pay attention to ALL instructions. Treat all instructions as if they were directed to you personally b) Ask questions. If you can’t work something out by observation or through the instructions given, be brave and stick up your hand.
- Turn off your phone, apple watch, etc. You’re in dance class. Phones are like crisis alert devices. They are hard to ignore when they are ringing, vibrating, blink, are chirping. In addition to observing good classroom manners, you will be increasing the odds that you are not distracted. It’s pretty unlikely that anything that can’t wait 90 minutes will happen.
- Pay attention to the details. In all styles of dance there will eventually be an opportunity to watch; watch the instructor, or watch other dancers the instructor praises. Really being detailed and paying close attention can reveal moments of musicality or technique that you may have overlooked in the goal of learning the ‘steps’. Remember, in many cases the dance you learn in class will not be a dance you perform. In addition to improving your overall ‘pickup’ taking the opportunity to train your mind to see details will help you become better faster. You’ll have plenty of time to learn the dance in rehearsals.
- Don’t do exactly what the instructor says. Wait, WHAT? You just said pay attention to the details and forever we’ve been taught to follow the instructor. Well.. try this experiment. Watch what the instructor does then carefully watch who the instructor praises. You’ll likely find that the instructor doesn’t praise the person who mimics them most closely but rather the person so does it the way the instructor wants it to ‘look’. Try varying the speed things to yourself ‘inside’ of the choreo. Make up a story or emotion to go with each move or high point. Move slightly faster (staying ‘on beat’ of course) or slower in some phrases.