Deliberate practice is designed to improve a skill and it usually requires assistance from a teacher. Mindful slow practice will uncover a lot of things that have been automatic for a long time but are stuck in a rut. If you find yourself struggling when you slow down your dancing consider this a BIG OPPORTUNITY for improvement in your WCS.
It does take time…
The notion that deliberate practice requires a great deal of repetition should come as no surprise. A large part of skill acquisition comes from the myelination of the neurons involved in the action, which requires activating the neurons hundreds of times. Current research indicates that it takes between 300 and 500 repetitions to develop a new skill, and 3,000-5,000 repetitions (!) in order to de-program an unwanted aspect of performance. (Incidentally, this is part of the reason why it’s much easier to replace a bad habit with a new habit, rather than breaking the bad habit cold.) Deliberate practice takes on this need for repetition head-on: effective deliberate practice activities are designed to be repeated frequently.
An excellent example of the role of repetition for deliberate practice comes from Brazilian soccer players. Watching the Brazilian national team is simply breathtaking; the passing and ball control looks like dancing more than running. What is hidden from the World Cup broadcasts is the practice that went into that level of performance. For years, Brazilian players have trained with a game called futsal, which is like soccer but played with smaller teams in an extremely confined space. The smaller environment means that players interact with the ball far more frequently than in normal soccer practices—up to six times as many touches per minute. Many of the major Brazilian players, including Pelé, Ronaldo, and Ronaldinho, credit the rapid pace of futsal with their deft ball-handling skills. Put simply: more touches means better control.
Good News for WCS dancers…
The good news for west coast swing dancers is that our dance can be broken into 2-beat increments, and even full patterns take less than 16 beats (with few exceptions). Having such small units in the dance means that west coast is practically built for high-rep drills. If you have a new footwork variation, you can practice that 2-beat sequence dozens of times in a row. Chaines turns naturally break into 2-beat increments. Perfecting an arm line from a throwout only requires a couple of beats of music. Thus, to incorporate this principle into your practice, simply decide what element to focus on, and do it again and again. As the elder Zorro (played by Anthony Hopkins) says to the new Zorro-in-training (Antonio Banderas) in The Mask of Zorro, “Perfect. Now do it again.”
Keep reading about deliberate practice in this next article.
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