How to get really good at west coast swing

Most of us think about practice as something we do in order to get good. We want to get good at west coast swing fast. We practice skills that we don’t have, with the end goal of being able to perform the skill. The truth is, this is only half of the value of practice.

In this post, you’re going to learn about the idea of becoming good enough to practice.

Practice what you know to get really good at west coast swing

Think about it: if the only purpose of practice was to work on something that you couldn’t do yet, then you would expect experts to spend most of their time practicing brand new things. Yet if you talk to any professional level performer, you’ll find just the opposite.

Pro basketball players do free throw drills; black belt martial artists work on their basic kicks; pro soccer players drill one-touch passing; ballet soloists spend hours at the barre; orchestra musicians practice scales every session. Why?

Practice trains your body and mind to repeat what you have done.

As you develop your fluency with the skill, you are then able to make minor adjustments so you can perform the skill reliably when circumstances change.

The fine-tuning aspect of practice is incredibly important: it’s no good to learn how to hold a one-footed spin if you can’t adjust to the stickiness of the floor, the power of your leader’s pulse, or how tired your ankles are at 3am. But this sort of fine tuning simply cannot occur until you can execute the core principles of the movement without effort.

If you need to consciously think about holding your ankle to your leg when you balance on one foot, you won’t be able to think or react quickly enough to adjust the height of your free foot when your supporting leg wobbles.

If you’re trying to get good at west coast swing fast… The next time you practice, try changing your focus.

Instead of asking what skill you need to practice, ask yourself what skill is good enough to practice.

Find something that you can do well and try to discover just how much more you can do with that skill.

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It might be learning how to sustain or control a movement over a longer period of time, it might be how to adjust the movement in order to adapt to a different circumstance, or it might be polishing a transition that you never paid attention to before now. Looking to get good at west coast swing? Check out these 3 cool things to focus on to to get good at west coast swing?

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Practice what you don’t know to get good fast

At some point while trying to get good at west coast swing fast, you’ve had the experience of trying to practice something that you can’t do yet.

Whether it’s a one-footed spin or a body roll, you watch someone demonstrate the move and then feel the gears jam when you try it.

What are you supposed to do when you can’t do it yet?

This moment—the gears-grinding “what’s wrong with me?” moment—is actually proof positive that practice works. The reason you feel uncoordinated and out of control is because you literally can’t do it yet. Your muscles and nervous system are physically unable to process the movement that you are asking for, at the speed you need. If you want to learn how to west coast swing, you have to master the basics.

The whole point of practice is to develop the physical ability to control your body in a way that is completely beyond you right now.

The secret is to realize that your body needs to physically change at the cellular level. As you repeatedly try to do a movement, your nerve cells will adapt by undergoing a process known as myelination. The nerves involved in the movement will be coated with a fatty layer, called myelin, which allows the nerve signals to go through faster and more reliably. In other words, your body physically changes to make you more coordinated.

Once you realize that your body needs to myelinate in order to master a new movement, practice starts to make more sense.

Your goal is to stimulate the nerve cells a lot, so they respond by become more attuned to those demands.

There are lots of ways to do it: practice a small part of the movement, practice slower, or practice something simpler.

As your body adapts to those movements, you will feel more coordinated—because you are actively becoming more coordinated.

As you become more coordinated, you can build on what you’ve learned by going faster, doing a larger component of the movement, or doing a more complicated variation.

It will take lots of repetition, but the process is as inevitable as it is frustrating.

If you keep at it, your body will be able to do something that you literally could not do earlier. That is the power of practice!

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Why you should practice west coast swing slowly

Slow Builds Control – Pavel Tsatsouline is a famous strength trainer who has worked with martial artists, Soviet Special Forces and world-class athletes. In his book Kettlebell Simple & Sinister, he remarks on the importance of slow movements to build control:

“if you are unable to do a non-ballistic movement slowly, you are hiding something.”

There are some movements in which you need momentum to carry you through: jumping, Olympic lifts, other explosive motions. But if you aren’t doing a ballistic motion—and that includes the vast majority of dance movements—you should be able to do the movement at a painfully slow pace. If you can’t, that indicates a failure to use your muscles properly to control the motion!

Dancing to really slow music is great for building control.

By forcing yourself to slow the motion down, you quickly learn what parts of the body actually need to be involved in creating the motion.

Moving slowly will dramatically improve your balance, since you need to stabilize yourself through the entire movement.

You will also dramatically improve your fine motor skills as your body learns the micro-adjustments you need in order to manipulate the motion.

There are great slow blues songs in the 60bpm or slower range. Dancing to these songs will force you to control your motion at all times.

Try dancing to some of these slow songs:

  1. John Mayer – Slow Dancing in a Burning Room (67 bpm)
  2. Albert King – Blues Power (65 bpm)
  3. Stevie Ray Vaughn – The Sky Is Crying (57 bpm)
  4. Brother Yusef – Freedom Train Blues (55 bpm

Why you should practice west coast swing fast

Fast Builds PrecisionWhen you dance slow, you need to control the movement at all times. When the music speeds up, you can’t micromanage the movement in the same way because there simply isn’t enough time.

During fast music, you can only keep up if you can execute the movement cleanly and precisely.

Lots of dancer’s struggle with fast music because they are trying to do too much. When you start learning any skill, you have a lot of unnecessary movement. As you practice, you refine the motion so that you are doing exactly what you need to do, and no more.

You probably recognized a point in your own dancing when you were no longer exhausted after social dancing for a half hour; part of the reason that happened is because you had refined your basic movement so you could move more efficiently.

The key to practicing fast is to pick a tempo that pushes you but doesn’t overwhelm you. It’s no good to practice at a speed that makes you abandon your technique. You want to aim for a tempo where you can consistently execute about 80% correctly. When you are successfully executing whatever you are practicing 90-100 of the time, up the tempo again until you are down to the 70-80% range.

This method of progressively increasing the tempo ensures that you are spending your practice time right at the edge of your abilities.

If you raise the tempo too quickly and your success drops below 70% or so, you are no longer practicing correctly with any consistency, and you risk encoding the wrong skills into your muscle memory.

But, if you are consistently succeeding 9 out of 10 times, you aren’t pushing your abilities very much and you won’t improve quickly.

Here are some songs to help you push your personal tempo:

  • Danny Gatton – Funky Mama (135 bpm)
  • Lady Gaga – Applause (140 bpm)
  • Big John Dickerson – Red Beans (147 bpm)
  • Black Eyed Peas – Pump It (154 bpm)
  • Larry Dunn – Avalon (160 bpm)

Practice to your strengths in west coast swing

We’ve all heard the adage, “Play to your strengths.” We understand that there are some things we do exceptionally well and it makes sense to work in a way that leverages those advantages. Yet, when it comes to practice, we tend to ignore our strengths and instead focus on our weaknesses.

There’s nothing wrong with practicing weak spots. Some skills are simply essential for success in a given domain. In WCS, if you can’t do an anchor, you’re going to struggle.

But, if you spend all your time practicing the things you do poorly, you aren’t taking advantage of your strengths. Surprisingly, practice is most effective when it focuses on strong skills and builds them into world-class skills.

The claim that practice is most effective when it focuses on skills that are already strong makes sense when we think in concrete terms. Who is going to get the most out of practicing body rolls—someone who struggles with body isolations or someone who already has a great deal of body control? The person who struggles with isolations may pick up a couple of movements, but the person with body control has the ability to polish those movements into acts that stand out and catch the judges’ eyes. Likewise, a person who has a solid repertoire of footwork variations is going to get more out of practicing funky syncopations than a person who struggles with basic foot positions.

The reality is, practice time is limited. If you want to become exceptional by fixing all of your weaknesses, you’re fighting an uphill battle. If, on the other hand, you minimize your weaknesses and pour your effort into making your strengths truly outstanding, you’ll be able to leverage your existing skills to a far greater degree. Practice to your strengths.

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