The Chess Model of Practice

West Coast Swing Online Grab Bag

This post is the second post in a series about practice models. The previous post focused on the music model of practice. In this post, we will explore the chess model. Although this model of practice is less well-known in WCS, there are several ways to apply this model to our dance.

Chess players improve their game by comparing their decision-making with the greatest chess minds of all time. A typical practice strategy involves recreating a situation from a past game. After the player has decided on the best move from that position, he or she compares that choice with the choice made by the master in the past game. If the player made a different decision than the past master, he or she will examine the strengths and weaknesses of each position in more detail in order to determine why the master made the move he or she did.

This process of carefully examining each move builds the player’s ability to choose well in similar situations. In addition, this process helps the player learn how to assess chess moves, which builds the player’s general chess abilities.

At first glace, this practice model seems to have little in common with west coast swing; the range of possible chess moves is strictly limited by the rules of the game, the chess player has a relatively long period of time potentially available to evaluate each move, and there is an objective goal for the game of chess. However, the ability to decide on an appropriate move in a given situation is extremely important in WCS, and this model of practice can be adopted in order to develop that ability.

One way to replicate this model for WCS is to watch a video of champion level dancers and pause the video shortly before a break in the music. Given where the dancers are in the pattern, you should ask yourself what you would lead in that situation (leaders) or how you would acknowledge the accent given what is being led (followers). You can then go back to the video and compare your choice with the pros. If you chose differently from the pros, you can examine which choice is superior in terms of how well the accent fits the music, how cool it looks, how well it fits with what the partner is doing, etc. Repeating this exercise with videos from your favorite dancers will give you quite a repertoire of movements to use in order to acknowledge the music.

This practice strategy can be extended to any decision within the dance. How long should you continue playing before resuming the dance? Where should you put your arm during a particular movement? Should you spot your partner or down line in a specific position? Should you use a toe lead or a heel lead out of a wrap position? With the number of video clips on YouTube, not to mention event DVDs, the amount of practice material available for this strategy is virtually unlimited.

Keys to the Chess Model of Practice

  • Specific decision points can be identified
  • The student can compare his or her decision to that of an expert
  • When there is disagreement, the student attempts to understand why the expert made his or her choice
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