The Value of Solo Practice

West Coast Swing Online Grab Bag

Many dancers complain, “I don’t have a practice partner!” This complaint seems to make sense: shouldn’t you need a partner to get the most out of practicing a partner dance? Surprisingly, more often than not the answer is no.

Fundamentally, all social dancing requires you to execute your own part. A great dancer can adjust to make a less skilled dancer feel like they are dancing better, but it’s an illusion. At the end of the day, each partner needs to dance their part. This is true even for dips and other social tricks: if you can’t dance the dip on your own, you are relying on your partner to support you, which is not a good position to be in unless you really know and trust your partner!

It’s true that some moves are easier to do with a partner because you can work off that person’s energy. But—with narrow exceptions for choreographed tricks—your partner will have a lot easier time giving you that energy if you can move yourself in the right way without their support. Sure, your partner can force you through pivot turns down the line, but the move will be much easier on both of you if you can do clean pivots on your own.

Even when you are doing a move that relies heavily on working off your partner, you need to have enough body control of your own mechanics to be able to channel that energy. Pot-stirs work much better when the leader can maintain a consistently pulsed halo and when the follower can balance on the toe base. Mastering you own body mechanics is what makes it possible to work off of your partner, rather than relying on them.

Perhaps most importantly, your ability to dance is something you can develop on your own. In fact, it’s usually easiest to work on the technical elements of your movement without a partner. Whether you are learning to roll through the feet, body isolations, or dancing to musical phrases, it is much easier to develop your skills in an environment where you don’t have to worry about what your partner is doing.

The bottom line is that solo practice is immensely valuable. Even when partner practice is helpful, you will get the most out of your partner practice if you have put in the solo work beforehand. So, don’t stop practicing just because you don’t have a practice partner! Instead, think about what your responsibility is for the part of the dance you want to improve, and find a way to work on your responsibility. That way, you’ll become a better dancer for yourself—and a better practice buddy for your future partner.

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