Beyond Practice Basics
-The Expansion Pack-
I’m one of those people you hear typing at break-neck speeds from across the room. But I’ve been using computers for almost 20 years now, that should be expected, right? The problem is that I type every single day, but have been typing at the same speed for over 10 years.
It makes sense if you think about it.
Some people might chalk this up to what those on the Path to Mastery refer to as a “Plateau.” A period of time where you feel blocked from upward progress in your craft. You feel stale. Stagnant. Unable to innovate. But eventually something clicks and you’re on to the next one.
A 10 year Plateau? Maybe. But Swedish Psychology professor K. Anders Ericsson has a different theory.
He introduced a concept now known as “Deliberate Practice” where he found that how a person practices is far more important than simply performing tasks a large number of times. With that in mind, I’m not saying Drills aren’t important, but I am saying that if your practice is missing more elements than Play, Drill, Repeat, you’re doing a disservice to yourself.
| How a person practices is far more important |
| than simply performing tasks a large number of times. |
And this is why my typing speed hasn’t improved in 10 years. Because I’m performing the act of typing every day, but I’m never practicing it deliberately. And this got me thinking — How should I practice my craft? What makes practice deliberate?
Here’s a checklist of ideas to get you into the next level of practice methodology in your movement art. Taking it from cheering for yourself when you get positive feedback and skipping the rest, to something that will have you improving at faster rates than ever before. And hey, maybe that’s not for you. NO SHAME in chillin’ at current speed or better yet, feeling like you’re moving just fine with your current practice methods. But for the rest of us…
If you don’t have all 3 of these — you’re not practicing. That’s really the bottom line. You may be performing actions over time, but you’re not practicing. Just like how not all movement is dance, not all action is practice. I’m not going to go in depth on these. Here’s the gyst.
Play: Most people are awesome at this. Explore ideas. Use games. Freestyle to music. Let go and see what happens. We’ll dive deeper here later.
Feedback Mechanism(s): The more the merrier. Examples: mirrors, photos, videos, people, music and more. You can even get creative and make mechanisms like Charlie Cushing’s 9 Square Grid taped to a wall. Anything that’s going to assist in informing you to the difference between success and failure is necessary for practice.
Drills: The final piece of the puzzle. The laborous, tedious action of taking what you’ve found through play and doing it over and over again, fine tuning each time, increasing speed and frequency, tightening form, and adjusting character throughout until the movement becomes second nature.
Okay, we’re gonna dive straight into the practice expansion pack. Hold on to your butts.
The motivational poster bullshit kind,
not the hippie bullshit kind.
What differentiates success and failure in your practice? If you say “Good things feel right and bad things don’t” please keep reading because you need this article the most. If you thought “Hrm, I don’t really know” or “I could use a few more ideas” then read on.
It was only after I started juggling, 11 years into dance, that I understood why people are so attracted to learning “styles” of dance. From the perspective of practice, styles — from Ballet to Boogaloo — are essentially collections of aesthetic guidelines lumped together into a nice package. They let us gauge the difference between right and wrong. Between proper technique vs. sloppy technique vs. just plain not part of the style. For everyone who just perked up, adjusted their keffiyeh and said “There’s no such thing as right and wrong in art.” Fuck you. You are why there is so much shit art in the world. But thank you, too. Because by rebelling against this idea and working one’s ass off with clear vision and deliberate practice, it becomes that much easier to be great in the face of your mediocrity.
| Butthurt people can go be angry now. |
| For everyone who wants to be better, keep reading. |
Am I recommending learning through style? Yes, but. The but is important. Learning through style is simply learning what someone else defined as right and wrong. As a beginner, this kind of guidance should be welcomed. But sticking too stringently to it over time will stifle you. It’s up to you to recognize the line and find out when you need to spread those wings and jump out of the nest. But if you wanna be great, you have to depart at some point. You have to build a clear vision of what you want your art to look like. Of what you’re striving to actually do with this thing you put so many hours into. I can’t tell you what it is. No one can. Just know that it’s unlike anything anyone else has ever done and it’s inside of you. Seek it. Then use the 3 principles of practice and beyond to get there.
| Learning through style is simply learning what |
| someone else defined as right and wrong. |
Ritual — Making Meaning Out of Habit
Say what you want about Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, homie knew how to win. And while he may have broken the rules of the Olympics, we still have a lot to learn from him in terms of achieving excellence.
And fuck, if you wanna smoke some weed along the way like he did, light that shit up right now and keep reading. This ain’t the Olympics.
Michael Phelps was credited to using the concept of Ritual to set himself up to crush. He connected otherwise mundane routines directly into his vision of success. How can you do this? You’ll have to find what works for you, but here are some thoughts from my own practice that may give you some ideas:
Food. Weed. Apparel.
- Food: I’m not here to tell you to go Vegan or even eat Healthy. This is about Ritual, not diet. Everyone should know by now that the food you eat affects your performance. What isn’t so obvious is that the way you eat your food affects it, too. Don’t just stuff food from box to mouth. Take consideration in the craftsmanship of the utensils and plateware being used. Savor the flavor of your meal. Maybe throw some Rocky theme song music on while you eat to get pumped up. Whatever it is, make every aspect of it count towards the preparation of your practice.
- Weed: Yep. I went there. I do drugs. I’m a bad person. I’m not trying to outline using substances to stimulate performance in this article (stay tuned for that though), so hold off judgement until I have time to write that one. Sativa oriented Cannabis stimulates my creativity, reduces my fear of failure and assists in what Ze Frank (paraphrased) calls Becoming Fascinated with the shape of the stepping stones to greatness. The key, for me, is using it as a tool at the right time in the right space as part of my ritual. People even have mini-rituals just for the way in which they smoke. There’s something to be learned and applied here, even if it’s not with Marijauana for you.
- Apparel: There are too many scientific studies out in the wild that conclude what you wear can enhance your performance to brush off your clothing choices during the practice of your craft. If you’re practicing in the same clothes you wear to work or bed, I’m telling you right now: You’re fucking up. There is a reason why people have “gym clothes,” “yoga clothes,” “running shoes,” etc and it’s not entirely about marketing and cultural bandwagoning. It’s about Ritual. It’s about getting in the zone and in a mindstate to do what your clothing is telling you you’re supposed to be doing. Going to an interview in a suit instead of pajamas is just as important for you and your confidence as it is for what you are projecting to a potential employer. The same can be said about your attire for practice. I use sweatpants, a white t-shirt, kneepads, two specific hats (Hat Manipulation is part of my practice so I use a very floppy hat to drill old tricks and a very stiff hat to find new tricks) and I’m barefoot. These aren’t arbitrary apparel decisions. They’ve been chosen over years of adjustments to my practice methods and they’re still being improved upon (barefoot is only 8 months old in 15 years of practice). The key is starting with something and iterating. Forming emotional connections to the items that are functional and shedding the items that are not.
Stretches. Structure. Shit Music. Strong Finish.
- I start my practice with stretches. Mind you. This isn’t a pre-practice ritual. That’s important. That’s because I don’t stretch to “warm up.” I stretch to achieve higher levels of flexibility. More importantly, I use stretching as a means to initiate the first movements of my Practice. For years, I would hit the practice space unsure of what to do *first.* Stretches hammer out that obstacle for me. This leads in to what I call “Structured Play.”
- Remember the games you used to play as a child? Tag. Hide and Seek. Hot Lava? These are perfect examples of Structured Play. I’m not talking about games with complex rules like Soccer or Magic: The Gathering (not that I know those rules or anything…ahem). Simplicity is key in being able to translate new applications of old games to your practice. Then you can start adding layers. Don’t just play a game of Keepaway. Play it as a child. Then add another layer. Play it as the sad kid in the middle having the object kept from them — frustrated, ostracized, just looking for a friend. Add another layer. That same kid finally gets the object and begins to play with it. You’ve now built an mini-story with conflict and resolution purely from movement, and a motivated opening to begin dancing with spatial manipulations.
- Ever been in a battle or at the club and you’re not feelin’ the music? Maybe you’ve heard that same song 100x or it’s a House tune and you fucking hate House music. Well, my friend, you’re missing out. This isn’t an annoyance — it’s a challenge. It’s a way to move outside of your comfort zone. During practice, I recommend throwing on 1 shit song towards the end and going balls-out to it. If you can make a bad song look good, you can make a good song look great. Better yet, take time to introduce some comedy into your practice and make fun of the song using motion. Show the audience your disdain for the track, not by dancing poorly to it, but through clear, quality motion that draws attention to the weakness of the song — not the weakness of your dance.
- Finish strong by doing the opposite of the previous item. Throw on an awesome jam and get the fuck down. Incorporate all the elements of the days practice into this final freestyle. Doing this last always helps me leave practice with a positive feeling, which reinforces my desire to practice again in the future. It’s ending the date with a kiss instead of an awkward hug or a frustrated wave. Close the deal on your practice sessions.
Roll-Out. Reflection. Reward
- Roll-Out: I’m not as young as I used to be. Rolling out used to mean leaving somewhere. Now it means getting on a foam roller and massaging the muscles I just put to work. Ritualizing this process gives me additional insight into which muscle groups need the most attention during stretching the next day and which may need additional care from a professional over time. Remember: Your body is what let’s you do these things. Don’t neglect it.
- Reflection: What good is practice if you don’t remember what happened the next day? Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes a week later, I have no idea what I did in the last session — which means I have no idea on what to build on. If you’re not building, you’re not getting better. I recommend taking some time out, even if it’s just 5 minutes, to have some quiet time and mentally summarize the work you just did, how it aligns with your Vision and what you can do next time to improve the aspects of your Rituals and your Practice as a whole. If you have a bad memory like me, start a notebook and jot down what you worked on.
- Reward: Again with all this Science stuff. Some of it’s boring as fuck so I’m gonna spare you and get to the point. When animals are rewarded for their efforts, they are more likely to repeat those efforts. You are an animal and you should reward yourself for your efforts. In fact, unlike that Christmas Sweater from your Aunt that sits in the closet, you know best how to reward yourself. I use sweets like cookies and ice cream. Find what works for you and treat yourself.
So here’s where I reward myself.
Time for some ice cream.
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