|Petipa, George Eastman House|
You'd think that practicing at all outside of class is enough, right? As long as you put some music on and shimmy while you're doing the dishes, as long as you dance to a song or two while you're drying your hair, as long as you practice zilling to the top 40 in the car, you're still practicing, right?
But then you get to see all those beautiful dancers who are so flexible and so sharp and just so good, and you tell yourself that they're just really talented. Natural-born bellydancer, right?
First of all, nothing you do in bellydance is natural, except maybe a hip shimmy, which is really just exaggerated walking. And yes, some people are taller or shorter or heavier or skinnier than you. But apart from that, there's very little difference between you and that dancer you envy*cough*admire. Just the one thing, in fact.
They use deliberate practice.
What is deliberate practice? Well, it's right there in the name. You are practicing deliberately. "Well, isn't all practice deliberate?" you say. "I'm not just accidentally doing chest lifts here!"
To practice deliberately, you not only need to take the time to practice, but you also need motivation to practice, an understanding of your vocab of moves, self-awareness, and repetition.
So how do you get these things?
Well, motivation is the tough one. If you're not motivated to practice or even dance, you should ask yourself whether or not this is the thing for you. But even if you know you want to be a dancer, motivation can be hard to come by when you've had a long day and you're tired and sore and you feel clumsy. For those days, put together a motivation pack. Get some music that gets you dancing, even if it's not your typical bellydance music. If you've got a great DVD that really inspires you, save it for the tough practice nights. Or get a list of YouTube videos that make you want to move and watch those just before practicing. Another way to motivate yourself is to sign up for a performance--nothing will get you practicing faster than an upcoming performance.
Understanding your bellydance vocab means getting to class and learning. And it doesn't just have to be your regular class, either. Check around and see if there are any workshops or new teachers coming through your area. Or plan a road trip with your troupe and visit another studio. Never stop learning new things, and bring them to the table every time you practice. And if you learn something new that doesn't quite make sense to you, don't feel bad about asking for a better explanation.
To be self-aware while you're dancing means getting feedback on your progress, whether it be from a mirror, a video, a friend or teacher, or even just the way the move feels on your body. If you've been dancing long enough, you'll know when you've done something right or not. And it doesn't hurt to ask your teacher or a dance friend to tell you when you need to work on something. Make sure you videotape your performances, and every once in awhile, trot out the camera for your practice, too, so you can check to see if there's anything you need to work on. Another good idea is to keep a dance journal and write down what you're working on and how it feels. That way you can go through it and see where you're improving and where you're lagging behind.
Repetition is the easiest one--you've already been doing this. Just keep practicing it!
Next time you practice, pick at least three things you want to work on, and make sure they are moves you know how to execute. Then, throw on your favorite piece of music, turn on the video camera or grab a friend, and spend fifteen minutes practicing those three moves. When the fifteen minutes is up, watch the video or ask you friend to see how you did. Take notes on what you need to work on, put it in your dance journal, and then use it to structure your next practice. In no time, you'll be just as talented as those dancers you admire!