In a recent interview, former Professional Latin world champion Corky Ballas gave some excellent insights into how you need to practice if you want to be a quality dancer.

Corky told a story of an athlete winning a gold medal in the Olympics. This athlete was outstanding and got an excellent result. The podium finalists were excellent. They got a good result. Those who didn’t make the podium were good. But in comparison, they got a lousy result. His point was that in perspective to a winning result, being good is lousy. You have to be outstanding to get top quality results. But a lot of people think of good as excellent or even outstanding.

One of his key points was that you need to be coachable, and you need coaching. It doesn’t matter how good you are, you need continuous coaching. He said, “Tiger Woods takes lessons every day. You don’t think Tiger Woods knows how to swing a golf club?”

What’s the most effective way to practice?

Corky wants you to think about what you are practicing. In his experience, most couples just practice like they are swimming in a pool treading water. There is no specific focus or structure to their practice sessions. So they end up doing the same thing over and over again with no significant improvement. You have to be a laser, not a flashlight. You have to be focused.

Corky believes that practice needs to be very specific. You must decide ahead of time what you want to work on, and then focus on that one detail. It can be the smallest thing like where your body weight is on each step or whether your feet are turned out or parallel. Give that kind of focused attention throughout your practice.

Tiger Woods takes lessons every day. You don’t think Tiger Woods knows how to swing a golf club?

He suggests that you practice a slow round at half speed, without talking to each other. No talking at all. Zip the lips. That way if it goes badly at least you got a round in.

After that initial warm up round you get into your focused practice. What do you focus on? Pick something that you know needs improvement. Focus on posture or body rhythm or parallel feet or shaping or timing or some other characteristic of the dance you are working on. Focus on one step pattern or one aspect of technique. One thing only.

You need pinpointed practice. Most people try to focus but give up after a couple of minutes and then they are back to doing a generic practice again.

Corky explains that in essence dancing itself is not focused due to the many aspects that are involved. There is foot work and timing and connection and choreography and charisma and presentation and technical precision. This is a lot of stuff! You have a lot of things to think about. It’s all about multi-tasking. So you need to focus on very specific things in your practice sessions or else you have nothing that ever improves.

There will be down times when you aren’t motivated or don’t feel like putting in the work and effort required to become a great dancer. Don’t feel that this is the end of your dancing ability. There’s always one thing you can be better at. When you are clear about what you are trying to master (not learn), then you can stay motivated.

You might also like: How you practice makes perfect

Author George Pytlik

Before turning pro, George achieved impressive results as an amateur competitor, holding the Senior (30+) Latin championship in BC, Canada for 7 consecutive years with his wife Wendy. The couple twice achieved a top-3 Canadian ranking in Senior Latin as well as a 3rd place Canadian ranking in 30+ Ten Dance. Today, George and Wendy are professional teachers with a vision of growing a strong dance community in Delta near Vancouver, BC.

More posts by George Pytlik

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