Making the most out of your practice sessions – even when time is short! – is a theme I often receive questions about.
Here are my favourite tips for working as effectively as possible at home, with or without practice videos and DVDs, as well as on how to get the most out of your ‘live’ dance/martial arts/movement classes.
Rule nr 1: Don’t panic
First of all: Don’t fret if you are not able to do a ‘full‘ DVD/online class/practice session each time you have time to work on your art.
Shorter/fragmented sessions, if done consciously and with focus, still have many benefits.
As for ‘live’ classes: doing your best to remain as open-to-learning and welcoming to feedback as possible can be extremely helpful to progress faster, especially when you encounter a challenging exercise, or if you naturally tend to ‘hold back’ if you are unsure of a movement.
As one of my favourite teachers likes to say: Make huge mistakes! They are much easier to correct (and thus to learn from) than half-executed (or skipped!) exercises. Give your teacher something to work with.
Allow yourself to ‘go with the flow’ of how much time/energy you have, and don’t judge yourself for making a mistake. Every session counts!
Rule nr 2: Have a Plan
If you are feeling overwhelmed by practice options, a good way to prioritize is to figure out a theme (technique or style) that you’d like to work on in a given (broader) time-frame. This will be your ‘Master Plan’.
Having a ‘Master Plan’ will allow all of your practice sessions (whether they are long or short, frequent or infrequent) to have a more clear and defined focus, making them each more efficient and effective.
Even if this is ALL you have time to do right now, creating a Master Plan will influence your subconscious mind, helping you to make small daily choices that over time bring you closer to wherever you want to go.
How to break it down
Choose a ‘Big’ theme for a full year, and then divide this into smaller sub-themes for each season. Optionally you can sub-divide these 4 season-themes further into monthly focus areas.
Choose your themes/topics
I like to use the ‘Passion Planner Way’: Take a few minutes to write down ‘wishes for your art’ on a blank piece of paper, without filtering yourself or judging what you write.
Circle one thing, which will be your ‘theme of the year’.
Ideally, choose something that will:
- bring you joy
- help your art in different ways
- do both 🙂
After that, start writing down what you would need to do/be able to do to make this wish come true, and work from there to find your ideal sub-themes and priorities.
Note: Even though Having a Plan is great, life’s circumstances can sometimes change what is priority. Change your Plan at any time if needed. It is there to serve YOU, not the other way around.
Find your ‘why’
Use your intuition.. And give yourself some time to figure things out.
The more personal and clear your ‘drive’ for practice is, and the more you can figure out WHY you want work on something, the more motivated you will be throughout the year.
Also know that some improvements take time to manifest, and that it’s the little daily actions/choices that you make that add up to the big differences over time.
Example: My Master Theme for 2018 is ‘Flexibility‘ – something that I have been wanting to work on for ages, but somehow it never received the priority I now feel it deserves.
It took until I had my own personal reasons figured out (ie. lack of flexibility holds me back in both martial arts and ballet, and improving my range of motion will improve my oriental dance, all of which will bring me joy) for my motivation to fully manifest.
Note: Read more about how I went about in finding flexibility in 2018 in my ‘Flexibility blog posts’ here and here.
Eyes on the ball
Having a ‘Master Theme’ visibly placed in home (or at work!) will help to get your subconscious practice motor going (see first tip), which with a bit of luck will instigate spontaneous mini bonus practice moments during the day.
How to make it visible? A theme word written at the top of a (year/month) calendar will do.
Or use a simple sticky note 🙂
Rule nr 3: Structure your practice
To make each practice session count:
- always warm up
- do what you can with the time you have
- stay connected
- record and/or write down what you did
- reflect on what you’ve learned
Always warm up
Whether you are working on dance, martial arts, fitness/strength, or flexibility, warming up is of the essence. Even if you have only a few minutes, find ways to warm yourself up effectively before you ‘go deep’.
Warming up is important because:
- it primes your body for the movements you are about to do
- it increases your range of motion and improves the quality of movement that your muscle memory will record
- it puts you in a better frame of mind, it can spark inspiration, and mindful practice ‘sticks’
Do what you can with the time you have
- If you only have a short bit of time: Choose something that is either a. essential to your art (basics will help improve everything); b. something specific that fits the theme of your year/season/month; OR c. whatever you feel like working on right now.
- If you have a ‘medium’ amount of time: The same options as above apply, but you can also do a combination of all 3: basics, specifics, random practice – preferably in that order; or you can dedicate more time on a theme/exercise that needs more repetition, and/or dive deeper into a technical bit that you want to ‘clean up’/ analyse.
- If you have plenty of time: If you have a full day (or even a weekend!) to work on something, you can structure it a bit like a workshop/intensive. What would an ideal practice day/weekend look like for you? Write it out, with time blocks for each topic, and then do just that – while still feeling free to deviate from The Plan 🙂
Hours of practice while ‘phoning it in’ will not be as effective as even just a few minutes of moving with full focus and total commitment, so be sure make it a priority to work on practising just that.
Whether you are freestyling, taking a class, or working with a DVD/instructional video, promise yourself that you will dedicate this time fully, to practise ‘being present’, and it will help you get the most out of your precious time forever; now and in the long term.
Quick tip: If at all possible, get rid of any ‘distraction items’ for the duration of your session by putting them out of your direct line of vision
Record and/ or write down what you did
I use a separate ‘practice journal’ to write down (by date and time) every dance/martial arts/workout/stretching practice session I do. This helps me to
- keep track of what I have practised in a specific time period, and for how long
- look back at a later date/ time to see what has and has not worked
- focus on what I am learning while I am practising
- adapt my timing expectations where needed
Another great option is to film your practice sessions, so you can instantly review in detail what you’d like to keep, change, and/or work on further in the future.
Tip: You can also combine both methods, using your journal to jot down what you learn from reviewing the practice recordings and to plan what you’ll be focusing next time.
Reflect on what you’ve learned
You can use the ‘practice journal’ mentioned above for this, or just do a ‘practice review’ it in your mind. I sometimes take a few minutes while driving home from dance/martial arts class to reflect on what we’ve done, any feedback I (or others!) received, and/or things I’d like to try differently at home or during the next class.
Thinking/looking back on a class/practice helps to ‘anchor’ what you have learned, giving you more time to transfer the material into your long-term movement memory.
Bonus: Tips for working with DVDs/practice videos
Dare to deviate
It can be extremely valuable to follow an instructional DVD/video ‘to the letter’, and it can be inspiring to look for tiny details in demos and instructions. But don’t be afraid to adapt exercises to your own needs if need be.
A practice session is still highly effective (usually even more so!) when you listen to your body in the moment, and/or if you modify exercises to bring them in line with your movement goals.
- Dance videos/DVDS: While a DVD/class is running, stay in tune with your body and allow yourself to move and ‘jam’ a bit, feeling free to move on your own while the music and/or instruction is running whether there is music or not, and see what happens.. It might just spark inspiration and progress that would not have occurred otherwise!
- Workout videos: When I work out using an exercise app/book/DVD, I usually supplement it with my own warmup (my body needs it for deeper work), I substitute some of the plyo (jumping) movements with more gentle alternatives (and/ or I replace them with more dance/martial arts specific ones that I happen to be working on), plus I add ‘dance arms’ wherever I can, because arms are one of my ‘sub-themes’ for the year. I also make sure to use maximum range of motion wherever I can, AND if time permits I add a longer cooldown/stretching session after. This way I also incorporate my ‘Main Theme’ for the year – Flexibility.
- Stretching videos: Be sure to listen to/look at the instructions very carefully, but also allow yourself to modify an exercise if needed, and above all: listen to the inherent intelligence of your body. You will feel different based on what you have done the day(s) before, your current mood, and sometimes even your diet, so don’t be frustrated if one day you can do an exercise ‘free handed’ and the next you need to use props (like a block or Stretching Strap) and/or modifications. Allow yourself to pause the DVD/videos where needed to add more repetitions/breathing/to take a beat. Go with the flow.
Quality over quantity
Even if you only have a few minutes to spare, a very short practice session can still bring a lot, as long as you maximise the intensity by focusing on the movement experience, and by increasing your sensory input.
You can for instance focus on the feeling of your movements in your body (kinesthetic), look for their specific shapes, angles and details (visual) and/or connect to the music/your internal rhythm (auditory)
Incorporate all your senses! The more your body and mind are involved, the more effective your practice session will be.
Mix and match!
A third tip to optimize your practice, especially if you own several DVDs/videos, is to mix and match exercises from themes you are working with, and ‘sandwich’ them between a short warmup and a cooldown/dance/kick/stretching jam of your own to create personalised mini practice sessions.
To help with this, specifically for practising with the (belly dance) DVDs/Online Classses I have created in the past, I am currently writing index files with chapter timings for all of them. You can download the first few .pdfs already for free at www.khalidadance.com/indices
Bonus 2: Coupon for the dance lovers amongst you
I’ve created a coupon code for all my belly-dance-practicing blog readers for January – to get your year started with a bang 🙂 <3
Enter ‘DANCELOVE’ on checkout at www.gumroad.com/khalida for 20% off all downloadable and streaming Belly Dance DVDs/Practice videos!