Practice (the other way to get there)

October 20, 2009

I know many of you took piano lessons at some point in your life.  You went to one lesson a week or month, right?  What did you do on the other days where you were not at a lesson.

I didn’t practice either… see how well I play the piano?  I had enough natural pitch and rhythm and sight-reading to maybe convince my teacher I had thought about practicing during the week.  I’m sure I wasn’t her star pupil.  And after all the battles over practicing, my mom let me quit.  To this day I kind of blame her for it.  I wish I could play well.  But she was not about to waste the money on lessons, gas to drive there, and music to purchase without my holding up the end of the bargain.

Why is it that Dancers think that they can improve by just going to class?

Practice makes perfect, right?  It is SOOOO frustrating when we work together on a piece of your reel, we finally make some technical progress, and I’m excited for your breakthrough.  Then next week, you dance your reel, and ta-da! It was just like it was at the beginning of class last time.  You didn’t even think about what we had worked on, much less actually practiced it.  So we start over.  You think class is boring, I think you don’t listen to me.

The Solution?

Say it with me… Prac-tice.  Good!  Again.  Practice.  And louder.  PRACTICE!

And I don’t mean kick off your shoes, run through your reel and one step of your Hornpipe during the commercial break of ‘So you think you can dance’.  I also don’t mean turn on Lord of the Dance and learn the routines.  I also don’t mean work on the Slip Jig of your buddy who is already in Champs and has new steps that you like.

Practice is having a big enough space to work, free from the TV, facebook or your cell phone.  Practice is having your dance shoes on.  Practice is a 10 minute warmup, drills like we do in class, isolated practice of sticky spots and what your teacher worked with you on last class, Feis Runthroughs, Endurance Reps (the dance twice without a break), Video Taping and reviewing, One Dance in Depth, and 10 minutes of cooldown and stretching.

Just think…

Beginner+ 20 minutes of practice 3 days a week for 3 months= Advanced Beginner in all your dances at your next feis.

Advanced Beginner+ 30 Minutes of practice 3 days a week for 3 months= Novice in your stronger set of dances, high placements in all the rest.

Novice+ 45 minutes of practice a day for 6 months= Open Prizewinner, Baby.

Prizewinner+ 1 hour of practice 3 days a week for a year= Preliminary (at least by my “teacher discretion” qualifying method)

Preliminary+ 1 Hour of practice 4 days a week for a year= Open Championship

Open Championship+ 1 Hours of Practice a day (even on class days) for 2 years= Worlds Recall

Yes, that’s beginner to Worlds Recaller in 5 years.

Sound extreme?  What does it take to become an  olympic gymast?

A Concert Violinist?  Awesome Article: Concert violinist

Or, a bit closer to home, a Ballerina?

If you want to be a champion, you have to work like a champion.

Dancer, dismissed.

Mom, listen up.

I have heard some of you whine about how you don’t know why so and so is moving up while your daughter, who “loves to dance” but “isn’t as aggressive” is not.  You ask me about rewards for good behaviour, making your kid practice charts, scare tactics, etc.

Did you pay for your Daughter’s Irish Dance class or not?   Do you buy her new shoes, a new wig, drive her to class every week, take her to feiseanna?  A new dress if she practices for 45 minutes a day should not be the reward.  Getting to Irish Dance should be the reward.

This is not Math Homework.  This is something your child wants to do.  If they are “well-rounded”, often meaning they have too many activities on their plate to really gain mastery in any one of them, then expecting to become a champion is not a reasonable expectation.  If your child really wants to do this, it will need to be one of two or maybe three  primary focuses in their life.

Talk to me (your child’s teacher) about it.  I am a fan of the hard-nosed parent in this respect.   If they don’t think it’s worth their while to practice what I’ve worked with them on last week, I don’t want to see them in class today… it’s a waste of my time and theirs, and a waste of your money.  I’ll understand their absence if they are getting some tough love.

You should only have to give the support on your end if she is willing to put in the time on hers.

When everyone does their part:  Teacher gives steps and feedback, Parent gives some funding and lots of support, Dancer gives focus and effective practice- the results are incredible.

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13 Responses to “Practice (the other way to get there)”

  1. Also, here is the story of a World Champion Irish Dancer, to reaffirm the hours of practice needed to capture a World title: Maggie Darlington

    Also, as a note based on feedback:

    This is not my philosophy toward all of my dancers. There are wonderful children in my classes to make friends, enjoy shows and compete casually. My article is for those who decide that they want to go as far as their passion takes them. I love my kids, and know that telling them like it is is sometimes the best way.

    Thanks for reading!

  2. red said

    Every word of this post is absolutely spot on. I told my dd when she got to Prelims that champs don’t make excuses they just get on with it. You students are lucky to have such a good TC.

  3. Down Under TC said

    My fellow TC sent this link to me – she thought I had wrote it!
    That can only tell you how much I agree with what you have said.
    What rings true for me in particular are the children who do a different after school activity every day of the week and are not excelling at one in particular and those mums can’t understand why.
    I’ll keep checking back here to catch your blogs! Thanks!

  4. TC and mom said

    Love your blog!! Completely agree. I am wondering about your thoughts on those dancers though who don’t have “it”. I mean, I could take voice lessons for two hours a day, and I will never get a ticket to Hollywood on Amercian Idol…I do not have “it”, and I never will. I feel terrible for such dancers. They hang on for years, waiting for their turn, only to have it never come.

  5. S said

    If the teacher gives steps, but not feedback, how does a dancer improve. The message – now you’re a champion you know what you need to improve hasn’t been much help!

  6. TC and Mom:

    That is a tough question. I know the dancer you’re talking about. There’s just that something missing… they are doing everything they are supposed to, and it’s still not right.

    I am by no means the all-knowing teacher… so please take all that I say with a grain of salt.

    Is that dancer who doesn’t have “it” doing everything in their power (focused practice, attention in class, filming themselves, doing cross training, watching world champions, listening to you) to improve?

    Is this what they really want?

    What is their Goal? You said waiting for their turn. Their turn to win? Their turn to feel they did their best. If the Podium is the only measure of success we give these kids, so many will fail. But if they are competing against themselves, their own personal mountains to climb or demons to subdue, then victory is very very possible.

    Who knows, maybe you could be on American Idol!

  7. S-
    I hate to ask it, because it seems so obvious…

    Have you asked your teacher what you need to do to improve?

    Maybe they are waiting for you to master the material they have given you to the standard you are already capable of.

    Or perhaps it is a big class, and your dancer is doing fine (at least nothing sticks out as horribly wrong) so no news is good news.

    Ask them. If you have the step ready to show them, or if you have specific questions (ie “I noticed a judge said ‘lift’ on my comments sheet at my last feis… can you watch me do my reel step and see what they meant?”) It will go a long ways toward the help you’re looking for.

    Happy Communicating!

  8. Jody said

    I agree with your answer to “S.” It’s also possible the TCRG is giving feedback, but the dancer just doesn’t want to hear it. The dancer needs to be willing to listen to the TCRG.

  9. NEChamp said

    HAHAHA!!! So true I read this post and was like did she read my mind? I went from beginner to open champ in <5 years, going to my first worlds and hoping for a recall. I must say I didn't follow your pattern exactly as I dropped out for a year and have only been in open for 1 year, but you get the picture. Just wanted to let you and other people know that YES this does happen!

  10. Jennifer said

    Thanks so much for posting this, this is exactly what I’ve needed. Trying to get from novice/pw into prelims and wanting to know what it takes. thanks!! 🙂

  11. TC mum said

    Ive revisited this article so many times in the last year!
    As a TC with dancers who are working for world qualifying places, im heartbroken as parents commit finacially but then dont follow through with the support and encouragement and desire to emphasise the need for practise.
    Missing classes in favour of other hobbies, not practising, returning time and time again with material painstakingly corrected in class only to be no different.
    Yet the pressure on the TC for these children to win at Feisenna!
    Parents and pupils its great having this dream of the Worlds but lets be realistic, champs dont just go to class 3/4 times a week .
    In a bid to restore my sanity Ive pasted and sent your blog to my pupils.Heres hoping.

  12. Maggie said

    My daughter just started prelim and is in a slump. She suddenly won’t practise and we are struggling with her daily. She says she feels discouraged in class, no new steps, sad and she is now placing at the bottom. She has always placed well until now and I’m worried she will want to quit. Is ther anything we can do to motivate her? Is this normal when entering prelim because the process is different?

    • Hello Maggie!
      So sorry to hear your DD is in a slump! The beginning of prelim is a hard time. You go from getting a few medals each feis from your seven dances to suddenly nothing if you don’t recall. It’s completely normal, and the glow of getting to prelim often ends in a snuffed out career if the dancer doesn’t have roots.
      It’s time to dig deep for your girl. She needs to look at Irish dancing and what about it makes her happy. Is it friends? Is it Performing? Is it winning? Then go for that! If performing makes her smile, arrange for her to dance at rest homes and local festivals- enter talent competitions, etc. Is it Friends? Organize weekly practice sessions at your house. Is it Winning? Does your teacher or a senior champ offer private lessons?

      Keep us updated! We’ve all been there!

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