We’re all familiar with the adage, “Practice makes perfect.” But does it always? Consider this quote by American scholar, Hamza Yusuf: “Practice makes permanent, not perfect. If you practice the wrong thing, you make the wrong act permanent.” In other words, practice instills within us a permanent habit, for good or for bad. It’s how we practice which largely affects how successful we will be, not merely the number of hours or repetitions spent on a given task.
The point is not that practice is unimportant, but that only when done correctly, can it lead to the results we desire. If you are attempting to drive a car forward while the gear shift is set in reverse and hit the gas 100 times, will the car eventually move forward? The answer is obvious. The point being, if you practice something incorrectly, you will learn it and perform it…You guessed it…incorrectly!
So, how does one make sure they are practicing correctly? The online education platform, TED-Ed states, “Effective practice is consistent, intensely focused and targets content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of one’s current abilities.” They offer the following suggestions:
- Focus on the task at hand and minimize distractions. Avoid daydreaming or talking in class and listen to your teacher, even when the instruction seems unrelated to you.
- Start out slowly. Coordination is built with repetitions. If you gradually increase the speed of quality repetitions, you have a better chance of doing them correctly. When learning a new exercise, practice it carefully and slowly under the watchful eye of your teacher, being sure to do it correctly before you increase your speed! This is especially crucial in dance, since performing certain movements improperly can result in injury.
- Be balanced. Frequent repetitions with allotted breaks are common practice habits of elite performers. Many top athletes, musicians and dancers spend 50-60 hours per week on activities related to their craft. Many divide their time into multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration. Short practice sessions daily in between your weekly lessons can be immensely beneficial and will train your brain and body to treat the movement as second nature.
- Practice in your brain in vivid detail. A number of studies suggest that once a physical motion has been established, it can be reinforced just by imagining it. So, even when you can’t practice the steps with your body, you can “practice” them in your head!
In addition, a student may come to feel that their regular classes and at-home practice sessions are not quite enough to help them achieve the increased “edge” they are looking for. Or they may be dealing with a discipline or movement which is particularly challenging for them. If this is the case, a student should first approach their teacher and politely request specific feedback or exercises they can do on their own. They may also consider speaking to their parents and teacher about additional classes and private lessons as a supplement to their training.
Lastly, don’t expect perfection! Sure, you want to try your best, but beating yourself up over a perceived flaw is neither productive or healthy.
The conclusion? Listen to your teacher, accept the correction and implement it to the best of your ability. Practice as “perfectly” as you can, and the result will be a beautiful, healthy dancer, permanently.