How to help your dancer practice at home
Helping your dancer practice at home is an important part of a crazy dance mum’s job. I know people say, I don’t have to do a thing, she just practices by herself, I never have to push her. Or, I don’t know how to help them, what use am I, or the old ‘combative’ practice environment where mother and daughter end up sniping at each other about practice, during practice, after practice. Some people think that their kid is at the studio enough, why should they practice at home? None of these situations are ideal and none of them are really getting us any closer to our aim of helping our dancers be the very best they can be.
What is ideal practice?
There are many aspects of dance that are perfect to practice at home. Stretching is a big one. Solo practice is another. Special strengthening exercises and exam work are other things that benefit greatly from extra practice at home.
According to the Peak Performance Training Institute, practice is
The repetition of an action with the goal of improvement and it helps us to perform with more ease and confidence.
This repetition increases layers of myelin, a sort of insulation that prevents energy loss from the electrical signals the brain is sending. As the repetition increases these layers of myelin it builds a superhighway network from the brain to the muscles.
However, mastery is not just about the number of hours but about the quality and effectiveness of that practice. Let me just say that again, the quality and effectiveness of that practice…….
So, all of the scenarios mentioned above, the child who constantly practices but with no guidelines or supervision, the disengaged parent, or the combative practice environment, none of these are really likely to be quality and effective practice.
Anne Bosler and Don Greene from the Peak Performance Training Institute also point out that coordination is built of repetition whether correct or incorrect. That’s the thing about practice, it works just as well if you practice the right way or the wrong way. As a teacher, one of the MOST difficult things to do is to try to retrain a dancer who has been badly trained. When that superhighway network is built up between brain and muscle it is a big job to change it!
What can you do to help your dancer practice at home effectively
Getting back to the effective and quality practice, your child may well be madly practicing in the back room but what are they practicing? Are they carefully going over the corrections their teacher has given them, are they working on their bad leg splits to get them as good as their other leg, or are they madly practicing a la second turns or doing a hundred more kicks on their good leg?
Likewise, as a parent, you may not know much about teaching dance but you can help set your dancer up to practice well. You can make sure they have some sort of space, you can help them with time management. You can equip them with a corrections book. You can ask them to explain to you what the corrections were, spend some time letting them show you what they need to fix. If they have been given exercises to do you can help them make a chart to keep track. You can take photos of them as they work to improve skills to track their progress. You can work on a reward system if that helps. You can help them set goals. I know people say they should be self-motivated etc etc. And all that is true, BUT they are still children with busy lives. They benefit from guidance. By helping them set goals and stick to routines is teaching them skills that they can use for the rest of their lives!
The combative practice environment is a little harder to overcome. Mothers and daughters in particular lock horns. It’s a tale as old as time. I remember giving my own mother such a hard time once when she’d taken me to a studio to practice that she got in her car and drove off leaving me there to practice alone for what seemed like hours. It gave me a BIG shock!!
So what can you do to overcome the combative practice environment? Often the grumpiness and bad mood will stem from simply not liking being told what to do. A few weeks ago I walked into a hotel lobby where a big competition was being held and the first thing I heard was a mother barking, ‘stretch your foot’ while her daughter was running her solo. When you step back, it’s easy to see that this probably isn’t the most effective approach. And yet, I think we have all been there. Sometimes it’s just really hard to resist giving pointers. So what is a Crazy Dance Mum to do? A different approach is to talk to your dancer about what they need to improve. Go through their competition reports (if you have them), and go through their corrections with them. Ask them to show you what they mean. Ask them to show you how it should look. Offer to take videos and photos and look at them with your dancer. Buy videos of their solos so they can see what they actually look like on stage. All these things reinforce the corrections without you actually having to say very much at all.
However, if your child is just being a brat, plain and simple, don’t put up with it. I hear parents saying, oh she’s just stressed. She’s in diva mode. Allowing this kind of behavior is not doing your child any favors. It just teaches them that this kind of behavior is acceptable and it’s not. Yes cut them a bit of slack now and again but if they are really being rude and disrespectful, call them out. Remind them that dance is a privilege and not a right and that part of dancing is being respectful. You should never have to pander to your child. If they really want to dance, they can learn to do it without being rude and disrespectful.
How to help your dancer practice at home
- Help your child set practice goals
- Help your child establish a place to practice
- Help your child establish a practice routine
- Equip your child with tools to help them practice, a corrections checklist from their teacher
- Encourage your child to keep a record of their practice, taking before and after photos can be hugely motivational
You can download goal-setting sheets and correction checklists here.