Git Gud: How to Approach Practice

by Russell McClay / Amanda Luan on October 5, 2015

I can totally get where I want to be by practicing super hard two weeks before comp, right?!?!

About the authors:

Russell & Amanda are among Cotillion’s most accomplished undergraduate Latin dancers. Competing and placing in Open Latin at various intercollegiate competitions, they are seasoned veterans of the dance floor. In the Spring of 2015, Russell was elected President of Cotillion, and will be graduating in Biopsychology. Amanda graduated in Spring of 2015 with honors in Chemical Engineering and, more importantly, owns 3 cats. Here is their advice:


Dancing is an enriching experience that presents not only a challenge for those willing to push themselves, but a challenge in handling the time devoted to it. Over the years, we have developed methods of approaching practice that have helped us achieve what we want out of dance as individuals and as a partnership. While there is no “right” way to practice, what we are about to share will help you get the most out of your practice time. These are guidelines that will allow you to set a pace for yourself and your partnership.

Consistency is key

  • There’s no way around it; progress is made through time and effort. It is important to be consistent with your practicing, something that is true in anything you wish to improve in. Time is limited but establishing a practice schedule is important in not only maintaining your current dance level but surpassing it. While you may not be able to work on it every day, try to make an effort to dance on a regular basis. Practicing dance exercises doesn’t have to be limited to the dance floor. Working on posture can be done anywhere, and doing rumba walks in the grocery store isn’t as uncommon as you might think.

Track your progress

  • On top of practicing regularly, tracking your progress is helpful to understand your current level and what you need to work on to improve. Besides working in front of a mirror, this can also be done by recording yourself practicing. As painful as it can be to watch yourself, this is a great way to monitor your progress and allow you to visualize the improvements you have made. Once you’ve taken a video, watch it and pinpoint a few aspects that you need to improve. Record yourself again while keeping those things in mind and see if there is a difference. You will discover that watching recordings of yourself will not only reveal what you can change to make a huge difference in your dancing, but will also help make performing more comfortable.

Don’t spread yourself too thin

  • So much to do, so little time—so spend it wisely! Focusing on too many things at once may get you nowhere. Keeping one or two things in mind at a time can be much more effective than trying to do everything at once. For instance, when learning a new routine, becoming comfortable with the steps is more important than thinking about the technique. Afterwards, begin introducing technique one aspect at a time. However, during competition season the overall picture is more important than getting stuck in the finer details.

There is always something to practice

  • Push yourself; don’t get too comfortable. There is always room for improvement and there is always something for you to do. If nothing else, you should always go back to the basics. The basics are your foundation; it is crucial to make sure that you do not sacrifice them for new technique. Having said that, implementing technique can be difficult. Slow things down to make sure your technique is perfect; speed things up to ensure that you can perform effortlessly at any tempo.

You are your worst critic

  • Falling short of our own expectations is a terrible feeling and can lead to disappointment. It is good to have high expectations for yourself, but it is also important to remember to step back and look at the bigger picture. While you may not look as good as you think you should be, remember to put your progress in perspective. It takes a lot of willpower to see flaws in your dancing and then work on improving them. Don’t get stuck in your head—and remember to breathe.

Seek feedback

  • Dance would be a boring journey if it was experienced alone. Having the people around you makes it much richer experience and conversely, they are your best resource. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Seeking guidance from those around you is quintessential for your growth as a dancer. However, take what you hear with a grain of salt. Different dancers struggle with different problems and advice from multiple sources can be contradictory. When in doubt, get lessons from a professional teacher. They can easily pinpoint the root of your issues and can give invaluable feedback on how you can improve.

Progression is not linear

  • As rewarding as practicing can be, it can also be frustrating when results aren’t immediate. There will be good days and bad days. Sometimes your progress can feel exponential; at other times it can feel like you’ve regressed after a long and difficult practice. These days happen to the best of us. As discouraging as this can be, progress is always made as long as you put in the effort and use your time efficiently. Being in a so-called slump can be stressful, particularly during competition season. In this case, it is important to remember that selling the performance can make more of an impact than having your routine down perfectly.

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