In The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance psychologist K. Anders Ericsson writes,

We agree that expert performance is qualitatively different from normal performance and even that expert performers have characteristics and abilities that are qualitatively different from or at least outside the range of those of normal adults. However, we deny that these differences are immutable, that is, due to innate talent. Only a few exceptions, most notably height, are genetically prescribed. Instead, we argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.

Practice Makes Perfect

Over at The Rantings of a Lindy Hopper, Alice wrote in a post labeled True Improvement about the importance of (what I inferred as) deliberate practice or practice which is dedicated and involves reflection and evaluation of the efficiency of the methods one applies. Ericsson writes about this idea  in the same publication listed above,

An expert breaks down the skills that are required to be expert and focuses on improving those skill chunks during practice or day-to-day activities, often paired with immediate coaching feedback.

As someone who has been teaching swing dance for over two years, I can confidentially claim that besides actually social dancing (which can be argued as a form of practice) my students who progress the quickest develop ways to learn on their own and evaluate their own movement, or in some cases have it previously from activities like soccer or gymnastics.

My students who are often socializing in the wall/corner of the room or constantly need supervision in a class? They usually are the ones who try to crash my upper level classes when they don’t have the fundamentals down from the previous level, due to they are in most cases blissfully unaware of it.


However many students, especially newer ones seem averse to this idea of practice outside of dance class. As a matter of fact, one of the things I did last year was set up a practice session for my local swing dance club on a Monday for an hour for people to have floor space to work with each other on stuff.

What happened was most people either stood around expecting someone to teach them or just used the time to social dance. What boggles me is other dance communities like Argentine Tango have specific events that the purpose is solely for practice and nothing else and it works fine. Yet, it seems for the swing dance community practice time is often a personal endeavor with oneself or a partner and does not happen regularly, unless if one is on a performance troupe.

Social Dance 

To add to the conundrum I know there are people out there who strongly feel social dancing is similar to an Argentine Tango milonga that one should be 100% dedicated to ones partner and the music . In result they would be averse to how Alice approaches her improvement citing that it is something for practice time or lessons as a reason.

Personally I don’t think there is a ‘right’ answer here, due to the response depends on ones’ own personal goals and views on dance.


What Alice proposes as a method of improvement that I believe is sound and effective. I remember when I was trying to get swingouts as a new lead I made a rule that I had to attempt to lead x amount of swingouts every dance and it worked well in the long run.

However she even admits there is a sacrifice to be made in this endeavor,

The problem is being honest with myself and focusing on that one thing I’m working on as much as I can. It is easy to forget about it and fall back into not caring and just dancing and having fun.

What I have personally working on lately is creating more ‘flow’ in my dance a.k.a. making my dances seem less like a chain of moves/patterns and more of an interpretation of the music. But its frustrating, I feel like I am not as fun as a dancer and have nights I mentally beat myself up because I feel like I am not making progress. As a dancer I know that effective practice is a necessity for improvement, but how do I fit that in without it being potentially detrimental toward myself or my dance partners?

I think something that could help the swing dance community is creating an effective model for a practice session on a regular basis. Personally I have not seen it implemented effectively besides troupe practices or yearly events such as the Balboa Experiment.

So what i’m curious about my readers is what ideas do you have for effective regular practice or how to implement a regular practice session that suits the unique needs of the swing dance community?

4 thoughts on “The Puzzle Piece of Practice

  1. Recently moved to Boston and have been incredibly impressed with the setup of “Lindy Dojo” here. It’s basically a practice session that’s held for an hour and a half after their beginner series. Intermediate/Advanced dancers are encouraged to come and focus on helping beginners for the first half and then work with each other for the second half. What’s nice is that often for your first couple years of dancing, you have no idea HOW to practice. This gets past that hurdle while helping the int/adv dancers hone their teaching skills. Gradually, beginners get an idea of what they should be working on and then it’s more structured when they’re working together. However, this would be really hard to do in a college setting where the number of beginners vastly outweighs int/adv…

  2. I think the obvervasions are exact and all teachers experience that kind of feeling. We wish all students would be as dedicated as we are and would work on their dancing really hard. Truth is either they just want to have fun and practicing is not an option or they don’t know how to get good. Most people, unlike most of the good dancers I know, are horrible at self learning which explains a lot by itself.

    I also love that quote by Anders Ericsson and I am going to dig into that writer right away!

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