Practicing at Home

Hi everybody!  Today’s blog post is all about practicing at home, how it should be done, when it is overkill, and how to know when to stop.  I also talk about my advice for home practice and how to make it most effective.  So, without further ado, let’s jump right in!

The purpose and importance

As you probably know if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, I love to describe the purpose and importance of something before I give my tips and advice.  This is solely to help motivate you and give some intention to your actions so that they are completed more purposefully and therefore more efficiently.

Sometimes, studios can only offer so much training.  Sometimes, at larger or even vocational ballet schools, you don’t have the outlet to practice certain steps in specific because of the large amount of people in your classes.  Both of these situations can create the outlet of home practice seem very appealing to you.  Additionally, even if you attend a medium-sized ballet school that provides plenty of training and nourishes you thoroughly, you can never do too many barres.  Haha.  So, there are many different situations that can end up with a desire to do that full class on Wednesday or practice grand battements on Sunday.

That said, there is a point where practicing at home becomes inefficient and hurtful to your improvement.  I discussed this in my Finding Balance blog post back in December.  There is a certain breaking point in which your muscles can’t support the movements you are trying to implement on them and then they end up deteriorating because of this.  This principle also has something to do with controlled and uncontrolled factors as I discussed in my Navigating Training and Improvement blog post…but we won’t go that far today.

So, in a nutshell, practice at home helps improve your technique and gives you lots of benefits up to a certain point when it becomes harmful.  Sounds dangerous, right?  You can’t get too carried away.  That’s the key.

So…you’re going to practice at home

This concept requires careful planning.  Obviously, the time you spend practicing at home should be well-spent and still be useful without reaching burnout.  The way I like to do this is by implementing what I call “vitamin exercises” instead of full-out “dancy exercises.”  So, instead of doing grand plié to a double pirouette with a full port de bras, practice repetitive double pirouettes from an academic fourth position.  Instead of practicing a complicated ballonné pas de cheval dégagé combination while trying to move your arm in coordination with your legs, try doing 32 dégagés en croix and focusing on your turnout.

Well, you say, don’t complicated combinations help you improve all aspects of your dancing and dive deeper into those nitty-gritty fun movements that you’ll need to do when you’re a company dancer at the New York City Ballet?  Well, yes.  But that’s what variations class is for.  Here is a time to work on your technique that will eventually improve all other areas of your technique.  Getting your technique down in those 32 dégagés en croix will eventually let you do them with ballonné, pas de cheval, and arm coordination.  So, start simple and build your powerhouse from the bottom up, not the top down.  And, overall, your at-home practice time will become much more rich and valuable.

Next, we will talk about corrections.  I know that sometimes people will like to do pirouettes at home free of a mirror, free of judgement.  And that is a GREAT thing.  But, at some point, doing all of this at home without ever watching yourself can develop bad habits that can be extremely difficult to break.  So, it’s important that you develop a plan to combat these bad habits from developing.  This typically involves something in the matter of watching yourself – whether it is videotaping or installing a mirror in your bedroom.  But, you can also evaluate yourself mentally.  This is important because you’re not going to have a mirror to know what you need to fix onstage – it’s good practice.  So, if you can feel your foot sickling in that piqué arabesque, go ahead and make a mental note for later.  Then, after your practice session, write it down in your Ballet Journal (click here for my full journal and binder tour) and give yourself corrections too.

The importance of self-correcting is not talked about enough.  This is a bit of a side note, I know – but I thought it was important to mention.  Self correction should be performed during class, rehearsal, performance, and, most importantly, at-home practice sessions.  It helps improve your technique 10 times faster and gives you a basis of what you’ll need to do as a professional dancer or when working with a partner.

So, you’re self-correction and reviewing your dancing, you’re doing the right kinds of combinations, and now we need to make sure that you’re doing them safely.  It’s important that you have a proper or supplementary ballet flooring, ballet barre (no, don’t use a wall), and good shoes to be practicing at home.  You can read my full Ballet Studio Tutorial DIY here.  This tutorial uses very, very cheap materials while still providing you with the safety you need.  I highly recommend it!

Now, if you can’t do this tutorial, make sure that you never, ever do pointework on tile, wood flooring, or carpet.  Only turn on wood floors.  Never jump unless your flooring has some kind of give.  Tile doesn’t!

Knowing when to stop

Practice at home is a very…delicate thing.  It can’t be overdone, but it is still necessary.  It can be underdone or it becomes unnecessary.  So, you have to learn to recognize burnout and muscle fatigue so that you know when it will be too much.  I discuss all of this in my Finding Balance blog post linked above.

Okay, so you know how to recognize fatigue.  But, it is absolutely unacceptable for your practicing at home to cause fatigue.  Let’s flash forward to ballet class the day after an intense practice session.  Your muscles got very sore and you’re unable to jump the day after.

Teacher: Student, why can’t you jump?

Student: I jumped too much at home and now I can’t jump in your class because I’m so sore.

Teacher: That is unacceptable.

Student: But I was practicing!

That doesn’t sound too good, does it?  You need to save the injuries for necessary things and make sure you’re being careful when you’re practicing.  This comes with knowledge of future prevention.  It is really building on the topics discussed in my Finding Balanced blog post.

So, you have to think ahead and say, I’m I going to be sore tomorrow as I’m doing this?  Am I going to be sore next week?  Am I going to hurt my ankle more?

Those are all important things to think about as you practice at home.

Thanks for reading today’s blog post.  Expect informational blog posts here on every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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