Generally speaking, there are two kinds of tango dancers: those who practice and those who don’t. If you practice, you will improve faster. Practice will allow you to adjust and update your skills on a regular basis. If you don’t practice, you might be able to preserve your tango skills, but this is rare. The tactic of not practicing is unreliable. In most cases, you will end up losing some of your initial abilities and will find that your performance deteriorates over time.
Think about it in the following terms: what you don’t exercise you lose; what you don’t recall you forget; and what you don’t update becomes outdated.
During class, you are taught new material, and this confronts you with new challenges. This is the initial part of learning: you hear and see something new and you try to add it to what you already know. Practice is the next step; it is what follows the initial learning stage. Practice is what transforms the information you learned in class into knowledge. It makes it your own. That is, you might have captured a piece of valuable data or had an important insight, but it is not fully yours until you have integrated it with your mind and body. This process happens organically through practice.
At a cognitive level, learning demands a lot of metabolic power. When you are acquiring new data, you are simultaneously updating your sensory-motor map. Learning takes most of your cognitive juice, and doesn’t leave you energy for much more. However, when you practice what you learned, you can, over time, reduce the cognitive effort needed. This allows you to use those resources for other crucial activities such as: tracking, memorizing, and refining your movements. In this sense, practice is what updates your skill set. It deepens and tunes your dancing. At the beginning of your learning journey, a general idea of a certain movement might feel like enough, but over time it is not sufficient. A sharper picture, a more precise execution is better. Practice adds that complementary layer.
It doesn’t feel good to hit the limit of your capacity to learn and sense that you are not making progress. This is where practice comes in. For example, you might feel a sense of cognitive overload during some tango classes. At the end of class, you might feel discouraged, anxious, or numb. This might be because you are at the limit of your capacity to learn. The more new material you collect, the more likely you are loading your system with cognitive stress. There is only a certain amount of incoming data that you can manage at a time. That is why learning new material can be so frustrating. To ease that struggle, you should integrate practice into your learning routine.
If you practice you will:
- Improve faster
- Retain new material
- Integrate what you learn
- Refine your skill set
- Have more fun learning
At an emotional level, practice is also beneficial because it changes your attitude towards tango. It makes you grow. When you choose to make time for practice, you are taking charge of your own learning. Deciding to step into your own practice adds maturity to your tango journey. Practice is the time when you choose what you want from your dancing, you pick what you want to focus on, and you decide how much detail you need.
Are you ready to give practice a test run? I think you will enjoy it. Stay tuned for the following article about how to build and test your own personal practice.