What kind of skill are you building with your practice?
Building a bookshelf requires a mix of hard and soft skills. The hard skills, like hammering in a nail or measuring and cutting the boards to the correct length, have a “right” way of being done. The soft skills, like determining the look and feel of the finished piece, or blending the perfect stain color for the boards, are fluid and variable from person to person. The same is true in dance. An amazing performance results from a blend of hard and soft skills. Mayas, hip circles, and chest lifts have a “right” way of being done. Choices of when to do these moves, stage presence, and costuming are unique to the dancer and can have many different “right” answers.
When it comes to developing a strong practice habit, it’s important to consider how to build hard and soft skills. Carving out time for each throughout the week will help you become a better dancer. If you’ve been following along since Work or Practice
you’re well on your way, and now it’s time to level up and focus on the Hard Skills.
When we started, I gave you a list of 5-minute practice ideas to play with. Let’s look at them again with the idea of hard and soft skills in mind:
] Do a 5-minute shimmy drill – turn the music UP!
• [INSPIRATION] View a dance video – take notes on what inspires you.
• [SOFT] Do a free-style improvisation to a song from a genre other than your go-to for dance.
• [INSPIRATION] Solicit feedback from a dance friend on a recent performance (and really listen).
• [SOFT] Grab a prop and explore its edges – use it in a way that’s out of the ordinary, or to a song that doesn’t fit.
] Spend 5 minutes on the mat doing Pilates or Yoga.
• [SOFT] Map out a song on paper, paying attention to the nuances of the music and/or vocals.
Hard skills require repetition. You are getting your muscles and nerves into little routines just like your daily practice is getting your brain into a routine. Your muscles need almost constant reminders in order for them to jump to attention when you want to do a move in class, during practice, or on stage. When you’re learning a new hard skill, it’s important to take the time to get it right so that when you move it into your practice rotation you’re repeating it correctly instead of drilling an error into your muscle memory. Once you have the hard skill learned, it’s important to practice it regularly to keep it in muscle memory.
We’re going to formalize your practice plan this week, focusing on two hard skills you want to see get stronger. These can be elements of a choreography you’re working on, or a specific move you want to see appear in your improvisation. Look back at your SMART goals
and choose two hard skills that will help you on your way to achieving one of them. Why two? We’re human, and we can suffer from boredom. Working on two hard skills will allow you do have a different practice plan every other day, and will also give your muscles the space they need to adapt to the new routine.
Let’s say you decide to focus on your knee shimmy and your chest lift as your two hard skills. Your practice plan for this week would look like this:
: 5-minute warm-up
, 5-minute Hard Skill drill, 1-5 minutes of Journaling
Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday
– Knee Shimmy
Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
– Chest Lift
I was first introduced to the concept of hard and soft skills by reading Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code
, and then the ideas were reinforced for me in his other book, The Little Book of Talent. I recommend reading both! Breaking down how you want to improve into hard and soft skills will really help you understand why and how you need to practice in different ways. If you’ve been following along, you’re at 28 days of a practice habit! Focus on your hard skills this week, and we’ll talk about soft skills next week.