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Practice: Soft

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Building soft skills through practice

Are you ready to play?

Beautiful and mesmerizing performances are a display of hard and soft skills. The technical elements of how the moves are performed have a right way of being done, which means they’re made up of hard skills. Responding to the music, engaging with the audience, collecting a series of moves together – these are soft skills, and are unique to you.

Last week we talked about building hard skills through regular repetition, and you streamlined your daily practice routine. This week, you get to play!

Developing soft skills requires play, and a lot of it. As a dancer, one of the best ways to “flex your muscles” when it comes to these skills is through improvisation. Playing with improvising can make you a stronger performer. How? When you improvise you have to feel the music, anticipate changes in rhythm or tempo, adapt to the environment, and keep dancing no matter what happens. The skills you develop through playing with improvisation all transfer over regardless of the number of dancers on stage, the style of music you’re performing to, or if you’re performing a piece of choreography or a structured improvisation.

Playing at dance can and should be a fun addition to your daily practice. Yes – DAILY. We’re going to add in a burst of improvisational play every day! Unlike hard-skill drills, there’s no such thing as too much improvising. We’re not focusing in on a specific muscle group or movement pattern so we don’t need to worry about overdoing it. You can think of your daily improvisation as your reward for doing the rest of your dance practice. After you’ve taken the time and care to do a solid warm-up and your 5-minute drill session, it’s time to turn up the music and let go…with some parameters.

Don’t worry – the fun will still be there. Playing at improvisation with some edges is what will help you turn this game into a soft skill building exercise. Your brain needs something to bump up against in order to really grow. Instead of just bouncing around to your favorite song, we’re going to set up a different “game” for each day’s practice session. What you choose to do for each game will depend on your goals. Here are some suggestions to choose from for this week – you’ll pick three to get started:

  • Genre Shift – choose music from a genre other than your usual go-to for dance
  • Slow Motion – dance at half-tempo or slower for the entire song
  • Emotional Play – choose a “feeling” to convey throughout the song
  • Tiny Stage – limit yourself to a small square of “stage” space
  • Exaggeration – go over the top and make everything you do almost a caricature of the movements
  • Focus Move – choose a specific move to highlight throughout the song

You will be alternating these limiting games with freestyle improvisation this week. Your new practice plan will look like this:

Daily: 5-minute warm-up, 5-minute Hard Skill drill, 2-4 minute Improvisation, 1-5 minutes of Journaling (maximum time: 19 minutes)
Monday - Knee Shimmy and Freestyle Improvisation
Tuesday – Chest Lift and Improvisation Game #1
Wednesday - Knee Shimmy and Freestyle Improvisation
Thursday – Chest Lift and Improvisation Game #2
Friday - Knee Shimmy and Freestyle Improvisation
Saturday – Chest Lift and Improvisation Game #3
Sunday – Knee Shimmy and Freestyle Improvisation


By the end of the week you’ll have done four sessions of rule-free improvisation, and three sessions of an improvisational game. As you work your way through the week, notice how your comfort grows with your improvising and see what else shifts for you as a result. Add your thoughts to your journal entry each day so you have a record of the growth that will occur.

Daniel Coyle writes about hard and soft skills in his wonderful books The Talent Code and The Little Book of Talent, which I introduced last week. He says we need to build soft skills by playing like a skateboarder. I think that’s just because he hasn’t met a bellydancer yet!

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Updated Apr 18, 2017 6:49 AM EDT | More details

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