Practice partners are a frequently underused resource in dance education and practice.
Some people fear that a practice partner will entrench bad habits. Others feel like they can’t ‘learn enough’ working independently without a teacher. Others just get flat-out bored.
But, those who have one (or two, or three) swear by them.
Are you ready for a practice partner?
Most people immediately start thinking about who they would ask to be their practice partner. But, the first thing to ask is if you would make a good practice partner.
Until you are ready to really commit to having a practice partner, it is best to wait. Make sure you’re ready for the commitment, or be up-front with your partner that you are just trying things out to see if it works first.
Do you have the discipline to practice unsupervised?
If you’re the person who stops practicing a move in class after 2 minutes because you’ve ‘got it’, you’re probably not going to have a very successful time with self-directed practice.
Are you patient enough to work with someone else’s mistakes?
Your practice partner will be human. They will make mistakes. Can you handle that without getting angry, or making them feel like crap? Can you step back to help them through the problems?
Are you willing to listen and try feedback?
There are people who are very sensitive to criticism, where a practice partner will shatter their ego. Others are constantly fixated on what their partner is doing wrong, rather than what they can improve.
To be a good practice partner, you have to be willing to take feedback well.
Are you willing to compromise so both partners can reach their goals – not just you?
Some people are looking for a ‘dance dummy’ – not a practice partner. This means they’re looking for someone to stand in while they figure stuff out. If you want to have a good practice partner relationship, both people need equal time to work towards their personal goals.
Are you looking to be taught, or to practice?
If you’re looking for someone to teach you, a practice partner is not the right fit. A practice partner is not an expert with all the answers; they’re a teammate who helps you figure out things together.
If you’re looking for someone who has all the answers, you need to find a teacher.
Why consider a practice partner?
Practice partners are great if you are serious about improving your dance, are on a budget, or need more practice than classes allow.
People who practice with a regular partner tend to progress far more quickly in dance than those who only social dance and take classes. It gives you dedicated time to continue working on the same concept or movement until you can do it comfortably and easily.
When you use a practice partner, you’re able to figure out what exactly you’re having problems with. Then, you have targeted questions for your teacher, making your next class far more effective
If you like private classes, a dedicated practice partner often halves your cost. And, because you work together outside of class, you’ll have the same information and be able to get more mileage by practicing together.
What to look for in a practice partner
When you’re looking for a practice partner, take your time to find the right ‘fit’ for you. This is the same thing you should do if you’re picking a routine partner, or anything else. Your teacher may also have suggestions on another student they think would make a great partner for you.
Your practice partner needs to have an attitude and personality that will mesh well with yours. If the two of you struggle to get along and understand each other, it usually doesn’t matter how well you dance together. Find someone you like to be a practice partner.
Ideally, you and the other person will have a similar skill level. Sometimes it can still work if you’re a bit imbalanced, but if it’s too wide a gap, one person invariably ends up as the ‘teacher’ to the other.
If you want completely different things, you may struggle to find things that you both want to work on. Make sure that both you and the other person are going in the same direction, whether that’s social dancing, performance, etc.
While practice partners are mostly good, you do need to be careful to avoid some of the pitfalls that can come from practicing with a peer regularly.
If you practice something wrong a lot, it is very hard to undo. If you can, try to get feedback from a professional that you and your practice partner can share. It helps prevent bad habits from forming.
Low ability to compensate
If you only dance regularly with your practice partner, you might find the social dance floor difficult. While a practice partner helps you hone skills, it’s very different to do it ‘in the wild’ with other people.
Make sure you preserve your ability to dance with more than one person. Get your social dance time in, even if you really enjoy practice sessions.
What about you?
If you have a practice partner, want one, or used to have one, we want to hear from you!
- What was difficult about it?
- What was great about it?
- Do you have any advice?
- Do you have any concerns about finding someone?
Leave your thoughts in the comments.
I dance with my boyfriend. He used to be my salsa teacher as he was much better than me. Now we’re both quite good in salsa and have started to dance kizomba together. It is great to have someone to practice with, BUT you really have to be open for corrections and advice, and let’s just say that the only discussion we have had during the 3 years we’ve been together have had to do with dancing 🙂 Sometimes I think it was easier for him to teach me than now that we’re equally good, because now I also have things to say to him 🙂 It”s great to have a dance partner but also very healthy not to dance together all the time 🙂
There seems to be some assumptions about practice partners here that don’t hold true in our scene. The idea seems to be that practice partner is a commitment. Here, it’s something much lighter. It just means that you occasionally go to practice with somebody, nothing more than that. You may agree to practice regularly with someone, but you may just as well practice every now and then, whenever it fits both of your schedules.
I think there is no reason to make a big deal out of it, or think too hard about whether you’re someone who can practice on your own, or whether a person is a good fit for you. Just try it out. Ask someone and go to practice, no strings attached. Like in everything else, you learn much more by trying it rather than just theorizing. You also get better in practicing itself by doing it. Just get started. I definitely recommend regular practice with partners to people who are serious about improving.
There are six currently active people in my scene that I have at some point regularly practiced with, and if we have time I could practice with any of them again. Right now, because of time constraints, I’m mostly practicing with only two regularly. I recommend practicing with different people, because different people have different focus areas, and notice different things to give feedback about.