At group class the other night a friend told me he felt that he had recently overcome a plateau and was really beginning to enjoy his Argentine tango. In my twenty-two months of group and private lessons, workshops, practice, and milongas I feel like I’ve enjoyed four major plateaus, each involving some mix of greater understanding of: dissociation to “associate” with my partner, moving with intention, controlling our axes, “following her lead“, understanding my dance, and dancing with the music.
Friend and I agreed, it actually seems more useful to think of a plateau not as the fallow flat period, but the time you get to enjoy the fruit of your various labors spent in climbing up to that level. Then after some period of capitalizing on your investment in your dancing, you begin to hunger for the next new climb up. But what is it that makes that climb out of a plateau take longer and seem harder than it should?
“Shake it up, baby!” Mother Nature is lazy at heart. It likes to get maximum results from minimum efforts. The body and the mind are built to automatically develop shortcuts and routines for things that we do repeatedly. You might call these time, labor, and brain saver shortcuts for living, or you might call them ruts for things we do repeatedly. Dancing, I don’t care how creative you are, is something of a repetitive activity.
Serious athletes know that the way to shake up their neurophysiology is to confuse the mind-body. Do new things or do things in an unusual way. Make things harder. The body-mind says, “Oh, hell, now what’s going on with this stuff?” Then, in the process of figuring out a new easiest way of doing things it comes to new capabilities.Body Building periodization
Serious athletes often plan their workout regimens in three timeframes: a microcycle of a week, a mesocycle of one to a few months (so long as a routine is producing new results), and a macrocycle that usually refers to a training season. The mesocycle period is more or less the time it takes for one’s neurophysiology to develop a groove for dealing with a new routine.
So how might this be applied to dancing? How can a dancer shake it all up without switching to a new dance? Here are some thoughts that come to my mind, and several of which I’ve used with success.
Switch to a new dance. Well, maybe not altogether, but suppose you take classes in a type of dance entirely new to you, while continuing to practice and social dance your mainstay. Ballet, tap, hip-hop, grunge, salsa, swing, Bollywood. You name it.
Switch to a different dance style: from tango salon to nuevo, for example.
Take non-dance classes: Improv comedy, circus arts, public speaking, a new language?
Do other body work: pilates, yoga, Feldenkrais, Alexander technique.
Add contact improv, also known as ecstatic dance to your weekly schedule.Ecstatic Dance
Study martial arts: tai chi, aikido (be careful out there!).
Take a break. The mind-body integrates past learning and physical work during rest periods.
Double your practice time and halve your class time, or vice-versa.
Switch roles. Learn how to dance the opposite lead-follow role — well.Ambidancetrous: The Blog
Restrict yourself. See, for example, the first part (and all the rest!) of these good articles.WikiHow: Be Creative
99U: 7 Ways to Boost Your Creativity
Suppose you only allowed yourself to only walk in all your milongas for a month. How do you think that might affect your dancing? What different kinds of things might you learn and incorporate into your dancing?
So now, What do you do to shake yourself up?