The truth about taking online dance classes – dealing with the distraction trap!

Today, if you can't get to a regular dance class due to time or distance, you can easily study dance online. Students often ask, "Are online dance classes easier?" Put simply, the answer is no. It’s true that online courses offer greater flexibility, allowing you to learn in your own time and space, but that doesn’t change the amount of work and practice you need to put in. You still have the same amount of work—just without the formal classroom setting.

As with many dancers who sign up for online study, I also had challenges when I first started as a student in digital courses. In fact, I even had a great course sit on my laptop for a year until I viewed it! I became aware that various distractions were the major blocks to learning, and worked out ways to overcome it, and ended up being able to study successfully. From then on, online learning became a pleasurable experience, and something I looked forward to in my week. It offered opportunities I would never have access to in my immediate locale. Digital courses can truly provide a wonderful learning experience, and with preparation and planning, you will be able to enjoy getting the most of the class or course you invested in.

As a dance teacher of many years, I would always suggest taking a live class whenever possible, however, if you wish to study with a teacher outside your locale, or do a specialty workshop or course, then you may decide to choose online study. The flexibility of online classes can be extremely helpful to busy students, but that same freedom also creates additional pressures on those enrolled. The ball is in your court—meaning it’s up to you to avoid distractions and keep yourself on track.

On the plus side, online dance studies, which are usually presented via video clips, give you the ability to pause and re-watch parts you didn’t quite understand the first time. Plus, you can always reach out to your teacher through a message to ask questions about material you didn’t understand.

However, one of the most difficult aspects of online studies is procrastination. This slippery slope can affect your dance practice negatively. For successful online studies, it’s important to stay organized, prepare in advance and commit to following a schedule because it can be difficult to catch up once you fall behind. Many students abandon courses they have paid for, so by taking time to prepare, you have more chance of seeing the course through. Plus you will enjoying the fruits of your studies, through improved dancing and embodying new techniques and skills!

Here are several ways to deal with distractions and carve out time to study online:

1.    SET UP THE CORRECT TECH: Have the right technology and connection. Be sure to have a reliable internet connection and correct operating system – this is crucial to staying on top of your practice. If you are able to download materials, do this early on. An external hard drive or dedicated USB provides handy storage space.

2.    HAVE GOOD AUDIO/VISUAL: Make sure you have ample sound and vision for your practice requirements. If music is used, be sure to connect good speakers and if you need to dance and view a screen, make sure the size is large enough. Avoid following from a smart phone. Turn off all other apps and notifications, including email alerts and social media pings.

3.    A DEDICATED SPACE: Have a dedicated, well ventilated, and well lit space with enough room to move. You should be able to take a large turn to the left and right with ease, and be able to use a prop easily such as a veil or cane.

4.    SCHEDULE YOUR TIME: Schedule study times and dates into your monthly diary. Choose times when you will not be disturbed. Set the time you need, 30-60 minutes is normally required for personal dance practice. Aim to practice regularly, 3-4 times a week is ideal to support muscle memory and conditioning.

5.    BE PREPARED: Prepare yourself by having the right dancewear ready, perhaps even have your meal (or family meal) prepared in advance, so you don't need to focus on anything else whilst you engage in your dance session. This helps avoid distraction and last minute panic as you will have all your necessities nearby.

6.    CREATE A STARTING EXERCISE: Begin with breathing and centering exercises to make you feel more present and calm before you start to study, to help you embody the movement more fully. Some dancers have a small movement ritual (breathing and movement) to prepare themselves for practice session.

7.    TAKE NOTES: Take notes of what you are studying and add any key points. This will help you with understanding any new concepts. If you have online PDFs, printed notes tend to be more versatile as you can highlight areas and read them anywhere.

8.    BALANCE SCREEN TIME WITH NO SCREEN: To build muscle memory, practice movement in various directions, and avoid 100% screen time for your practice session. Try to view your class instructions and follow these on screen. Then pause whilst practicing and memorizing new movements, to allow a more natural flow and spatial integration to support your movement practice. Sometimes you can turn around and face the back of the room if you still need to hear the instruction or music. The same goes for mirrors!

9.    RETURN TO THE BASICS: When moves become complex, remember to return to the basics: weight, space and time. If you can find these basic somatic qualities in the movement, at least you have the core foundations to work with.

10. TEAM UP WITH FRIENDS: If you need to engage in live practice, try doing the course with a friend. Usually that means that you both sign up to the course individually, and then meet up at regular intervals to practice what you have learnt. It's a great time to catch up and offer, and receive constructive feedback.

11. SELF-ASSESSMENT & SUPPORT: Create a self-assessment system or get support. Because you don't usually have a teacher correcting your posture and technique, unless there is a filmed assessment component or live one-on-one interactive classes, you need to self assess. You can do this by filming yourself, or presenting your work at a schedules live or online event. Not all courses require feedback, but it can be very helpful to your development.

12. POST COURSE FOLLOW UP: When you complete your course, inform the teacher and see if there is a way to connect or share your findings, and offer feedback about the course and what you have learnt.

Once you’ve completed a course, its great to have some kind of finishing ritual or celebration. Some people blog or announce this on social media, and other might prefer a more private approach. Either way, its important to celebrate your success. So, if you are enjoying some digital learning, I wish you happy dance studies! Feel free to add any comments about your own experiences.

Keti Sharif


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