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There is a big difference between dancing in class, dancing socially, and practicing. You cannot get the most out of your dance without all three. People take classes and dance at parties, but the practice component seems to be missing in a lot of cases.

First, let us discuss the differences between classes, practice and parties.
What’s the Difference, Anyway?

A class is pretty straightforward. It is run by a teacher and heavily structured. The teacher determines what the students will be working on for the duration of the class, demonstrates the technique, then watches the students perform it and corrects mistakes. A good teacher will slowly build from the beginning to the end of the class, to keep the students’ interest and continue to challenge them. Students work on the prescribed step, examining details of movement and technique. Ideally, music is geared toward the specifics being worked on. If not, it is danceable, but un-intrusive.

A Party is a place for dancers to relax and have fun. No one should be stopping the line of dance or repeatedly doing the same move, trying to get it right. This is not a place for practice or for teaching others.

Find a place where practice happens! Music should be well thought-out and varied. This is the place to work on a new step, practice technique and ask for or give advice. The atmosphere should be open and welcoming to all dancers and promote learning and discovery – this will make a big difference in how many people come and practice!

Why Does It Matter?

We learn what we need to know in class, right? Well, yes. But a one- or even two-hour class is never enough to truly learn the techniques being taught. The class is where you learn these things intellectually. You work out in your mind how the steps work, where your feet go and what your torso does. During practice you put this knowledge into your body. When your body remembers it for you, that is when you can reliably and comfortably perform the technique at a party, without worrying about whether you did it right. The only way to turn intellectual knowledge into body knowledge is repetition. Practice.

So what happens when there isn’t a good place to practice? Dancers generally do one of two things. The first option is they simply don’t practice. (It’s true, people can practice on their own, without an organized practice. But most don’t.) This leads to stagnant dancing, because even when taking classes, there is no new body knowledge. It can also lead to the development of bad habits.

The second option is they treat a party as a place to practice. Dancers will repeat movements over and over, breaking up the flow of the dance floor. They may stop and try to instruct their partner on some technique. This may lead to better learning, but it also leads to a less pleasant, and more dangerous. Dancers at this kind of party will always be on the defensive, never knowing when someone is going to disrupt or completely block the flow of the dance floor. And most people don’t like being instructed on the dance floor.