We have Malcom Gladwell to either thank or blame for popularizing the meme that it takes 10,000 hours of practice at something to reach an expert level. Gladwell – as he is wont to do – misread or misinterpreted or both original research performed by Dr. Anders Ericsson who, with two colleagues in 1990, published findings that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become a world-class expert. Gladwell happily ran with one aspect of this finding – the 10,000 hours part – and missed the most critical element: “deliberate.”
Deliberate practice means focused practice. It means practice that seeks to adjust and correct minute errors that detract from top performance. Deliberate means concentrating on the little things and intentionally incorporating them into your otherwise normal movements so that they become automatic. After all, it does little good to repeat errors in form, mistakes in outcome, and shortcomings in approach. In dance, for instance, repeating bad turn form 10,000 times will only ensure that you become expert in bad turn form! Moreover, it’s one thing to perform an element beautifully in a class learning context; it’s quite another to transfer the beautiful element seamlessly into your social dancing.
As an instructor, I see it all the time. A relatively inexperienced dancer gets the “weight shift step” motion of the basic step perfectly when lined up for drill in class. Yet, when it comes to dancing with a partner, the footwork becomes a jumbled mess! The shift from drill to dance is the critical connection that makes a huge difference in performance. Once you can make that connection, indeed, practice that great form 10,000 times! Even more so is the slightly more experienced dancer who developed some not-so-great habits dancing at socials or in the clubs, who comes to class to improve their form. They often focus on the drills to improve some aspect of their dancing, and then revert right back to their muscle memory when the music starts. Ericsson’s (not Gladwell’s) 10,000 hours of deliberate practice means developing the right form and movement, then committing it to muscle memory to be done without having to think (so much) about the fundamentals.
This week (and likely for the next couple of weeks as well), Repertoire class will be reviewing several moves from the past year. This is a great opportunity for you to catch up on patterns that you might have missed – especially if you’ve only recently joined – and review aspects that might have been too challenging at the time, but now are well within your reach. My invitation and challenge to you is to consider only one or two ideas from these moves as focus elements for each class and start working towards your 10,000 deliberate hours.
See you on the dance floor.