When you are starting out dancing, isolation is the first thing that challenges you. To move onto the next level, you have to climb this wall.
Although it is classified as basic in the dance literature, it is frustrating how difficult it can be. When you actually try it, your body does not go as smoothly as one expects.
Yet, isolation practice is necessary if you want to graduate novice dancer and start to look like an expert (see "Reasons why your dancing looks amateur and how to fix it").
The road to mastery is bumpy however. The first thing you would notice is the pain your muscle feels. Just like extensive stretching (as mentioned in "[The insider secrets to stretch and master split]" (http://dancesensei.com/dancing-tips-the-insider-secrets-to-stretch-and-master-split/)), the movement feels unconventional to your daily life. It is often the case that pain is the only noticeable indication that you are getting better.
To teach isolation is also the troublesome part. Luckily from interacting with countless dancers, I found a highly effective method of teaching for beginner people.
So this time I will introduce the way to practice isolation without failure in each of your body parts: neck, chest, and waist. It makes use of the natural flow of your physiology.
The technique of manipulating the body that you acquire through executing isolation skillfully is one of the most important forces to improve dance.
Key points to learn isolation
Because it becomes unintuitive and sometimes difficult depending on your practice method, it is better if you build proper knowledge and attitudes to acquire isolation skills properly before we go into the actual methods.
Never move it by force
One thing that is most unwelcoming in isolation practice is the strain.
As soon as force comes into play, your muscle becomes stiff, narrowing the range of motion. As a result, you will not be able to move as much as expected.
Instead of pushing your muscle as far out as possible, think of it like a puppet. You are being controlled by a single thread, and a part of your body is being pulled away gently.
Let's try to practice with relaxed sensation.
Experience the first possible
The first step towards mastering anything is to know your current limit. The process is more like accumulating incremental step rather than ending in one shot.
It is important to set an achievable goal every time, and experience what is physically possible with your body. You will also gain confidence in the meanwhile. Remember what you can do here.
This point is a nice segue to my next point.
Repeat or else forget
After experiencing how much isolation is possible with your body, you only need to reproduce the format every time and practice it over and over.
Depending on your body condition on that day, the practice outcome will vary inevitably. It is the memory of experience and confidence that helps you navigate the progress.
Your final destination is to be able to move your body parts in isolation without dedicated concentration. You should not need conscious effort to move. It should come out naturally to your body instead.
In this step, be careful not to leave a large interval between each practice. A little time of practice every day is always better than one big practice once a week. It is a common pitfall for beginners (see "[How much dance practice time do you need to become good?] (http://dancesensei.com/how-much-dance-practice-time-do-you-need-to-become-good/)").
Be sure to use mirrors for practice
In order to judge if you are doing it right, you need to be able to observe yourself. If there is no mirror available, you can always find a window reflection or take a photo snapshot of yourself. There is no excuse f this smartphone age.
Practicing isolation without confirmation is only pleasing yourself.
If you rely on your feeling without checking, you think isolation is done after the first day. Mission accomplished. However, you have likely picked up some troublesome habits along the way.
Yes, I understand that for some it is challenging to face your awkward self. But that is the reality. You are spending as much time anyway. Why not do it right from the first time?
If you are ready with these mindsets, let's dive into the practice methods.
Experience neck isolation
For the isolation of neck, bring your friend and set up a pair. Divide the role between the one who experience the movement potential and the other who supports.
One whose neck is moving
This person's job is easy. Simply lie down on a bed or table, and stick out just your head. The head is up in the air now (the other person should be holding).
You should let go of strain and relax fully. Trust the other person.
Supporter who moves the neck
Because the muscle around the neck is delicate, you who moves must handle the head with care. It is important to start this exercise in the relaxed stage. You can check it by shaking off the head lightly. If the head resists moving, it means that there is still room to loosen up.
Once confirmed, slowly move the head to front and back. Shake it off again to put it back to the default stage. Then slide your head to left and right. It is not tilting but sliding. Your chin stays in the same angle sliding left and right.
4 directions in total: front and back, horizontally left and right. At each peak point, stop for a while to let the other person absorb the full experience.
This exercise helps in recognizing your physical limit and making a mental note of which part of your muscle is actually moving. It will benefit your own practice in the future.
Experience chest isolation
Being able to move your chest in isolation is important because it helps in showing musicality. This is where dancer grove comes from.
Back and Forth
Open your legs about 1.5-2 times the shoulder width, and slightly bend your knees. Stand with a hand on your waist. This form moves your chest more flexible.
To move your chest forward, inhale deeply with your nose. While doing that, with your hands still attached to your waist, move your elbows as if you are touching them together behind your back.
That will form a shape of the chest sticking out. Repeat the step until your body will remember the shape.
To the contrary, exhale from your mouth with a moment to move your chest backward. Pull both of your elbows in front of the body this time, with hands still attached on the waist.
We will take an advantage of breathing to let your body soak in the sensation. Once you get used to the movement, you will be able to do it with a little concentration on your chest.
Left and Right
Not only front and back, but you also want to move it to the sideway.
The first step is the same; open your feet for 1.5 to 2 times the shoulder width, and lightly bend the knee. Relax.
As for hands, just hang them down on the side. It is not much posing but more like regular standing without any tension.
When ready, slowly move up both of your arms to the left. Then, your center of gravity naturally slides to the other direction (right) in order to keep up with the balance. That movement is the isolation. Repeat it on the right side.
As you get the hang of it, drop your arms and only move the chest part. It is important to keep your shoulder on the horizon. You will feel your stomach gently being pulled apart.
Experience waist isolation
Waist isolation is indispensable for making a dance step smoothly. You would want to control your waist zone at free will. To experience this, it is convenient to have a tool.
Prepare a round object that you can hold in your hands. It is better to have an object with some weight like your backpack or basketball.
Back and Forth
Again, open your legs about 1.5 to 2 times the shoulder width, knees bent slightly. Again, relax.
With that position, hold that object with both of your hands in front, and start rotating it around your body. Because of the relationship between the weight of the object and the range constraint of your body movement, your waist will try to make a space. It then starts to move back and forth naturally. That is the isolation.
Left and right
The procedure is the same as front and back. You will be rotating the object around your waist, and the waist will move in the other direction naturally.
The important thing in this waist exercise is to focus on the movement of your waist vertically and horizontally, rather than the rotation.
In any direction, be careful not to have your soles in the air either. Keep them attached to the floor all the time for the full experience.
Isolation for your everyday practice
Even though it is called the basic skills for any dancer, it can be so tedious and frustrating for beginners that they can just give up dancing.
The methods introduced today are for those people. Because it focuses on going along with your natural body movement, you should find it pain-free.
Please keep 2 things when practicing. Never force your way in and experience the possibility first. If you keep them in mind, you will surely improve.
Once you get over these initial hurdle, you can move onto gaining finer isolation and raising the range of motion of each part to the maximum.
Basic training always pays off in the long run. Without it, obtaining intermediate and advanced skills becomes almost impossible. Even 10 minutes is effective. Let's incorporate isolation into your everyday dance practice.