So in an earlier post, “What makes a good team?” I referred to how important I think practices are. I also got some questions about my AI comment and what it meant. Poonam, with her engineer mind, thought I was referring to Artificial Intelligence.
I was actually referring to Allen Iverson and his practice outburst. For those that don’t know what I’m talking about, you must really not be into sports. Let me enlighten you with this video. No discussion about practice is complete without the infamous words, ‘You talkin’ about practice?”
Ok, so back to practice. What do we do at practice? How are practices run? How much do we practice? All questions I plan to answer. A lot of this will not only be specific to bhangra, but also running any sort of team. This is another point of emphasis on our team, especially for our younger members. A lot of what happens on Empire can be directly applied to real world situations. The experiences and troubles we face as a dance team are some of the same troubles faced in work environments between co-workers. I’ve seen it first hand, whether it is at work or in business school.
For the most part, I run practices for the team. Along with choreography, I consider that one of my most important responsibilities. For those that don’t know, I haven’t actually danced competitively since 2007. This allows me to focus 100% on the dancers and the routine. I look back at the days when I use to dance and lead practices, and have no idea how I did it. If you notice, from 2007 to 2008, there was a huge step up in cleanliness in our routines. And I attribute that to having one dedicated person at all practices strictly focused on cleaning people.
So what do we do at practice? Well, usually when I get there, we do a few warmup laps. We really should be stretching more I think. Some people stretch for 30 minutes (Fahad Khan) while other people just show up and say they’re ready to go. After warming up, well go through the routine once. Most people take a run-through or two to get into it, so these run-throughs are more to get the blood flowing. If we have new ideas, we’ll try them out at this point. I’m an extremely visual person when it comes to choreography and formations. I have to see it with all 12 people before I decide if it should go into the routine. This seems tedious, but to me is the only way to verify that what you came up with on paper, will actually look good on stage. There’s a lot of extremely creative ideas that just don’t translate well visually.
After the portion of trying out new ideas, we move onto teaching and cleaning. This is where, as a captain, I really need to push people. I need to be able to motivate people to work hard. Once people know the choreography, it is really important that they practice like they would perform on stage. It doesn’t help if you fix somebody while they are performing at 50% because when they do go all out, they will do things differently. We have a few techniques which include pushups and laps to make sure people are giving their all. My favorite (and probably the one all the dancers hate the most) would have to be ‘The Game’.
The Game is when all 12 dancers will perform a portion of the routine. After the run-through, I will choose 1 or 2 people who I feel performed the best. I take into account knowledge of the moves, executing our style, facial expressions, and energy. These 2 people will get to sit out for the rest of the run-throughs for that portion of the routine. Then everybody else will do it again, and those people who are sitting out will get to choose the people next time. Between run-throughs, everybody will give a critique of each dancer. We do this all the way until we hit the final 4. Depending on my mood, we’ll either move on to the next portion of the routine, or keep going until its the last 1. Potentially, the last person would have to do the same routine 12 times at 100% effort. We go through the full routine song by song. Sounds pretty tiring right? Well, don’t hate the player, hate ‘The Game.’
This usually will take the majority of practice. Towards the end, after a short break, we always try to do back-to-back run-throughs. If we have stunts in the routine, I will make the people doing the stunts do them right after a run-through without any rest. Most of this is to build stamina. You also get lazy and make more mistakes when you are tired. We want to eliminate these mistakes as much as possible.
Lastly, practicing outside of practice is extremely important for us. We will take videos of run-throughs at practice, and each person will be assigned to do a full critique of themselves and another person before the next practice. Critiques are done down to the second. If you had a good run-through, you will only have 15 to 20 things in your critique. If you had a bad run-through, critiques can go as long as 4 to 5 pages. These video critiques have become a staple in our practice regiment and the fact that everybody is doing a critique makes them accountable for what they wrote.
How often do we practice? I like to keep to a fairly consistent schedule. For competitive performances, we will start 2 months before the competition. The first month we will practice twice a week. The second month we will practice 3 times a week. The 2 weekends before the competition we will have dress rehearsals on both Saturday and Sunday. Practices usually are 2-3 hours long. Dress rehearsals can go anywhere from 3-8 hours. My goal is to not to have to practice the full week before a competition. We’ve usually been able to achieve this. This gives dancers a chance to rest up and recover so they can be at their 100 percent when they perform.
And that gives you a high level look at how our practices are run. For the current/past Empire members reading this, I am sure you can add a lot more to this (like how much I yell.)
Also, if anybody wants to request a topic for me to write about, I just added a new page in the navigation menu (Topic Request). Fill out the form there and I will definitely try to cover those. Feel free to send any feedback as well.