As we dance, we inevitably pick up habitual movements. Whether it is a tap step on an front tuck or an arm movement that you always do on a side pass, habitual movements creep into your dance because they feel comfortable.

The problem is that habitual movements can easily become the default motion, and in fact it may become difficult to do the movement the standard way. Mario Robau, Jr. describes the problem by noting that a variation that you choose to do is styling; a variation that you always do is wrong. Just like ballet dancers regularly reinforce their basic foot and arm positions to keep the essentials of their movement clean, we west coast dancers likewise need to practice dancing our basics cleanly.

Nota Bene: This drill is intended for dancers who are already comfortable with their basics. If you are still learning your basic footwork, this drill won’t be helpful to you yet. That’s ok—just bookmark this page and make a note on your calendar to check back in a month. When you’re ready, it will be here.

The Drill: With a partner, put on any WCS song. For the entire dance, you should do nothing but neutral basics. No fancy moves, no footwork variations or syncopations, arms in neutral at all times. Make note of any movements in which you accidentally put in a variation (such as replacing a triple rhythm with a single rhythm).

After the song is done, practice doing the movements where you subconsciously changed the move to a habitual movement, without music. Do enough repetitions that you can comfortably do the standard movement while carrying on a conversation with your partner.

This drill works best as preventative maintenance; spending ten minutes cleaning up your basics every time you meet with your partner will keep your basics much cleaner than trying to do a marathon cleanup session once a month. If you have a regular practice time with a partner, this is a great exercise to build into your warm-up routine.

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