Ever felt like this: One day, you’re breaking through barriers left and right– You’re Invincible! Advancing to the final.

Passing couples who were always ahead of you.

Mastering a technique that was difficult.

Then BOOM!  Scrreeechh! All progress slows to a complete halt.   how to break through a plateau

The feeling is night and day. One day you’re quickstepping through hurdles and then next, you feel like you’re wearing lead boots in the jive. It’s demoralizing when you don’t feel your placements are advancing, when you hear the same criticisms after every comp, or the vague platitude-

  everything looks good, just keep at it.

Confusion sets in:

why can’t I move ahead?

Then frustration:

I just don’t know what to do!

Then confidence evaporates:

I’ll never get passed this block.

Let me tell you a secret….even professionals and teachers get stuck in plateaus.

Perspective is Everything

There have been times over the years when I’d drive home from a day of teaching thinking,”I’m out of ideas!” or “I’m in a teaching rut.” or “What the heck am I teaching?!” or “Why aren’t they getting it?!”

My students would be in a plateau themselves, and I felt like I was going over the same corrections again and AGAIN. Neither one of use would be getting anywhere! It felt like we were both hitting our heads against the wall. Breaking through a plateau can be painful!

When you don’t see change, it’s time to change what you see. -click to tweet

To break up the monotony my teaching had fallen into I’d do things like:

  • take some coaching lessons (first and foremost!)
  • hang out in the ballroom and observe other pro-am couples
  • go to a comp
  • go social dancing
  • watch videos/performances of other dance styles, like contemporary, argentine tango, west coast swing, etc.
  • when all else fails, a good dose of “Rocky” can do the trick!

So, how to you start chipping a hole in that roadblock, and finally break through onto new terrain?

It’s all about new thinking and new experiences.

Here are 4 exercises to help you SHIFT your gears and start dancing up a storm, once again.

1. Refresh your Perspective

Have you ever noticed that when someone is having an issue they can’t overcome, the solution often seems obvious to everyone else around them? We get such tunnel vision, we fail to see what is glaringly apparent.

Many time the answers I’m looking for have been told to me often,  I just wasn’t ready to hear them yet!

Time to start listening, but with ears ready to hear. The first place to start is with your teacher or coach.

When you hear the same corrections over and over, it’s easy to tune out. Have a heart-to-heart pow-wow with your coach.  Explain how you feel stuck and ask for guidance in moving to the next level. Ask for them to give you the real deal, even if it stings.

The key then is, are you willing to do what it takes to move forward? That might mean going outside your comfort zone, but once you pinpoint the trouble, you can then chose how to best makes changes and push through.

Fresh Eyes

Although you want to be selective about whose opinions you seek, it can also be refreshing to hear from a third party.

Ask judges and retired professionals whose opinions you value. People are always willing to help, especially when they know you are willing to hear.

Once you’ve heard a few reviews, you might see yourself in a different light.

The next step is to take a step.

Progress and breaking through plateaus is about being READY to move forward and meet the challenge. With a renewed vision, you’re ready to take that challenge.

2. Update your Environment

Competitors, it’s time to get out of the comfort of your studio!

If you’re in an area that has many studios, it’s a great opportunity for you to practice at a different location. You’ll have new eyes watching you, which can either be a powerful motivator or force you to overcome your fears.

If there are enough local amateur and pro couples, think about organizing a round practice, with a weekly revolving location.

Beyond shifting your practice environment, maybe put yourself out a bit and get performing more. If you can’t find paying gigs all the time, it may be well worth it in the interest of breaking through a plateau, to volunteer to perform a dance at a local event or even studio party. Moving into new environments is a useful method in forcing your mind to think outside of the norm.

3. Shake up your Routine

Know why crossing training routines are so effective for athletes and the average joe looking to get in shape fast?

Because it engages the body and mind out of their normal patterns, thus improving physicality and mental sharpness. Time to get those synapse snapping and your muscles marching to a different beat!

When I’m learning something new, it changes my initial perception of what I’m learning and also sheds light on other things in my life.

Some ways you can shake things up in your dancing are:

  • trying a different kind of dance/fitness class (keep up your regular lessons though!), like ballet, afro-cuban or yoga. Read about my archery experience here.
  • taking a few lessons with a new instructor or coaching lessons (it’s always a courtesy to let your main coach know this first. And keep in mind that consistency with any coach is the key to success, so jumping from teacher to teacher is not recommended.)
  • reverse the norm, like warm up with your partner by switching the lead/follow roles, or dance your rounds in the opposite order

Challenging your body and mind is a powerful way to spark change.

4. Take a Step Back

Sometimes pounding away on something micro focuses your vision so much, you can lose perspective. As much as you love dancing, taking a short break can often bring insight–and even renew your passion.

All pro athletes take breaks in their training to allow recovery, and dancers can benefit from the same process.

Give yourself a chance to enjoy some free time, and mentally digest your recent progress. A clearer vision of your goals might come into focus, and your rested body will be up for the challenge.


It just takes a small victory to start an AVALANCHE of forward motion. The next time you’re breaking through a plateau, keep that in mind!

We’ve all been there before. What steps did you take to break through? Leave a comment below!

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