When I was a young dancer, one of my biggest frustrations was not being able to pick up choreography quickly, but I was doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I would launch myself into the movements without so much as a thought as to what they were, how they connected and why they were there. Just a jumble of random movements that I was somehow trying to retain in my already overstimulated little brain. So, as a now retired dancer and choreographer, I thought I would share some simple tips for the young dancer on how to not do what I did!
#1. Don’t do what “they” do.
By “they”, I mean the other people in the class. It’s important to remember that everyone is different in how they learn. It can sometimes be difficult not to be intimidated by the people around you who seem to be blessed with the ability to simply do what is being taught. Try to remember that it’s not a race and to take the time to do the steps necessary for you to learn in your own way. Comparing yourself to others is a surefire way to deflate or over inflate your own abilities, which can lead to being over- or under-confident in yourself. Forget about “them”, and just do you!
#2. Watch and learn
Make sure you take in all the choreography that your instructor is giving you before trying to do the moves yourself. You need to allow your brain the opportunity to concentrate completely on what it needs to do. Jumping in the deep end and expecting to nail it straight away will often lead to disappointing results. Slow down and let yourself grasp the fundamental movements, then each little detail of the choreography, in your mind, and let it settle. The teacher will always give time for a run-through all together, giving you time to put your thoughts into action.
#3. Ask questions
How will you know if you don’t speak up? If there is a move you’re not too sure on, or you need to clarify the counts on a specific section, go ahead and raise your hand. Trust me; your teacher will appreciate that you are invested in their work and want to ensure you do the best you can. It will also eliminate the amount of times your teacher will need to apply corrections to you (which can get frustrating after awhile!). This tip is especially important in an audition situation where you are having to fend for yourself and there is no “time for teacher correction”.
#4. Repetition, repetition, repetition
The more you do something, the more likely you are to remember it. Doing the moves over and over means you are not only mentally imprinting it into your brain, but you are creating something called muscle memory. This is essentially imprinting the movement into your body. This is why steps two and three are so important! No use going ahead and imprinting the wrong information because once memorized, it can be very difficult to change or forget. So make sure you get it right before you get it right.
#5. Practice makes perfect.
Of course, we have just discussed how repetition will stick the information into your brain, but we also need to remember that your brain can act like a muscle, too. The more you use it, the stronger and more adept it will become. Just like stretching and staying physically active in your off-season will stop your body from falling apart when class starts back, your brain needs the same TLC.
Don’t rely on your teacher or choreographer to do the work for you in class. Setting yourself homework aside from your regular classes or auditions can work wonders. Watching a video of your favourite dancer and teaching yourself the moves is a great way to keep your brain in shape. Watch it repeatedly, break it down into phrases, mark it out, and have a go! The more you train your brain, the more you will gain.
Above all, remember to go at your own pace, and don’t be afraid to be proud of your achievements. Good things take time, and even the longest journey starts with a single step!
By Jessie Krieg of Dance Informa.