Do your dance students struggle with memorizing choreography? There’s no magical formula, for sure, but there are some definite principles about how a person’s memory works that can help inform choreography-memorization practices and make the process a little easier, allowing your dancers to have more time to focus on mastery and form.
Step 1: Just Watch
As you learn new choreography, it’s easy to start moving too soon. Or ask questions about a certain sequence. While muscle memory and full understanding are certainly important, those are steps for later on. Initially, you need to simply watch. Focus. Give each movement your complete attention. Absorb every movement. This is a major factor in what allows young children to easily learn new facts as well as how to do complicated things like speaking a new language.
They more readily simply observe and listen before trying to engage with a topic or question it. They simply learn. To memorize more efficiently, you need to do just that. Once you’ve seen a routine several times and can begin to mentally picture each step, it will be time to start to transfer that information from your brain to your body. But not before then.
Step 2: Learn in Groupings
Any time you’re memorizing anything, it’s helpful to separate it into bite-sized “chunks” of information instead of looking at it as a whole. For instance, it will be easier to memorize a 12-line poem if you separate it into 3, 4-line sections. The same is true for memorizing choreography. As you consider your choreography, see if you can tell where there’s a break between two distinct groups of steps. Most dance instructors will lead students in memorizing choreography using this basic concept, but sometimes it doesn’t occur to students memorizing choreography on their own.
For beginners, a routine with 3 phrases is usually a maximum length of choreography that can be memorized. With experience, students can absorb a greater number of phrases and learn them more quickly.
Step 3: Slowly Walk Through the Choreography
There are two reasons for taking it slowly at first. For one thing, slow, deliberate movements allow you to accelerate both mental and muscle memory. For another thing, the more slowly you move, the more likely you are to make each movement correctly. Remember, practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes permanent.
Step 4: Follow a Specific Repetition Schedule
Learning and remembering anything for the long term will require repetition, and lots of it! Repetition according to a strict schedule helps you move information from your short-term memory into your long-term memory. Follow this repetition schedule, starting after the lesson in which you learn new choreography:
- Immediately after the lesson or class, repeat it independently.
- Take a 10-minute break and repeat it, once again.
- After an hour, rehearse it in your mind, if not with your body.
- The following day, repeat it again, both mentally and physically.
- A few days (but no more than one week) later, run through it again.
Continue reading with Part 2.