Learning new choreography is fun and interesting, particularly if you can remember the steps quickly. Memory is actually an essential skill in competitive dancing, but often we leave it too much to chance.
These are 7 tips for learning choreography more quickly and leaving less to chance.
1. Watch Before you Do or Question.
It is very tempting when learning new choreography to want to get it into muscle memory right from the very first minute. Resist this. You need to get it into your head before your head can direct it to your body.
- One of the main reasons that young children learn complex things like language so quickly is that they absorb information before doing anything with it, and before challenging it. With that, their attention is not spilt between learning and doing, or learning and questioning. They just learn.
- After you have seen a routine a few times and can picture the steps in your mind, you will then be in a better position to transfer the knowledge that you have to your muscles.
2. Learn the choreography in chunks that logically connect or tell a story
It is much easier to remember 3 sentences with a total of 21 words than a list of 21 words. The same is true for a sequence of steps in choreography.
- Most choreography has distinct phrases or groups of steps. Most teachers introduce choreography in these phrases. If you are learning on you own, do the same. Learning steps in groups will make learning the whole choreography much easier.
- Beginners are typically better off starting with no more than 3 phrases per routine. The more experienced you are, the more phrases you will be able to absorb, and the quicker you will learn them. A few reasons for this are that experience gives you greater familiarity with the elements that make up each phrase, less anxiety about learning, and increased comfort with complexity in general.
3. Mark it slowly
Walking through the steps of your choreography slowly when learning it will definitely help you remember it more quickly.
- This technique heightens your awareness of every movement, and how it should feel. This accelerates muscle memory as well as mental memory.
- You can compare this technique to memorizing something that you read. If you speed read, you will remember the ideas but not the words. If you read slowly and steadily you will remember both.
4. Set a very specific schedule of repetition
To learn anything quickly and long term, set this well established schedule for your repetition.
- After the practice or lesson where you have learned new choreography, repeat it immediately on your own. Then take a 10 min break and repeat it again. Then repeat it physically and/or in your mind an hour later. And then repeat it again the next day, and still again no more than a week later.
- This schedule can help you quickly learn almost anything. You can think of it as a way to embed information in your long term memory through a lot of early repetition to get it established in your mind and body, and then allowing brief but increasing spacing of time to let it sink in.
5. Develop personal, not external cues
It is very easy to associate choreography to specific points on your practice floor, the sound of your coaches’ count, or a particular music that you practice to. The problem is that in a competition, none of these will be there to help you.
- Instead of external cues, develop cues in your own mind and body. A particular weight shift can signal the next group of steps, or you can associate an arm moment with a step that you frequently forget.
- Transitions from one dance phrase to another are as important to memory as they are to the fluidity of the dance, but you need to consciously define them as memory triggers to make this technique work.
6. Repeat it in your mind, as well as with your body
No matter what else you do, repetition is a must.
- Repetition reduces the time between when you think of doing something, and when you do it, to pretty much nothing. With this there is no undue effort to remember, which can hinder the flow of your dancing. Repetition also triggers recall of things that you had learned so they are not forgotten.
- Mental repetition can greatly accelerate learning and memory. It works best when you are relaxed, and is particularly effective when done just before falling asleep. Mental rehearsal before sleep has the advantage because at that point there is nothing that follows the rehearsal, which might compete with the memorization process in your brain.
7. The more you memorize, the easier it gets.
Memory is a skill that improves the more you do it, just like anything else.
- The more you challenge yourself, and the more success you have using techniques like these, the easier it will be for you to learn new, multiple or complex choreography quicker.