We have all had lesson when a teacher gives us a new piece of choreography but 6 weeks later we still confuse some of the steps. Learning a new routine is exciting but how do you remember all those steps, timing and arm styling? Well, try these 5 steps.
I must admit I always struggled to remember choreography. There are so many details and we all want to suddenly be artistic about our new programmes. The truth is that you can't be an artist in your dancing, if you don't know what steps you are supposed to do. I learnt it the hard way, when at a competition I ended up messing up the choreography in front of a panel of judges because I was trying to perform rather than focus on my routines first. Has it happened to you too?
I had to come up with some ideas on how to improve my memory and memorize the choreographies. Here are 5 ways to help you remember your "routines":
1. Choreography is your poem
Imagine that the routine you are going to dance is a poem. Your steps and figures are separate lines and they can be combined in small paragraphs. When you get a new piece of choreography try to divide it into manageable sections, let's say each section consists of 4-5 figures. This way you will know which section you are learning, section 1, 2 or 3 etc.
Learning your choreography in small pieces is easier than trying to memorize the whole thing at once. So divide your routine into digestible sections then you can start putting the sections together piece by piece.
2. Write it down
Taking notes is a great way to make sure you understand what your teacher told you at a lesson. If you are learning choreography made up of basic steps, you can easily write them all down by their name. Then feel free to organize them in small sections just as described in the previous paragraph.
However, what if the choreographies don't consist of basic figures? Well, then you need to be more creative with writing down the steps. Putting the whole lot on paper may be a little bit overwhelming, so instead try to focus on the major points you have problems with. Also, don't be afraid to use your own words. After all, these are your notes.
You can also use little pictures and arrows if it helps you remember better. It is easier to use diagrams than writing essays on description of a single step - how would you write a description of a Three Alemenas step in Rumba.
Writing down your choreography is just a mental repetition so remember that without practicing it physically, it will be useless.
3. Imagine your steps
There are many steps which have specific names like Underarm Turn, Reverse Turn, Promenade Runs or Natural Spin Turn. From the name itself, you may get a clue what the step will be like. However, sometimes steps don't carry names or they don't give any clues on what to do, for example Alemana, New York or Whisk. In this case, you need to attach your own image to the step however strange it may be.
Another way to think about it is what a specific step makes you think of. As long as the images you create make sense to you, it will help remembering them in specific sequences.
4. No need for a studio to practice
Many students tell me that they had no time or place to practice their choreographies. Have you used that as an excuse before?
You don't actually need to be in a great room with big floor and mirrors to practice your choreography. Why not trying to go through the choreography in your head whilst sitting on a bus or having a break at work.
a. close your eyes
b. ignore any noises surrounding you
c. mark your routine in your head. Use small and short movements of head or hands if it helps for directions or accents
d. imagine your are in a studio with your dance partner and you dance the steps
Once you create those visuals in your head, the steps will be much easier to reproduce in practice.
To remember your choreography, not only do you need to think about it, but also dance it. The more times you do it, the better it will stick in your head. The best way is to do the "full-out" practice which means there is no holding back. You go through your steps, just the way they should be danced- with timing, accents, power, arm styling. Over-time your muscles will start remembering the actions.
"Marking it". This is an interesting concept that many couples choose to do when I watch them practice. The idea is to go through the motions without committing yourself to it. It will help to remember the structure of your routine.
Remembering the choreography is not an easy task that every dancer must face. However, once you know your routines inside out, then the magic of dancing begins where you can start putting layers on top of it. Ultimately, start being an artist. Isn't it what we all want? The freedom to move. However, as I have always been told- you gain the freedom within the frames of your routine. That's why it's so important to spend a lot of time memorizing your steps.
In summary, there are some ideas which you may use and implement into your dancing. The ones which students seem to like the most are breaking the choreo into sections (see point 1) and also visualization (see point 4). Which ones do you like?
You may have your own ways to memorize those complicated chains of figures when you learn. Let me now ask you- what do you do to help you remember your routines? Please leave a comment below.
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