LEARNING AND REMEMBERING CHOREOGRAPHY
Tips & tricks from a pro who learned 'the hard way'
January 7, 2022
When it comes time for learning and remembering choreography, many people will run for the hills — even those who enjoy dance as a hobby!
Be honest; are you one of them?
If so, chin up! You’re not alone.
And take heart: being able to learn and remember choreography is a skill all on its own, separate from knowing ‘how’ to dance. THAT means, if you’re looking to get better at it … you can!
Below are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up over my years as a dancer (7 and counting, as of 2022). I, too, once came from a place of, “How will I ever be able to remember ALL of these moves?!”
Here’s what I’ve got for you:
1. Repetition is key … but DON’T always start at the beginning of your sequence.
Set aside at least 3 times per week to work on your choreography sequence. Shorter practices, more frequently, will often be the most sustainable plan! Don’t expect to learn everything in a single week by practicing every day (unless that’s your only option). Repetition will work better as a longer sustained effort.
Pick two or three additional ‘start’ points in your sequence, other than the actual start. It could be at a hit/stop moment, a musical transition, or a place where the dance changes direction. Start from each of those points and dance to the end, several times in a row, a few times per week. Picking new start points is like anchoring for your muscle memory; it will help you pick back up & rejoin your count and/or your co-performers, if you lose your way during the sequence.
2. Watch a performer who has mastered the sequence, and/or videos of whoever is teaching the sequence, and/or videos of yourself successfully performing the sequence.
This will build your visual memory of how the sequence will look to your audience. As you are watching, don’t just simply pick apart each move or laser-focus on how your version looks in comparison to others or to your ideal. Rather, as you are watching, notice the flow of the dance and see if you can ‘group’ any moves or mini-sequences together. Listen to the lyrics of the song if there are any, and the musical changes — does it tell a story? Convey a mood? Watch how the movements are inspired/impacted by lyrical and musical cues.
3. Run ‘sticky’ parts in slow motion.
If there are parts of the sequence that you’re frequently glitching on (land on wrong foot, half-turn instead of full-turn, etc etc), you will need to re-learn them. Often this is easier at half- or quarter-speed. Back up a move or two ahead of the problem sequence, and start the sequence again by moving your body as slowly as needed in order to execute the movements, mindfully moving your way through the sticky part. The goal is to complete the movement correctly (regardless of speed) so slow down as much as needed. (Even if it feels a bit silly.) Slowly completing the move correctly can “reset” your muscle memory of that part of the choreography. Sometimes it’s helpful to have a friend around who can scrub slowly through the video as you mimic the movements along with the visual aid.
4. Use mnemonic devices to help remember any sequences that you’re blanking on.
Sometimes, particularly when a sequence is moving fast or suddenly, or if it’s just challenging for you to remember each part of it in order, it can be helpful to have a mnemonic device that runs through your mind to keep the body on track. Think of it like your inner cheerleader. For example: “Arm UP, swing OUT, pump ONCE and hair WHIP!”
When they’re most effective, these little phrases can be sung/chanted with the movements, on the beat (silently and while smiling of course). Wording should be both simple and specific!
5. Know your limits.
When you’re building your own choreography, sometimes there just is not enough time to put every single move in the sequence that you might like to. But guess what? Audiences don’t come out to see choreography (unless we’re talking about Swan Lake, in which case this is most certainly the wrong blog for you).
Anyway, SPOILER ALERT: Audiences come out to see performers—that’s YOU! You will dazzle them with your effortless-looking, smooth, masterful movements and the story or mood you bring onstage. Not so much, with a jam-packed series of half-executed movements that fills up four minutes. Know what I’m sayin??
Happy dancing, and I hope these tips will help you out!
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