young, beginner dancers are learning choreography, whether as a class exercise
or in rehearsals, they can sometimes become overwhelmed when trying to pick up
material. Keeping in mind that picking up choreography is a skill and can be
challenging for even the most seasoned professional, it’s important to pay
attention to where they are currently and aim for them to work effectively. The
tips below offer a few important ideas that have helped my own dancers in class
and rehearsal and even helped in terms of increasing retention as the year
Short phrases: Young students have malleable brains that are still developing. The amount of information they can receive and absorb should be considered to improve retention and quality. Inundating dancers with too much material can have the opposite effect where they wind up remembering nothing. Try giving dancer shorter phrases of movement. Example: Instead of giving them 8 counts of eight, start with 3 or 4 to master fully before proceeding. Then teach another 3 or 4 counts of 8. Have them master those counts and then go back and link it with the first set you gave them. Continue and watch how they start to pick up quicker and retain more!
Repetition: Repetition is a tried and true method towards mastery. While “drilling” choreography should be accompanied by explanation and deconstruction, doing a phrase over and over so the physical body and mind understand it and create muscle memory, then allows for most assured retention later on.
Let them see it, say it and do it: Dancers learn best in different ways and every student is unique. Some learn best by watching, others by hearing it and most by doing it. So, why not give dancers the option of all three. Letting them see it, (whether that’s you demonstrating and/or breaking the class into groups to watch and then perform,) letting them hear it- through movement, counting, etc. and allowing them to get it into their own bodies allows for multiple vantage points in which to learn and retain.
Let them work it out: After teaching material and letting the group perform it for a while, a great way to instill self-assessment is to allow dancers a couple of minutes to individually walk through the choreography on their own and break it down for themselves. It may highlight spots where they may be blanking out or forgetting counts and movement and it also makes them accountable for learning their own choreography and ensuring they really know it on their own.
Change facings: As dancers we often get stuck doing things in the mirror. While a mirror is a dancer’s best friend in terms of learning and watching, dancers can become reliant on it and not truly be learning movement fully. So, once you have taught the choreography, have the dancers take it away from the mirror sooner than later when you feel they have a pretty good grasp on the material. For a progression, have them do it in all different facings so they really know it backwards and forwards!
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