Hints for Remembering Choreography
Some dancers remember choreography just by seeing it a few times. But others have to work at it.
Why is it difficult for some of us to remember choreography? Because dance, like music, is linear; it cannot be viewed in its entirety all at once like a painting - it can only be seen in terms of its changes. Probably every one of us has experienced that feeling of "Oh my, what comes next?" at one time or another. Seen in this light, then, it seems to me that the ability to remember choreography easily is a gift.
Here are some ideas that work for me.
Take Notes in Class, or Right After Class
This seems really obvious, but how many people do you actually see doing this? Short-term memory is just that - short. If you need proof, try to recall everything you did yesterday. And blessed are the instructors who provide notes for choreography.
Obtain an Exact Copy of the Music Used
When you arrive home, and start to practice, almost every is different. Surroundings are different and there are no verbal cues. But worst of all, there is no instructor to follow! All you have to go on is any notes you may have, whatever remains in your head, and the music. Yes, the music is the one constant. Using a similar song, or even another version of the same song just won't provide the same cues.
Know the Names of All the Steps Used,
and Understand Each Step or Move Thoroughly
Another idea that seems obvious... maybe. When I was taking
classes in both ballet and Spanish dance, I realized that I could
remember ballet combinations more easily than Spanish, even though
the ballet steps were more complicated. The reason why, I realized,
was that every move in ballet had a name; but in Spanish, there
was very little terminology used - just a handful of terms. And
the terms used in ballet are quite specific; any ballet dancer
hearing a particular term will know instantly exactly what is
meant, without seeing it at all.
One of my ballet teachers used to sing the names of the steps
to the music. And years later, I still remember some of his combinations.
Understanding the move thoroughly also seems rather obvious.
By this, I mean that not only do you know the step and its name,
but you know also where the arms should be, which direction to
face, and are comfortable doing the step in any direction. In
other words, the step is an integral part of you, and you are
not just emulating something you saw. The same ballet teacher
calls this "muscle memory".
It seems obvious, also, to understand why a move has the name
it does. Here's a somewhat silly example. Let's say (just for
the sake of argument) that a new student asked you about undulations.
And you knew that it involved a swaying movement of the torso,
but then you realized that you weren't really sure what the word
"undulation" meant. So you checked a dictionary and
learned that the word is based on the French "onde",
meaning "wave" - voila! It means a wave-like
motion and not, say, something like "adulation" meaning
Work on the End First
One of my instructors used to teach dances backwards. She'd start at the end, then move back, bit by bit, to the start. That way, you were always coming to something you knew well. A strong beginning will capture the audience's attention. A strong finish will convey a lasting impression of confidence. Many audiences won't remember much of what happened in between.
Work on the Transitions Between Steps
This really helps to eliminate that horrible "what next" panic. And besides, you'll look like a much more confident, accomplished dancer!
Practice Whenever You Can
And you don't have to be some place where you can actually
dance! This can be far more effective than you might think! (Admittedly,
this can lead to sleepless nights. To help you get back to sleep,
try this Indian meditation technique: simply become aware of
your breathing. Observe how it happens by itself, but do not
try to "help" it in any way. Just focus all your attention
In a study on improving athletic performance, each one of
three groups were given a different task. The first group was
told to practice shooting basketball hoops daily. The second
group was told just to think about shooting hoops, but
not to actually do so. And the third group was told to do nothing
The results? The group who did nothing at all did not improve
at all. No surprise! The group who physically practiced shooting
hoops improved 24%. But the group who only thought about improving,
without physically practicing at all, improved a whopping 23%!
I hope that you will find some of these hints to be helpful. Those of you with the "gift" may find some of them almost laughable, but the rest of us must do whatever we can! I'd love to hear about any other "tricks" you may have.
About the Author
Arabella, the author of this article, has contributed many informative pieces to this web site on a variety of topics, including:
- Analysis of technique for doing certain dance moves
- Costume ideas
- Essays and opinion pieces
- Understanding Middle Eastern music
- Helpful how-to's, such as remembering choreography
Please visit Arabella's home page on this web site for a full list of articles she has contributed.
Arabella began her dance studies with Russian Ballet classes. Frustrated by ballet's impossible ideals, and curious about more ethnic dance disciplines, she moved on to study various other dance forms. Moving further east each time, these included Spanish flamenco, Escuela Bolera, Middle Eastern, and East Indian Odissi.
Arabella, based in Toronto, Canada, is also a certified Mastercraftsman in crewel embroidery, with a special passion for metal thread and ethnic embroidery. Currently she particularly focuses on Palestinian and East Indian embroidery.
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