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Remembering Your Dance Steps

Welcome all, and this week, we’re here to talk about… Um, what was it again?

Bad puns aside, remembering material from our dance classes is no easy feat for most. ‘My memory is a sieve!’ ‘I can do it fine in class, but when I try to practice alone, it all falls apart!’ Fear not, our capacity to remember, like our capacity to dance, is just another skill that can be honed with practice.

First: How Do You Learn?

A cognitive scientist by the name of Ruth Day once did a series of tests to determine how dancers remember what they learned in class. After over a hundred experiments, she determined that retention was based on three forms of cues: words, visual images, and movement. Reflect on how you retain information in class and follow the suggestions below to start boosting your memory power.

Auditory (Words)

Perhaps you can remember what the instructor says better then anything else. Or maybe you associate patterns with the music you danced to at the time, and hearing the song again brings it back. If this sounds right, try these tested tips:

  1. If your instructor lets you, record them explaining the pattern, and listen to it before practicing or before the next class.
  2. Use mnemonics. What’s mnemonics you ask? They’re word shortcuts. For instance, to remember the lady begins every pattern with the right foot, I use the phrase ‘the lady is always right.’
  3. Whisper important things the teacher says just loudly enough to hear them yourself.

Visual (Images)

Maybe you can’t remember what your teacher said, but can you remember what they did? Put yourself down as a visualizer, and try these suggestions to make it work for you:

  1. Get a binder, and write down everything you remember after a class.
  2. Colour-code the above notes into different categories. This is called Mind Mapping, and it helps your brain organize information for better recall. For example, I might put a heel lead, a smooth weight change, and brushing the feet along the floor under the category ‘smoothness and continuity’.
  3. Use visuals and metaphors when trying to understand instructions. To stay facing your partner for instance, I imagine them being illuminated by a searchlight coming from my belly button.

Kinaesthetic (Movement Cues)

Finally, the act of listening to any instruction might have you shifting from foot to foot. You just want to stop talking and do it! Fortunately, the dance world provides plenty of help for the kinaesthetic learner:

  1. As soon as the class finishes, run through everything you did before you forget, and don’t worry if it’s not perfect. Then run it through again.
  2. When reviewing notes or videos, don’t just watch – dance it as you see it happening. This links what your eyes are seeing with the actions of your muscles.
  3. Visualize! Try to remember not just what it looks like, but what it feels like as well.

Good news! There are so much more advice on how to remember those steps better, that I’ll include them all in the next article. See you then!


Duke University


About the Author

Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for almost 20 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance and his endless seeking for ways to reach new audiences eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.

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