"Repetition is the mother of perfection.”― Ryan Straten
In my last post, Learning and Remembering Combinations, I wrote about how the body processes new sensory information and commits it to memory. This information is both important and extremely useful to dance educators. By understanding how students learn motor patterns and commit them to memory, dance educators can adapt their teaching methods to create more effective classes.
When taught, a new exercise is first committed to short-term memory. After several repetitions the neural pathway (the route the brain uses to communicate with the body) that is formed when a new exercise is learned becomes a well-travelled route, and this exercise is sent to the long-term memory. Once it is stored in long-term memory the exercise can be accessed quickly and repeated on demand.
This knowledge can be useful when planning classes. Since exercises can easily be accessed once they are learned, it makes sense to work backwards when planning classes and teaching new choreography. If an educator choreographs the combinations that will be taught in class first, then he or she can work backwards and break the combinations into individual segments or exercises. These exercises can then be introduced to the students during warm-up, in simpler form, or in smaller pieces when travelling across the floor. A particular arm pattern that will be used in the final combination may be incorporated into a plié or tendu exercise, while a particular step like a spiral fall to the floor can be taught as a transitional piece of a developpé exercise.
Additionally, a step that may be done in a circular pattern in the final combination can be taught simply moving forward as a transitional phrase. Once the motor pathway is established, it will be easier to manipulate it spatially, adding direction or using it to create new pathways.
This same principle can be applied when teaching choreography. Rather than starting at the beginning of a dance, it can be useful to choreograph the piece first and then break it down into sections. It will be easier if everyone first learns unison sections, then different groups learn their particular sections, and then the different parts can be woven together to create the final dance. Once the phrases are learned, they can be manipulated to face different directions, can be slowed down or sped up, can be used in cannons, or can be layered on top of each other.
By working in this manner, dance educators can use information about how the body operates to make class time and rehearsal hours more productive and teach in a way that enables dancers to learn more quickly and experience less frustration when learning new steps and/or choreography.