Whether it's in an audition, rehearsal or class, the ability to pick up combinations and choreography quickly will separate you from the pack. Teachers, directors and choreographers want to know that their dancers are quick studies, because less time spent learning the steps means more time to fine-tune. Here are some memory-boosting tips from the pros:
• Watch your teacher demonstrate the entire combination before trying it yourself, advises Deborah Vogel, director of the Institute for Performance Studies in Ohio. Then, close your eyes and see how much you can recall. You'll know immediately which steps you have and which ones you don't.
• Experiment with various kinds of learning techniques: Try repetition, analogies, visual or auditory cues or a combination of several methods. For example, if you are an auditory learner, say the steps out loud to yourself.
• Concentrate on performing choreography on your own without looking at classmates in the mirror. If it's too tempting to peek, ask your teacher if everyone can try dancing with backs to the mirror.
• After class or rehearsal, clear out a space in your room at home and practice new choreography over and over again until it's committed to muscle and brain memory.
• Make a copy of the music to listen to throughout the day. Imagine yourself performing the steps as the music plays; this will help you match movements with musical cues.
• If you have trouble remembering which leg to step on in a certain section, try slapping that leg (but not too hard!) before you start dancing, recommends Roberta Humphrey, director of Dance for Joy in Mohegan Lake, NY.
• At the end of the day, take a few minutes to go over what you've learned with a friend and fill in each other's blanks.
• Don't let difficult elements distract you from the in-between, connecting steps. It's easy to remember sixteen fouettes, but more challenging to memorize the eight counts of fancy footwork that come just after. Instead, focus on three or four smaller parts and connect each to a specific beat or a particular word in the music. If you get mixed up, you'll be able to find your bearings fast.
• Keep a journal in your dance bag and jot down notes during and after class.
• Mark combinations while another group is dancing, but remember, you won't know if you really have it down until you dance full out, so be sure to try it full out a few times.
Use meditation to sharpen concentration
Do you ever find yourself thinking about homework during rehearsal? Or daydreaming about those tricky pencil turns from yesterday's jazz class in the middle of today's petit allegro? If so, meditation might help keep you focused. “Getting distracted is exhausting," says Cyndi Lee, founder of OM Yoga in NYC. “If you have more one-pointed concentration, you'll have more energy to focus on what you want to focus on." Your ability to pick up choreography will improve if you are able to concentrate completely on the steps at hand.
1. Sit on your bed or on the floor with your eyes open. (You don't want to train your mind to focus only when your eyes are closed.)
2. Breathe naturally and concentrate only on your breath as you inhale and exhale.
3. Count to ten. If your mind begins to wander at any point, start over at one.
4. Repeat for at least five minutes.