1. Familiarize Yourself with the Language
Every instructor, studio, and syllabus has different words for the same move. Oftentimes past bronze, there are no names for the infinite number of moves you can create! For each instructor you have, familiarize yourself with their vocabulary, at the very least it will help you communicate. When learning a move, know exactly which part of the pattern it is named for. For example, oftentimes when referring to a Natural Turn in Waltz, instructors will include the box change before and after the actual natural turn portion. If this doesn’t work, learn them all or create your own!
2. Look for a Pattern within a Pattern
When you are dancing a new series of steps, chances are that some probably look familiar. Note the familiar one so that you can focus on the unique parts of the pattern. Oftentimes the routine will emphasize a particular part of the dance, whether it’s timing variation or arm styling etc… Learning these characteristics can help you create a story in your mind about the routine.
3. Memorize in Groups
When learning material, it is recommended to group it in sequences of three or four. Our brain is able to process these groups easier than longer or shorter sequences. Ever wonder why your zip code and telephone numbers are grouped that way?
4. Write it Down and Organize
When learning a routine, try taking notes right after. Even if you struggled to learn it quickly, having pointers for when you go home is helpful. What you write doesn’t have to be detailed or even written, some people draw pictures or simply use colors for those crazy moves that don’t have names. Once you take notes, you can go back and fill in detail, simply recalling the information will help you remember it later.
5. Vary how you Articulate your Rhythm
Verbally articulating your dance routine is one of the most beneficial ways to learn it and is not something we often learned in school. One of the things that makes dance more difficult is that we’re not just memorizing objects or words, but rather moments through time. Being able to articulate your rhythm will help you to remember what you’re doing before, during, and after a beat.
6. Use Body Cues
Whether you are leading or following, learn to develop both internal and external cues. For follows, if you feel his hand move, it’s a good bet that the lead is about to do an underarm turn, so practice what you need to do internally to make it feel good. For leads, learn to not rely on your partner for cues, but rather develop internal cues that you can use that will not only help lead your partner, but help you remember the next part of the dance.
7. Repetition is the Mother of Learning?
Memorizing information doesn’t necessarily mean being able to do it, but rather your ability to recall it at a moment’s notice. If you have learned the material, it is already in your brain; now, you have to learn how to recall the information. One of the most obvious ways to do so is to repeat it!
That being said, forcing yourself to recall it without any other cues is harder but more beneficial. Ever wonder why you remembered the question you got wrong on the test long after you took it? It’s because you spent more time trying to recall the information rather than simply passing over or through it. So, next time you try and read your notes or practice, stop in your last position and force yourself to recall and do it correctly. Even if you're standing in promenade for ten minutes! Don’t let your partner cue you, or start over again. Our brain hates doing this, because we’re forcing it to work –which is why it’s the single most effective way to memorize!
8. Set a Deadline
Nothing can be more motivating than setting a solid deadline for yourself. Your body will respond differently when it knows the pressure is on, and it will help you retain the information when you are about to perform or go to a party.
9. Dance it Slowly and Dance it Quickly
When you are learning something new, give your body and your mind time to acclimate. Oftentimes our brain knows what to do before our body does. Give your body a chance to process by slowing the movement until you can consistently work your way up to a faster tempo. One you’re able to dance it up to speed, dance it faster than it should be. This will ensure that you know the routine well enough to recall it. It will also give you a chance to practice it to varying speeds, forcing you to ‘slow-down’ when you go back to a normal tempo
10. Use Your Instructor
When you are first learning the steps your instructor gives you cues. However, you probably realize that once you have learned it, they won’t give cues. This tactic allows you to focus and develop your own inner body awareness without having to learn your partner’s part. By having your instructor simply do their part, you’re able to concentrate on what you need to be doing to make it feel good.
11. Know When to Rest
Oftentimes when we try too hard and are unsuccessful, it is because our body simply doesn’t have the capability yet. When we learn new information that our brain understands, but our body doesn’t, we need to give our bodies a chance to learn it by actually taking a break.
When we learn, our brains send electronic signals to the body by neurons. These pathways can be strengthened once we know the information by repetition (makes sure we know the right one!) However, before that can happen, it needs to create that pathway, which normally takes about 24 hours. So, once you’ve practiced, give your body a break to learn it –you can guarantee it is still working!