With less than three weeks left until we get on to the stage to perform in our Show, Dance Dynamic classes are a hive of activity. Costumes are been fitted, dances perfected and performance smiles practiced. There is a lot to do and think about, but when it comes to the actual dances the majority of the hard work has already been done over the last few months.
A lot of work goes into a 3 minute performance on stage and it is essential for me as the teacher to understand the process of how people learn and how I can best aid them in that learning.
What is Motor Learning?
‘A set of processes associated with practice or experience leading to relatively permanent changes in the capability for movement’.
Schmidt and Lee, 1999
Those processes can be seen as:
Input - Processing - Output
To learn one new section of choreography the student must first watch and observe the new sequence executed by me (INPUT), they then have to process what they have seen and work out what they need to do to be able to replicate that same sequence (PROCESSING). They then execute the movement (OUTPUT). The ability to execute the movement as similarly as first performed by me will depend on a number of factors including the students age, experience and physical and cognitive abilities.
So how does this relate to learning a 3 minute dance for the show?
In 2003 Kimmerle and Côté-Laurence developed a motor learning model for dance skills.
There were 3 stages in their model:
Attempt - Correct - Perfect
Back in April of this year when we returned from the Easter holidays I started teaching to each class their choreography for the show. A class would start with its regular warm-up and we would practice different steps and work on techniques necessary to perform the steps. The final segment of the class was learning the new choreography. At this point we were in the ATTEMPT STAGE. We learnt and practiced the new segment of the dance. Each week we would practice what we had learnt previously and then add more on to the dance. This went on for much of the term until we got to the point towards the end of the term that the dance was nearly finished. At this point more than half of the dance would have been in the CORRECT STAGE, as they were the sections we had started with earlier on and had been practicing regularly each week. The final part of the dance was still in either the ATTEMPT or CORRECT stage.
At the start of this term we were in the CORRECT STAGE. We recalled what we had learnt before the summer holidays and now most, if not all, of the class was dedicated to the show dances. Spending so much time each lesson on the choreography meant we very quickly moved through the CORRECT stage and headed to the PERFECT STAGE, which is where we are now.
The PERFECT STAGE is where we as performers are generally confident enough with the choreography to be able to think about other things: the music, the other performers, what our arms and head should be doing, correct technique and placement, our performance and the SMILE!
To aid each student in moving through these 3 phases I have a number of techniques that I use:
Repetition: This helps to create neural pathways from the brain out to the different parts of the body used in the movement. The more the action is done, the more the body gets used to it, until gradually the body can perform the action with less thinking time (muscle memory).
Chunking: Learning the choreography in small, manageable steps.
Meaning: The more something is understood the easier it can be remembered e.g. creating a rhyme.
Questioning: Asking the student questions to support them in becoming an independent learner and to aid the transfer of the information from the short term to the long term memory.
Over learning: Over rehearsing and repeating the dances until the student can perform them without having to think about it is one of the most important techniques in preparing for the show. Practicing something, even after you feel it has been learnt, will help when the adrenaline and show nerves kick in!