How We Learn (Part 2) - A Student's View
I hope you all enjoyed my last blog post - How We Learn. Having looked at how students learn new steps and choreography and how I as the teacher can assist them in that learning, I thought it would be interesting to get the view of a student from the school on how they find the process; both the challenges and the rewards.
Francesca is one of my adult students and is taking part in our show later this month.
Learning anything new as an older adult can be challenging, but learning how to dance can be particularly so. There may be demands on your time from families and/or work, leaving you unable to get to classes as often as you would like; sometimes you might feel a bit under the weather or maybe just too tired; and sometimes frustration sets in and the barriers are mainly in your head.
If it’s been a long time since you were at school or in further education, you might feel that you’re so out of the habit of learning that it will be very hard to start again. Or you might feel that you’re simply too old to dance because, after all, isn’t it just children who go to dancing classes? You might be put off by other people’s reactions (You do ballet? Really? Aren’t you a bit old for that?); or you might be put off by your own thoughts (Me? Do ballet? Aren’t I a bit old for that?). But just because you’re not 6 years old anymore shouldn’t stop you from having a go and if you can do your best to ignore your misgivings and get to classes, it can be a very worthwhile experience. Research has shown that it’s good to keep learning throughout life and that learning to dance as an older adult has many benefits for both the brain and body.
Over the last few months, I have been trying to learn four routines for our forthcoming Show (2 ballet dances, 2 tap dances). I have constantly had to remind myself that learning is a process that doesn’t go in an upward straight line but is rather more undulating. Sometimes, I feel that I have got to grips with a step or piece of choreography, only to find at the next class, that my feet have other ideas and I’m almost back where I started. When everyone else in the class seems to pick up steps more easily than you do, that can be the time when anxiety sets in which can make it even harder to learn. Sometimes the easiest steps or moves prove the hardest to learn! But constant repetition means that you’re always progressing, whether you realise it or not. And repetition aids retention and once you can retain the steps, then you can begin to think about other things a little more. Getting to know the music really well is very important as that guides you to what steps you should be doing when, especially if you think you might get a little lost in the routine. Sometimes there are certain steps or parts of a dance that just don’t seem to fall into place until practically the last moment, but it’s amazing how the pressure of knowing you’ve got to go on stage and perform in front of an audience can really sharpen your capacity to learn and retain!
I often marvel at the fact that two feet can cause me so much confusion, but of course it’s not just my feet that I have to think about! What should I be doing with my arms (particularly in ballet)? What about my head….where should I be looking? Getting all parts of the body to work in harmony can be very challenging! Then there’s spatial awareness: whatever I do can affect other dancers in the class; where am I in relation to them? Am I keeping in line or am I too far forward or back? What about doing turns? Am I too close to another dancer who is also turning? Am I going to knock into them? There are so many elements to consider and constant adjustments have to be made. Then there’s the performance element: we might dance because we enjoy it, but we want our audience to enjoy it too and be entertained (for all the right reasons!).
With just a couple of weeks to go before the Show, we’re now in the ‘perfecting and polishing’ stage, bringing together all the elements. It’s been hard work these last few months, but hopefully all the hours spent learning and practising will pay off on the day. Wish me luck!