“If you look at a dancer in silence, his or her body will be the music. If you turn the music on, that body will become an extension of what you’re hearing.” - Judith Jamison
It takes some skills to learn a dance routine. You need to make use of your kinesthetic memory; the memory that operates through movement and repetition. To learn choreography more effectively, you need to master every nuance of every movement before moving onto the following one.
In a dance class, your teacher might break routines down into steps to help you. If you want to learn a dance routine, this is the only way to do it.
In this article, we're going to look at the best ways and steps to take if you want to memorise dance routines such as analysing the music, focusing, memorising the beats, learning the basic steps, associating the moves with an image, and writing down the choreography.
Listen to the Music and Analyse It
Whether you’re doing hip hop, Cuban salsa, Oriental dance, or Bachata, you need to listen to the music before you can start learning the dance moves. Dancing and music go hand in hand. You can’t learn the dance routine without understanding the music.
That said, we don’t mean that you have to be an expert in music theory. On the other hand, it’s a good idea to listen to the music that goes with the style of dancing that you’re learning. Your brain will get used to the different styles and rhythms and it’ll help you to learn certain moves more effectively.
Before you learn a new dance routine, ask your tutor or teacher if you can listen to the music first. Focus on the stresses within the music and work along with the rhythm. In different types of dancing, there are different rhythms.
Similarly, different instruments are being used and certain movements that are often associated with them. Ask your teacher for some resources to help you.
It's very difficult to learn a dance routine if you don't know what's coming up in the music!
Find out more about learning choreography.
Learn the Basic Steps
It doesn’t matter if you’re doing the waltz, Argentine tango, or Kizomba, you can’t learn any choreography if you don’t know the most common steps used. It’s common for beginners to try and go too fast. Learn the fundamentals first, though.
For example, you might learn the following basic steps:
- 1: Right foot back.
- 2: Left foot back.
- 3: Right foot out to the side.
- And: Left foot in.
- 4: Right foot back down.
- 5: Left foot out to the side.
- And: Right foot in.
- 6: Right foot back down.
Of course, if you’re dancing with someone doing this, you need to mirror the movements. Whether you’re doing salsa, ballet, west coast swing, or tap, you need to learn some basic steps.
Discover some of the easiest dance routines.
Focus the Entire Time
This might seem obvious, but you need to focus throughout so that you can memorise the movements that you’re going to emulate. This is especially true during your dance classes. The first steps you learn won’t be designed to look good. Generally, these are to make sure you get the following choreography right.
When your modern jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, or contemporary dance tutor shows you something, don’t try and copy it there and then. Watch attentively and attempt to break down the steps in your head before trying.
Ask your tutor or teacher to repeat moves you mightn’t have understood and remain focused during the explanations. Your dance tutor or choreographer will show you exactly what you need to do to get them right and correct you if you’re doing something wrong.
Memorise the Beats
In ballroom dancing, Latin dance, or urban dance classes, most dancing is counted over 8 beats. Experienced dancers won’t need to count them out. However, beginners can benefit a lot from counting the beats along to their movements. Your tutor will probably count along to the beat to help you. Memorise and associate different moves with different beats.
This technique is also used in group dance classes to ensure that everyone is synchronised. Nevertheless, as you learn, the counting will become automatic and you won’t be actively doing it.
Focus on One Thing at a Time
Again, don’t try to do it all at once. There’s a lot you need to be thinking about including:
- Arm placement
- Moving your legs and feet
- The direction of your head and where you’re looking
- The orientation of your body
Many teachers will start teaching dance moves just in terms of how the legs move and only add the arm movements once you’ve got the hang of the steps. You’ll put it all together once you’ve got the hang of it.
This can help when it comes to learning. If your cabaret, street jazz, or Bollywood teacher tried to teach you it all at once, you should probably focus on the legs the first time around.
Find out more about making your own dance routines.
Associate the Moves with an Image
Imagine something that the move reminds you of to help you learn it more easily. This can aid memorisation.
Create stories to help you better understand what each move is. For example: “imagine you’re walking on a wire over a drop” or “as you turn, your hand hits a wall”. You can make up your own little stories to help you memorise the moves.
Film Yourself Dancing
Be it ballroom dancing, the Foxtrot, Viennese waltz, the Lindy Hop, or swing dancing, you can always ask your tutor if they can film you as you practise.
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They can also use this footage to go back over their feedback with you and slow down certain segments that you need to take a good look at.
Even if you don’t have the time to practise at home, take your time to watch back your videos from class so that you can memorise the choreography on your commute to work, for example. It’s a good idea to study the choreography every day so that you can remember it more effectively.
Check out some great online choreography videos.
Write Down the Choreography
This technique mightn’t work for everyone, but certain types of learners can benefit from writing down what the choreography includes to help them remember. You can even use the video to do this just after a lesson!
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Everyone has their own way of taking notes but here are a few things that might help:
- R for right
- L for leg
- A for arm (LA and RA, for example)
- F for foot (LF and RF, for example)
Don’t hesitate to write down the names of the steps and even doodle little figures and diagrams to help you remember what you need to be doing.
Of course, this does mean you also need to memorise the names of the steps and not just the steps themselves. Dancing is a great way to improve your memory.
Practice Makes Perfect! Just like the old saying goes, the best way to memorise a dance routine is to keep practising it. Some find it easier than others, but anyone can do it.
The important thing is to commit it to memory so that once you’re outside of your dance class, you can still remember it. Leave your problems at the door and make sure you’re ready to learn something new!
Bit by bit, you’ll see that remembering dance routines is easier. You may even surprise yourself with how much you’ve been able to remember after a session. After all, you’ll develop muscle memory for certain steps!
If you'd like to more about different dance styles, footwork, improvisation, or particular dance steps, consider getting in touch with one of the experienced and talented tutors on Superprof. You can find tutors teaching all different types of dance from modern dance to classical ballet.
There are face-to-face, online, and group tutorials available. Each comes with its pros and cons but if you want to dance with different partners or are considering styles of dance where you have to, you probably won't want to choose a tutorial with just you and a single dance instructor.
Don't forget that many of the private tutors on Superprof also offer the first hour of tuition for free. Arrange a free session with several of them so that you can discuss what you're after, what you'd like to learn, how you like to learn, and the details of your tutorials.