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How Many Classes Should I Take?


Parents often ask, “How many classes a week should my child take?” The answer to this question depends largely on the age and interest of the child. Someone as young as three will not necessarily have the desire or the physical conditioning necessary for more than one class a week, while a more mature five or six-year-old might enjoy taking classes twice weekly.  A more dedicated pre-teen or teen may choose to do a minimum of 3-4 classes per week.  All of this, of course, is dependent on the child’s level of interest, dedication, and maturity.

Particularly as a child gets older and becomes more serious about dance, multiple classes a week really begin to make sense.  This is not an unusual concept. If someone joins a sports team, they can expect to be practicing several hours a week, even daily. To illustrate, imagine if a person only did math in school an hour a week. How much would they retain? How long do you think it would take them to improve? Dance is no different. If a person wants to become skillful in any field or area of study, they have to practice regularly and often!

The real question for the student is: What are your goals?  Are you looking for an occasional diversion or a true hobby in which you can see a marked improvement? Or perhaps are you on the path to becoming a professional?  How a person answers will very well determine the amount of time they should spend in the studio. It would be prudent to have a frank discussion with the teacher about their goals and to ask what steps they recommend be taken in order to reach them.

In the meantime, consider three reasons why more than one class a week is beneficial:

 

  1. Exposure to different teachers/methods. Every teacher has a unique style, methodology, and viewpoint. One teacher may notice a weakness or a problem another does not, or may explain something in a way that you understand better. The point is: We can all benefit from a variety of teachers and teaching styles.
  2. Learning other dance genres. If you take at a studio which offers a variety of genres, taking more than one class can give you the opportunity to try out different styles and benefit from the unique movements and skills offed in each. In short, it can make you a well-rounded dancer and strengthen your overall technique. *
  3. Practice, Practice, Practice! Again, the more often you dance, the better you will become as you build muscle memory and gain new skills.

In the end, a student and their parents must decide which course is best. But certainly, if a child loves to dance, and has the ability to take several classes a week, there is no reason why they shouldn’t explore the added benefits of multiple classes per week. Dance Academy offers discounts for multiple classes taken per month. For more information visit the tuition page here.

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10 Tips for Memorizing Choreography

We have all been there:  Struggling to memorize new choreography.  This happens for a number of reasons but let’s review some helpful tips, presented in no particular order, that may aid in the learning process.

1. Take it “one step at a time”.  “Chunking”, a term coined in cognitive science, refers to combining a few items that go together naturally.  In other words, taking the choreography one piece, or “chunk” at a time.  Often, instructors will teach this way; grouping the steps into “bite-size” pieces, reviewing them until the students feel they have it down, then adding on.  But, students can develop their own internal “chunking”, or memorization process, to help them learn the steps.  Additionally, you can use verbal or visual cues, whether it’s a word or phrase the teacher uses or something you come up with which you can relate easily to the movement.

2. Notes & Diagrams. If you still find you are having difficulty committing the steps to memory you can try this technique:  Write the steps down in order, using words or phrases which make sense to you (or those given by the instructor), or even drawing diagrams using stick figures (you don’t have to be an artist!).  Multiple studies have proven that writing something down, as opposed to just trying to memorize it or even typing it, aids in memory retention and learning.  So, pick up that old-fashioned pen and paper and get to work!

3. Mini-Marking.  Going over the steps repeatedly in your head can be helpful, but involving a certain level of muscle memory can increase the effectiveness of these mental reviews.  If you’re wondering what “mini-marking” is then just recall the last time a teacher gave a combination or a bit of choreography.  Were you just standing by idly watching or were you mimicking the movement with either your hands or feet as you watched closely?  Likely, you were doing the latter.  The beauty of mini-marking is that it can be done anywhere and at any time:  at home, in the car or even while you’re waiting in line at the store!  Additionally, there is a theory called, “the mirror neuron theory”, which states that our brain cells respond equally to performing an action ourselves as they do when we watch another perform it.  So, watching and marking at the same time could theoretically double your intake rate, right?

4. Practice makes perfect.  Repeating the steps, again and again, is obviously the most effective method.  Start by doing the steps slowly until you have them down and then gradually pick up the pace, eventually practicing with the music.  Music has become very accessible and can be downloaded in seconds.  You can even ask the instructor for the precise name and version of the music they’re using.  If you practice with the intended score, you will be more likely to be practicing the timing correctly.  And once you’ve begun practicing, don’t stop when you feel you’ve gotten it right, but keep going until you can’t get it wrong.

5. Play games.  Whether you generally have issues with memory, or it’s choreography specific, memory aid games can help your overall memory to improve and teach you to think “on your toes”!

6. Be in the moment.  This is an important one.  We all have a lot on our minds and can often allow our minds to wander during class or even when the teacher is giving instruction or choreography.  Don’t do this!  It’s very important that you be mentally “present” and focus on what is happening at the moment, minimizing all distractions.

7. Ask for help!  It may seem obvious, but many of us are too embarrassed to ask for help or clarification on a step or count we find difficult or confusing.  If you are too shy to do this during a rehearsal or class, (or the timing is inappropriate), you can ask the instructor afterward or even a friend who already has the movement down.  Adding to this, you can always invite a friend to practice with you! The social connection you feel along with the immediate feedback you get from a friend (who may know a step better than you) can go a long way in improving your understanding of the steps.  A famous proverb states:   “As iron sharpens iron; so one person sharpens the face of another.”  The point being that we can help each other to improve using our unique abilities, so why not take advantage of such an opportunity?

8. Focus on the music.  Sometimes I find that I’m getting too caught up in the choreography and am missing the connection between the choreography and the music.  Most choreography is very musical; meaning it complements or harmonizes with the music.  Sometimes just taking a moment to observe the connection between the two can help clear up any confusion you may have about when to do a step-because the music tells you!

9. Don’t linger over a moment.  If you’re getting stuck on one or two particularly difficult parts, don’t allow these to become your focal point.  Imagine a driver who centers their attention on only one thing on the road:   How would their driving fair?  Would they make much progress?  Often the approach of taking the choreography in as a whole can help clear up any trouble spots you’re struggling with.  For the time, just allow that to be a “problem area” and focus on getting the rest of the choreography down.  You can return to the problem area later.  You may find that after class when you have more time to work on it in a relaxed environment, or even after a good night’s sleep (oh so important!) that something just “clicks”.  If this does not happen, however, don’t despair!  Refer to tip number 7.

10. Tackle the feet first.  Your feet being what propel you across the floor, they are generally considered the “more important” part of the dancing process.  Of course, both the upper and lower body in dance is critical, including épaulement and facial expressions.  But when we are learning something new it can be helpful to apply the “chunking” principle to our bodies:  focus on one part at a time.  Once you have one part down, you can add from there.

These are just a few suggestions you can try out.  The process of learning choreography is very individual, so just try some of these and find what works best for you.  And remember to try to relax!  The more anxious you feel, the more difficult it will be.  Merde!

 

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Does practice always make perfect?

We’re all familiar with the adage, “Practice makes perfect.”  But does it always?  Consider this quote by American scholar, Hamza Yusuf:  “Practice makes permanent, not perfect.  If you practice the wrong thing, you make the wrong act permanent.”  In other words, practice instills within us a permanent habit, for good or for bad.  It’s how we practice which largely affects how successful we will be, not merely the number of hours or repetitions spent on a given task.

The point is not that practice is unimportant, but that only when done correctly, can it lead to the results we desire. If you are attempting to drive a car forward while the gear shift is set in reverse and hit the gas 100 times, will the car eventually move forward?  The answer is obvious.  The point being, if you practice something incorrectly, you will learn it and perform it…You guessed it…incorrectly!  

So, how does one make sure they are practicing correctly?  The online education platform, TED-Ed states, “Effective practice is consistent, intensely focused and targets content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of one’s current abilities.”  They offer the following suggestions:

  1. Focus on the task at hand and minimize distractions.  Avoid daydreaming or talking in class and listen to your teacher, even when the instruction seems unrelated to you.
  2. Start out slowly.  Coordination is built with repetitions. If you gradually increase the speed of quality repetitions, you have a better chance of doing them correctly.  When learning a new exercise, practice it carefully and slowly under the watchful eye of your teacher, being sure to do it correctly before you increase your speed!  This is especially crucial in dance, since performing certain movements improperly can result in injury.
  3. Be balanced.  Frequent repetitions with allotted breaks are common practice habits of elite performers.  Many top athletes, musicians and dancers spend 50-60 hours per week on activities related to their craft.  Many divide their time into multiple daily practice sessions of limited duration.  Short practice sessions daily in between your weekly lessons can be immensely beneficial and will train your brain and body to treat the movement as second nature.
  4. Practice in your brain in vivid detail.  A number of studies suggest that once a physical motion has been established, it can be reinforced just by imagining it.  So, even when you can’t practice the steps with your body, you can “practice” them in your head!

In addition, a student may come to feel that their regular classes and at-home practice sessions are not quite enough to help them achieve the increased “edge” they are looking for.  Or they may be dealing with a discipline or movement which is particularly challenging for them.  If this is the case, a student should first approach their teacher and politely request specific feedback or exercises they can do on their own.  They may also consider speaking to their parents and teacher about additional classes and private lessons as a supplement to their training.  

Lastly, don’t expect perfection!  Sure, you want to try your best, but beating yourself up over a perceived flaw is neither productive or healthy.  

The conclusion?  Listen to your teacher, accept the correction and implement it to the best of your ability.  Practice as “perfectly” as you can, and the result will be a beautiful, healthy dancer, permanently.