I recently learned a pretty tricky drum solo by another dancer in 5 hours, over 3 days.
When I was cast in Jillina’s stage production of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, I learned 7 choreographies in about 6 weeks. So here are some of my main tips to learn choreography quickly!
1. I watch well
Mirror neurons are a type of brain cell that fires both when we perform a specific action (like an arabesque) and when we observe someone else performing the same action.
That is to say, when we see another dancer perform an arabesque, the mirror neurons in our brains fire as if we were performing the movements ourselves.
This can help us understand and learn movements more effectively – so watch first, try second!
2. I don’t repeat mistakes
This one sounds really silly, but I’ll explain what I mean!
If I’m running through a choreography, and I keep making the same mistake, I don’t just keep going and hope it will get better.
I stop what I’m doing. I watch that section again. I practice it without the music. And then I do the run-through again. If I get it wrong again, I stop the music there immediately to break the pattern in my brain. I go from the top (or the top of that section again) and try to get it right.
3. I sing the timing
Especially with lyrical pieces or raqs sharqi pieces in general, steps are not usually on counts, but they follow the melody or other musical accents.
If I’m struggling with a step, I watch the piece again (there’s a theme here!) and I sing the steps. So if there’s a tricky arabesque combo with suspension, I sing along to the dancer performing it in whatever way makes sense for my brain. For example: “left, right, left, riiiiiiiiight, turn and….”
This helps me hear where it fits in the music.
4. I ask the silly questions!
If it’s an in-person or live-streamed choreography workshop, I’m not afraid to ask questions.
Don’t be afraid of looking silly. You’ll be more equipped to learn things independently if you ask questions about the technique or choreography while the expert is right there in front of you.
And chances are, there are other people in the room or the class who have the same questions as you, but are too shy to ask!
5. I prioritise practice frequency
Here for a good time, not for a long time! When trying to learn choreography quickly, I prioritise practice frequency over practice duration.
This increases the chances of me retaining the choreography in the long-term, compared to one or two super long practice blocks in a week.
6. I review right before bed
Sleep provides a lot of benefits to memory consolidation and learning (so getting enough sleep is also key to learn well).
Something I’ve done for a long time, is reviewing tricky things right before bed – even just once, perhaps even just watching instead of dancing.
So my brain can consolidate while I sleep!
These are just some of the ways that I learn choreography quickly!
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P.S. Here’s the drum solo I learned in 5 hours, employing a lot of these tricks: