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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Help with learning choreography


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Does anyone have any tips or insight into learning and remembering choreography? I'm probably an intermediate dancer in terms of technique but my skills for absorbing combinations and choreography is horrible. I have good "muscle memory" once I've rehearsed a step but I can't "get it" quickly. It's frustrating when I feel like I'm struggling to learn combinations that are well within my level of ability. It's hard to understand why some people with less dance experience are so good at it. Does anyone know how to improve these skills or know of any helpful books to read on the subject?



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Guest Jesabelle

I repeat the first section of the combination in my head, as the rest is being created. Usually, there are two 'parts' sometimes even three. (In an adagio stretching and balancing at the end) I recite chronologically in my head so that by the time the combo is finished being demonstrated, I just recite it as I do it.

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I used to struggle with this a lot, and though I'm still slow, it's a lot better than before.


Do you ever do the same combinations in more than one class? This summer, I took a class where we did the same center combinations all week. It helped in a couple ways. Of course it helped because by the third day of a combination, I really knew it. But repeating combinations also made it easier for me to pick up new combinations. I think what happened is that before this class, I wouldn't ever thoroughly learn combinations - I'd just follow along and struggle. Actually learning the combinations taught my brain how to learn a combination.


So, I would recommend practicing remembering combinations. Even if you aren't going to do them again, try to remember (and maybe write down) the combination. Practice it at home (marking it is fine, it'll still help you remember). Remembering choreography is like everything else - the more you do it, the easier it is.


Also, when I'm learning choreography for a show, I do it over and over in my head all the time. So I'm slower than everyone else the day we learn it, but by the second time we rehearse the material, I know it.

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I like to break it down in my head as the instructor is showing it. So when she's done, I might be thinking something like "3 tendu's en croix, 12 to the side, 8 passe's, repeat."

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Remembering combinations is a skill.


In ballet class I have two tricks I find useful. One is to try to think in patterns and phrases instead of single movements. This way you have less to remember. The other trick I use is to quickly mark the more problematic parts of a combination to the other side as demonstrated. (So if it was demonstrated right, I mark to the left instead of right) This usually exposes which parts I copied, learned and understood, and which parts I just copied.



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Guest Agrajah

Each choreographer I work with has her own combinations she tends to use. I piece whole sets of combinations together. One mini combo I've learned is waltz turns into pique or arabesque turns. Another might be single pique, double pique, chaisse, arabesque. Pay attention to the types of steps your choreographer lieks to use and piece them together. It's like putting words together into sentences versus single letters into whole sentences. They contain whole thoughts are easier to handle.

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