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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Learn & Retain Combinations


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Is there anything I can do to learn and retain combinations better? My technique, strength, and flexibilty have improved significantly but it always takes me longer to learn the combinations and get them in my head. Once I have the steps I can better "dance" them and "perform" them rather than just executing a series of steps but it seems that I have to go over them several times before I can retain them. Others who dance at the same level as I seem to pick them up after only 1 or 2 reviews. Is there anything I can do to learn them faster? I try to write them down after class and that definitely helps to remember them but sometimes I forget what they were before I can even get them written down. Tips, tricks, techniques??

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Practice across the floor combinations with every group, behind them. Just marking it or thinking the name of each step in time to the music helps, too. You may want to write them down and see if the writing helps retention- I think this would help inconjunction with singing steps in thr rhythm of the music while executing the sequence. Many teachers demonstrate like this.

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I find that when I have certain steps committed to my "muscle memory" I can execute a combo putting much less effort into remembering it. I can just execute it without much thought. Like the way you just do plies or tendus or releves without having to majorly think about it. It's when I have several new steps in there or ones I haven't done very much that I have trouble remembering what to do. I need to think of what steps there are and how to do them and that makes it hard to put it all together.


The only cure I've found is lots of repetition. Marking it and practicing to the side or back is great if you have room. Also, maybe I'm weird, but when I'm in the back practicing, I tend to say the steps as I do them, including counting out loud if I need to, until it's my turn. Then I try to do that in my head for the real thing, but I've taken a little teasing for doing it out loud as I go occasionally. :)


Also, some people just remember things faster than others. Nothing wrong with that. We all have our different strengths and weaknesses. I see a lot of perfectionistic people that take a while to get something because they're so focused on doing it right. And then I see people who tend to plow through it and take corrections as they go. Maybe there are a lot of those types in your class. :shrug:


Anyway, I think that's fairly normal, especially if you haven't been dancing your entire life. It just takes tons of practice, like everything else.

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As AmyKL says, repetition & time, and everyone's different. And you do get used to certain preparations and combinations - you know, steps that fot together well, like glissade jeté, or glissade assemblé.


But I had a run of classes where I started to get really muddled over the standard moving preparation into pirouette from fourth en dehors! You know, that one that goes, chassé, pas de bourré into fourth and double turn. I kept getting the wrong leg or the wrong arm - on something quite simpler and routine. :) But luckily, it was so simple & routine, I could do a quick change to do the correct turn - my teacher was nice enough not to mention it - my embarassed red face was probably bright purple and he didn't want to add to my shame!

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Definitely remembering combinations by the music is the way I learn steps for a combination. For me the music tells me everytime what steps to do next. Maybe its a bit freaky, but that's me. But I swear the music talks to me .." pas de bourre, tombe, pir-ou-ette, relevee, cou-pe chas-se etc" Then I don't have to think of it again. I do also stand and mark out the steps with my hands.

It is a personal thing. Everyone will have their own way, and you need to find a way that works for you.



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As well as what everyone has said above, its practice, practice, and more practice. It is a skill that comes with time - I've found that so even for me, who was completely hopeless at first - as long as you keep trying, that is.



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I was trained in a way that encourages 'visual cues', or picking up patterns in terms of music/rhythm, combinations of steps, directions, or a combination (probably with other stuff thrown in).... I now find that I can interpret a pattern quite quickly, and that helps immensely.


I'm also a hugely visual learner, so the patterns are important to me.


One thing to try, perhaps, with the exercises you've written down, is to see if you can gleam any pattern from them, and if that helps remembering. If it does, it might be something to work on....


I know there have been other threads on this subject... maybe on the buddy board? It might be worth having a look.


We've all been there, and it's hard. When I have a new teacher I need to pay a million times more attention. And, AmyKL is very right about it being harder with less familiar steps. Keep at it.

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I need to be physically doing something if I ever want to learn it, so for me it helps to do the steps as the teacher is demonstrating. Then I repeat it before the music starts so that the rhythm is imprinted in my mind. And finally I say a prayer and hope for the best :yes:


I had a horrible horrible time remembering combinations when I started ballet. I'm still not very good at it. But as with all things in ballet, it takes time!

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I forgot to add, similar to what RedBookish said, knowing your connecting type steps well helps a lot. It seems like when you have things like balances, pas de bourres, glissades, etc. committed to memory to the point where you can do them without thinking about it.


And Xena, I don't think that's freakish, I do a similar thing a lot of the time, too! :yes:

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Thanks for the replies. I think I'll try a couple of things. Saying them outloud (softly) and maybe saying them in the rhythm of the music will help.


It seems that it can get better with practice so I'll just have to keep practicing. It's a relief to know that it can get better. I realize we're all different and it may always be one of my personal challenges but if it improves over time, that will be good.

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I always look for patterns in the combination--"three tendus and plié" is easier to keep in mind than "tendu, tendu, tendu, plié." Even if there isn't necessarily an obvious pattern as far as the steps go, you could think about it in terms of what direction you're moving, such as "diagonal of failli, assemblé three times and piqué arabesque, chassé & entrelacé twice straight across the front of the room, run to the corner, then manège of piqué turns."

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Im a counter and a sayer in my head. Especially with the allegro...


Echappe, down, up, down, change 2, 3, 4, right and left and change change change...

I have a tendency to convert the steps to English in my brain rather than the French - which is a bit naughty because when it comes to unseen it takes me half a second longer than everyone else to figure what they are saying...


Oh and can i just have a whinge about the stupid corner 1 - 6 thing in RAD... it drives me nuts. What happened to downstage and upstage right and left???? I get so confused with directions.



One of the things that i found really helped me remember my exam work was to play the syllabus music ALL THE TIME. I had an hours drive 2 and from work everyday and would play the cd in my car. I found that when the music was familiar the steps would come back to me easier. (just dont start tapping your foot on the accelerator... LOL)

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I was taught to focus on the various aspects of the combination in the following order:


1. Floor pattern --- where does the movement go. Usually, these consist of zig-zagging diagonal lines across the room. I can't stress how important the floor pattern is. Even if you know nothing else, the floor pattern allows you to exist on stage without running into anyone else. Also, it constrains the steps that are possible, making everything else easier to remember.


2. Facing directions. There are only eight directions you MIGHT ever face in ballet. Figure out which direction you face on every count of the combo.


4. Body positions. Efface, ecarte, croise --- these positions exist in EVERY step in ballet. So every count of music has a facing AND a body position.


5. Steps. Once you have the facings and body positions, you have most of it. The steps are just little things you do in each position, and are used to link one facing/position to the next. But if you miss a step and know the next facing/body position, it's not a big deal.


6. Arms and head. Arms can vary a lot, they just depend on what you're trying to do at the moment. Same with head.




For myself:


a) I've found it also helps to highlight specific steps. For example, recognizing that "the first ballete is in efface" will prevent me from doing the first one in croise and then getting the rest of the combination wrong.


B) Anytime there's a position of high symmetry in the combo (eg: something in a la seconde), that's a chance for you to get on the wrong foot afterwards. So I pay special attention to how the combo leaves the symmetrical positions.


c) Analyzing things in terms of the body positions (ecarte, croise, etc) is invaluable. You should practice in those terms. But sometimes, especially coming out of symmetrical situations, it's just too hard to get it all together so fast. So I just tell myself, "the pique is on the RIGHT foot", and then that keeps the rest of the combo from falling apart. When I reverse it, of course, I then have to remember "the pique is on the LEFT foot." But it's best not to resort to these tactics if you don't have to.


Oh and can i just have a whinge about the stupid corner 1 - 6 thing in RAD... it drives me nuts. What happened to downstage and upstage right and left???? I get so confused with directions.


The other problem with corner numbers is there are different schemes for different systems. We were taught like a compass rose, which is essentially equivalent to terms like "downstage right", etc: "North" is downstage, "south" is upstage, "east" is stage-right, etc. Worked fine for me, and I never had to learn an arbitrary numbering scheme.

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