How To Sharpen Muscle Memory & Improve Dancing
Ok, your game is up. We see you hiding at the back of your dance class, and we know why. You’re hoping no-one will notice you lagging half a beat behind everyone else, as you try to wrap your head (and body) around the moves. Don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone. After all, it can be quite challenging to master an entire routine. But we can make it easier for you, by sharing some tips that will help you remember the moves.
Bear with us as we throw a cliche at you, but practice really does make perfect – a saying that’s overused for a reason, it’s true!
Improve your muscle memory
Repetition is the best way to create a blueprint of the dance you’re learning, which is then stored in your brain. This builds a bridge between thinking and doing – so you no longer need to think about the movement.
Neuroscientists call this muscle memory (or motor learning). If you’ve ever watched a professional dancer perform, you might notice their movement seems second nature, almost like taking a breath.
“You don’t think about what the body is doing anymore. When I go into the wings, I can’t remember what I’ve done. I don’t remember if my foot was pointed,” ballet dancer Angel Corella told the New York Times.
It’s the same with latin dancing (or any form of dance). With enough practice, the steps become automatic.
How do you do this?
Some research suggests it’s better to practice daily in shorter sessions, rather than in one long block. Make sure you’ve mastered the technique first – the last thing you want is to commit a mistake to your muscle memory, which will retain it for some time. It’s best to practice straight after your lesson, when the steps are still fresh in your mind.
A word of warning: don’t keep practicing the same move if you haven’t nailed the technique. Make sure you ask your teacher or peers, if you’re unsure.
Once you’ve mastered each step, you can start ‘chunking’ the individual movements into more complex blocks – by linking different elements together. This is vital because it reminds you to practise new steps in connection with other movements, which form an entire routine.
If you get home after class and forget a particular move, see if you can find an online tutorial and observe that step. Make sure it’s the same style as your class though, since there are many variations. You don’t want to memorise a different technique and be at odds with your class!
Ask your teacher what the music is called and get a copy – music resonates particularly well with our minds, so it can help to practice with the same latin tunes at home.
Feeling relaxed can improve observation skills and boost memory. Practice deep breathing on a regular basis to reap the many benefits of mindfulness.
Take these tips on board, and soon you’ll be sashaying to the front of the class, eager to show everyone how it’s done.
After all, nobody puts Baby in the corner, not even you.