How we learn can play a really big role in our later memory for movements. Mirrors are a fixture in most dance studios, for good reason! I have an uncomfortable relationship with the mirror, although this year I’ve been trying to push myself to use it more. Turns out that this is a good idea. Dearborn and Ross (2006) found that although initial learning was easier without the use of a mirror, dancers who learnt while getting visual feedback from the mirror later performed better than those who did not. They noted that more advanced dancers used the mirror to check the front view of the instructor and to check and adjust their own movement and dynamic, as well as viewing the back of the instructor. The use of the mirror made learning more complex, but this ultimately strengthened the learning that occurred.
Blocked organisation of practice= repeated rehearsal of the same task, as in when we repetitively drill a combo or a particular section of choreography
Random organisation of practice = avoidance of repetition, where each element of the practice is (ideally) different to the one before it.
Participants in this study got to play DanceDance Revolution in their PE class, and were randomly assigned to learn via blocked or random organisation. The researchers found that the blocked organisation group performed better at the end of the study, and concluded that random organisation of learning may overload the memory system when learners are inexperienced or the task is difficult. A recent meta-analysis by Jimenez, Salazar and Morena (2016) found that across 25 studies, blocked practice resulted in greater improvement when learning movements, but performance of movements learnt via blocked practice declined after learning.
- were able to draw more on subtle musical cues whereas novice dancers tried to ignore the music.
- named the movements (eg: Shimmy, maia, turn) and incorporated this into their counting and interpretation of musical cues.
- were able to ‘chunk’ movements together more effectively – novice dancers learning a shoulder shimmy might approach it as ‘left shoulder, right shoulder, left shoulder’ and so on, whereas experienced dancers can use shoulder shimmy as a short-hand for the individual components of the movement thus freeing up mental space to focus on other elements of learning.
- learned in a non-linear fashion. Novice dancers were more likely to approach choreography learning in a linear fashion (working from the beginning to the end).
- used more imagery.
- used marking and repetition to get movements into muscle memory.
So to summarise, for effective dance learning we need to use the mirror, use both blocked and random practice as required, challenge ourselves, and make use of multiple cognitive strategies that facilitate deeper and more effective learning.
Happy dancing, and let me know if there’s any other strategies that you’ve found useful with learning dance!
Bertollo, M., Berchicci, M., Carraro, A., Comani, S., & Robazza, C. (2010) Blocked and random practice organization in the learning of rhythmic dance step sequences. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 110(1), 77-84.
Dearborn, K. & Ross, R. (2006). Dance learning and the mirror: Comparison study of dance phrase learning with and without mirrors. Journal of Dance Education, 6(4), 109-115.
Jimenez, J., Salazar, W., & Morera, M. (2016). Contextual Interference Effect on Motor Skills: A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis: 2147 Board# 299 June 2, 3: 30 PM-5: 00 PM. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 48(5 Suppl 1), 606.
Labban, J.D. & Eitner, J.L. (2011). Effect of acute exercise on long-term memory. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport: Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 82(4), 712-721.
Opacic, T., Stevens, C., & Tillman, B. (2009). Unspoken knowledge: Implicit learning of structured human dance movement. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 35(4), 1570-1577.
Poon, P.P.L., & Rodgers, W.M. (2000). Learning and remembering strategies of novice and advanced jazz dancers for skill level appropriate dance routines. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport: Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 82(4), 712-721.