Part 1: How to Improve Your Memory During Class

Boost your brain's movement memory
Improve your brain’s movement memory with these simple tips

Want to improve your dance memory? You can probably relate to the experience a dance move being completely clear in the moment only to degrade into a confused jumble when you try it later? Or maybe you got big benefits from the movements in a Feldenkrais or yoga class, but they’ve completely evaporated from your memory when you try to do them at home?

If you want to remember and use what you’ve learned outside your dance/movement class, you need ways to build your retention and aid recall.

5 Memory-Boosting Tips for Dance & Movement Classes

Here are my top tips to boost your movement memory during class.

Tip #1: Give It a Name or Create a Visual Image

Nothing like food to help your memory!
Tip #1: Come up with a catchy name like “Flip the Pancake”

Knowing the official name of a movement is helpful for knowing what a teacher is talking about and communicating with your peers. But if the name doesn’t make sense or have much meaning for you, it’s unlikely to stick.

So my first tip is to give moves your own names or connect them with a visual image. These can be practical or totally outrageous—if they make you laugh, you’re more likely to remember them! For example, I had a dance student who gave every figure a kitchen-related name: Tie the Apron, Serve the Platter, Clear the Table and Flip the Pancake. These names reminded her of the main gesture in each move. For instance, in Tie the Apron, you bring both hands behind your back.

Tip #2: Use Count and Rhythm

Couple grooving to dance music
Tip #2: Sing the dance move

The more sensorial touchstones you have, the better your memory will be. So as you do a move, say the move’s count out loud or in your head.

You can also intentionally accent counts on which something important happens such as raising the arm, switching hands or changing direction. For example, for a swing dance tuck turn, you might emphasize count 4, the beat when the turn starts.

If counting isn’t your thing, create a rhythm or melody to “sing” to yourself—a scat of sorts. Some dance teachers regularly do this instead of counting. Here’s a clip of Lindy Hop instructor Steven Mitchell doing this.

Tip #3 Look for Patterns

Use "the yellow tulip" as a memory aid
Tip #3: Look for the patterns—and the exceptions

Dances and movement modalities often have segments that appear in many moves or patterns that repeat. Once you recognize these, you can use them as helpful short cuts and memory aids.

For instance in Latin dances, a Follower’s right spot turn is a common ending for many figures. So if you’re dancing Cha Cha and forget how to finish a move, a right spot turn will likely do the trick. And in a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lesson, if you’ve done a movement forward and back, then right and left, you can draw on the knowledge that moving in circles usually comes next.

Seeing these patterns also means if something doesn’t fit the usual template, it will really stand out, thus making it easier to remember.

Tip #4: Mark the Movement

Feet mark movement to improve memory
Tip #4: Just simulate the move

“Marking” is when you simulate movements with partial gestures. It’s a quick, easy way to mentally review, allowing you to get in some practice and repetition without having to do movements full out. In fact, you can do this while sitting or lying by just making micro movements with your hands or feet, filling in the rest with your imagination.

In a dance or yoga class, strengthen your muscle memory by marking moves as the teacher demonstrates them or during down times (e.g. when you don’t have a partner or on a water break).

Tip #5: Pick a Different Spot Each Class

Women in a dance class memorize a routine
Tip #5: Vary where you are in the room

Have you ever noticed that you tend to set up in the same place in the room every class? My last tip is to shake things up by going to a different part of the room each time. This gives you extra visual and sensory cues for remembering what you’ve learned and distinguishing one move or lesson from another.

For example, say you were in the back corner of the room in one class then beside the window in the next. Perhaps the experience of feeling crunched for space in the former spontaneously memorializes how the figure travels to the right. Or in the case of the later, the sun shining in your eyes during that fancy move imprints that you turn left and not right.

I invite you to pick the one or two tips that appeal most to you most and try them out in the next dance or movement class you take. You just might be surprised how much easier it is to remember what you learned!


Want more tips on improving your retention of dance steps?

Read Part 2: How to Improve Your Memory After Class

Read Part 3: Ways to Maximize Your At-Home Dance Practice

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