Remembering Dance Combinations: A Tip I’d Like to Share

Haven’t we all had that heart-sinking feeling in class when the teacher presents a really long combination?  I’ve had the experience of blanking out completely after the first three or four steps.  Is there anything more frustrating?  Being able to memorize long combinations is an important skill in dance.  Do you hang out in the back of the room and copy the dancer in front of you?  You shouldn’t depend on that dancer!  For one thing, s/he might get it wrong too.  And when you depend on another dancer you keep yourself from improving.  If you don’t learn to memorize combos yourself, what will you do when the teacher rotates the rows and you find yourself in the front?  If you are a dancer at my studio be prepared for that to happen!

Well, I’ve been wanting to share with you a tip I have developed for myself on how to remember combinations more easily. I have found that this approach has helped me immensely. Maybe it will work for you too.

What I propose is that you change from attempting to memorize the steps in a linear fashion and instead look at the combination as a whole. So for example, what if your teacher gives you a combination with say, fifteen steps in it?  This would be your typical example of attempting a linear construction of a combination:

Ok, I start with this,
Then there’s this,
Then this,
Oh and this….
And dang what comes next?
I’ll never remember it in order all the way to the end! Arrgh!!
And then I stop dancing.

Graphically it would look like this:

XXXX………..???? Arrgh!!!

Instead, try this: Since the teacher is usually talking pretty fast and you can’t get the whole thing, try to note the beginning step, one major step in the middle, and the final step. Graphically it would look like this:


Ok, I’ve got sort of a picture of the whole thing and I know how it starts, I’ve got a visual for the middle and I know I can finish clean. I give myself permission to not worry about the middle stuff right away. If I worry too much about it right off my mind tends to shut down. The most important thing is that I keep moving during the blank spots while I wait for the next thing that I know to do, even if I just walk, run, bourree, whatever, to connect the movements that I do know. That is KEY. Because if I go about it the old way I’ll dance the first things until I can’t remember and then STOP. This method forces me to keep going. It forces my mind to pick up more quickly.

Next step: Add the next thing that comes right after the first move, the next thing that comes after the middle move and then the thing that comes right before the final move. (Lol – “thing” being a technical term) It would look like this:


By now the combination is quickly becoming more familiar overall and if I have the luxury of another repetition or two I would keep filling in with a third step in each section:


And a fourth:


Yea that’s twelve steps! By this time I have most of the combo and I am doing the final fills and clean-ups. And you get:


Woo-hoo! :)

Here’s the thing: Even if you don’t have the luxury of lots of repetition it’s ok. Even if the teacher moves on and you didn’t get this combination it’s ok. Keep using the method for the next combo and the next, etc. You will find that the more you keep doing it the more quickly you’ll be able to read combos as a whole. Before you know it you won’t have to start out with just one beginning and middle and ending step, you’ll be doing multiple steps in each section!

It is always beneficial to try and get our brains to move in new and different ways. Maybe this method will work for you, maybe it won’t. But I encourage you to give it a try and let me know how it goes!



© Lauran M. Callan and brilliantdance, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to  Lauran M. Callan and brilliantdance with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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