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How Do I Memorize a Choreography?

It’s time to belly dance.

Up until now, perhaps you've just been getting the moves down. You've been learning how to isolate muscle groups and how to maintain a consistent rate of shimmying.Maybe your teacher has put dance steps together during practice, but it probably hasn’t been a long string.

Well, now that’s changed, and it’s time to learn a full dance, probably for performance. How do you go about memorizing three or so minutes’ worth of choreography?

Practice in Chunks

Your teacher will probably present the choreography to you in pieces. She may start at the beginning or go through a sequence that utilizes moves you’ve just learned. Either way, she will probably give you the choreography 30 seconds at a time.

Practice the chunks she gives you, even if you don’t get the transitions yet. You should be practicing at home most days anyway. Add at least five minutes of going over your routine to your practice.

Name the Moves

The steps and moves have names anyway, whether it’s snake arms or hip drops. As you’re learning the sequence of the moves, name them as you’re doing them. Speaking while moving actually gives your brain an extra hook in the memorization process. Just make sure that, as soon as you have the sequence down, you stop saying the names. The last thing you want is to be calling the moves as you’re performing!

Focus on the Transitions

Once your teacher has given you longer sequences, start practicing the transitions. Typically what happens is, you’ve mastered the chunks. That’s great! However, once you start putting the whole choreography together, it’s tough to get from chunk to chunk.

As soon as you have a transition, start working on it. Focus on getting from those undulations to the travelling step smoothly. Ultimately what defines a great dancer is her ease of transitions. Remember, you should dance every moment you’re on the stage, and that includes the micro-seconds between sequences.

Work With and Without the Mirror

When you first start memorizing a choreography, you probably won’t use the mirror. You may be facing it, but more than likely you’ll actually be looking up as you try to access your memory of the sequence.

As soon as you can remember the sequence, though, start practicing in front of the mirror. Focus on how exactly to place your hands or feet. Watch for the little adjustments you can make to look more fluid.

Then… drop the mirror. It’s very common for dancers to get so accustomed to watching their moves in the mirror that they get lost when they’re facing an audience. Once you’ve got the moves down, turn away from the mirror.

Dance All Out

Don’t just mark the steps! It’s essential to practice all out. It’s almost impossible to flip a switch from practice to performance.

As you’re practicing, it’s true that you’re trying to get the sequences solidified in your mind. However, just as important is the muscle memory. Your muscles will take you through sequences even when your mind gets distracted (or is nervous). That’s why it’s imperative that your muscles have the full movement ingrained into them, not just the practice range.

What tips do you have for memorizing choreographies?

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