Dancing In Your Head
by Harold & Meredith Sears
Between your club
lessons, do you have a chance to practice the new figures, the new
ideas that you have learned? Can you dance a circuit around the
kitchen? Can you shift furniture a little and make space in the
living room? I'm afraid the driveway is just too rough to allow any
kind of pivot, spin, or turn. But, a good alternative to real
practice at home is practice in your head.
This works because
mind and the body are intimately connected to each other. During real
practice, we dance a sequence, and that series of muscular activity
is stored in the mind — not very firmly the first time. But we
repeat the steps, and the mental record becomes more firm. We dance
it again. Sometimes, we talk about this kind of learning as “muscle
memory.” We get a dance into our muscle memory, and we can do it
more and more smoothly. But there really is no such thing as muscle
memory. Muscles can’t remember anything. It is a record of their
activity that is remembered in the mind, and we can put that record
into the mind in other ways than by physical practice.
practice establishes neural pathways in the brain, but mental
visualization, with no muscular movements at all, can do the same
thing. Mental rehearsal sends the brain through a neural workout that
is very close to what would happen during actual physical practice.
In a way, mental practice is even better than physical practice,
because we can visualize an ideal that we maybe can't actually
perform at that time. In our minds, we can run through a routine with
no bobbles, no mistakes, and so nail down that neural pathway. Of
course, we do have to get out on the floor, but we’ll be so much
better prepared with a little mental practice beforehand.
Let's look at some
mental strategies, some "mind tricks":
In school, you
take notes in class. (Maybe you still do.) Would it be worthwhile to
carry a little notebook during a dance class or clinic? The teacher
tells you to lower a little before you move forward into an Open
Telemark. You try it. That is, you physically practice the action
once, but you also find a moment to jot the idea down. Now your
potential for practice, for learning, for creating that “muscle”
memory is magnified three-fold.
simple act of carrying that little notebook, you have increased your
listening powers. You have created a clear intention to take one or two
notes, so you listen for something to write down. Without the notebook,
you might have been thinking about something else and missed that
lowering idea, but with the notebook, you are a little more alert, and
you don’t miss it. Already, your learning is fixed a little more firmly
than it might have been.
Then you write
it down. The act of writing cements the lesson a bit more. You heard
the lesson through your ears. Now the lesson enters your mind through
your writing fingers and up the nerves in your arm. Even if you never
look at the notes you take, the taking of them has doubled the power of
But of course,
you do look at your notes. On the drive home, you thumb through the
pages while your partner drives, or visa versa — Open Telemark, lower
on trail foot and then step forward on the lead (lady steps back). You
talk about how that felt. Without it, sometimes it felt like you bumped
into each other; with the lowering, it was smoother — a third
reinforcement of whatever those neural circuits are that encode the
idea of lowering before the step. Without the notebook, we might not
have heard that point at all. With it, we have heard it and practiced
it in our heads three times. We’re dancing in our heads.
In school, you
also have tape-recorded lectures or discussions. Some of those talks
might have been pretty hard to listen to a second time, but listening
to a recorded round-dance class or to a party dance is a pleasure, if
only because the music is so nice. This can save you from having to
be scribbling away when you should be holding your partner, walking
through the figures, and dancing. Do you have a substantial commute
to work in the morning? Instead of listening to the news and arriving
on the job blue and depressed, listen to last night’s dance class,
and think about some of the new ideas that were presented. As you
listen, connect the figures to the music passage, see one figure flow
into the next, picture the steps you need to take and the body
stretch and shape that goes along with them. Dance the dance in your
When you watch a
and the hero or heroine is really straining to overcome some
obstacle, do you sometimes find yourself straining along in sympathy?
It is especially easy to identify with and to put yourself into a
video, and there are many web sites offering dance videos. Record a
video of your latest dance or find it on the Web, watch now and then,
and, as you watch, put yourself into the action. Don't just admire
the smooth performance and enjoy the show, but mentally make some of
those moves yourself.
Some dancers look
cue sheet as they would a deed or a stock prospectus, with suspicion
and even a little disgust. A cue sheet is 2, 3, 4, even 5 pages of
closely typed fine print, loaded with jargon (contra-body), acronyms
(DLW, XLIB), and abbreviations (fwd, bk, sd, Imp to Semi). So dry.
But cue sheets are a wonderful resource, and if you don't read them,
you should try. You've just had the teach and you've gone through all
those figures. The head cues on the cue sheet will look mostly
familiar, and with experience, totally familiar. Read the head cues
through. It's a very short story. As you read, picture yourself
dancing — feel the moves.
study was done with basketball players. Players were divided into
three groups. One group practiced free throws for twenty minutes a
day. One group did not practice at all. One group was asked to lie on
the bleachers in a relaxed state for twenty minutes while imagining
making free throws. At the conclusion of the study, the group that
practiced improved 22%. The group that did nothing did not improve at
all. The group that relaxed on the bleachers visualizing making free
throws improved 23%. . . . In 5 to 15 minutes, while sitting in your
office chair or recliner, you can achieve the benefits of an hour of
physical practice.” – Ann Taylor, in “Dream Your Dance, Dance
Your Dream,” American Dancer, July-August 2007.
Again, what are
steps in our learning sequence?
it and we see — visual.
explains and we hear — auditory.
We try it and
we feel — kinesthetic.
taking heightens the attention during the seeing and hearing, and it
adds another kind of kinesthetic input.
subsequent listening and visualization, the dancing in your head, puts
the icing on this particular cake, and, next week, you dance like
in Calls 'n' Cues (WASCA), January 2012; Dixie Round Dance
(DRDC) Newsletter, December 2013; and Round Notes (CRDA), June/July 2014.
If you would like to read other articles on dance
position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit
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Past DRDC Educational Articles archived here.
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