Learning How I Learn Choreography
Some of us are great at picking up choreography; others have to work really hard at it; still others fall somewhere in between.
I suspect that I’m one of the last group — though my ability to remember combinations is improving, I’m not as snappy at it as some. I usually seem to fall somewhere in the middle, and I’m better at remembering the big jumps and turns (though not always the correct turns!) than the little linking steps that come between.
In writing out the choreography for “Shadowlands,” I’ve gained a small insight: it helps me to group choreographic elements (and their associated music) into “phrases” and then link them into longer “sentences” and “paragraphs.”
I’m glad that I didn’t do this with the original choreography for the middle part of ” Shadowlands” — it was unclear and muddled, but I don’t remember it anyway and hadn’t danced it enough to get it into my bones (you know that thing where your instructor gives you the same combination you’ve done a billion times, but instead of ending it with glissade-jeté-temps levée-temps levée, he substitutes glissade-jeté-slow plie, and you look on in horror as your reflection on the mirror reveals that you’re doing it the other way?). I won’t have to “overwrite” the old circuits, which is good, because old circuits can be very persistent.
In a way, this shouldn’t surprise me. When I used to show horses, I used this method to memorize dressage tests and over-fences courses.
I think my primary difficulty with picking up choreography in class is that I tend to mono-channel: I process either language or visual information, because language requires a lot of cognitive load for me. I’m not a verbal thinker, so there’s a translation process involved, and in particular there are some deficiencies in my brain’s uplinks between verbal and spatial/mathematical/musical processing. This is why I can’t describe to Denis where the garlic powder is, but I can go get it for him; I can picture your face, but experience delays in linking it to your name and identity (which is why I’m hesitant to wave to people who appear to be waving to me: I can’t tell immediately whether or not I actually know them).
Thus, for example, unless someone says “turn en dedans,” I might not pick up the direction of a turn (because my visual processing suffers when I’m working to process words), so then I mark and perform the combination incorrectly and get it “wired up” wrong. The same thing happens where “implied” steps are involved — like, when you do pique arabesque – glissade – assemblé, there’s an implied failli between the first two elements. If I just think of the movements, I can see that, but if I hear the verbal instructions, I tend to be too literal, and I’ll try to leave out the failli, at which point hilarity ensues.
I’m really good at retaining movement sequences (possibly because operating in space, rather than in language, is essentially my “native mode”), which is great when I’ve got them right and terrible when I’ve got them wrong. Also makes me hesitant to practice certain combinations at home.
I guess this means that, given enough training, I’ll either make a fantastic repetiteur or a terrible one, depending on whether I figure out a strategy to work out the kinks.
So there you have it. It’s interesting to discover how working on a choreography project can help illuminate one’s own strengths and weaknesses in terms of picking up choreography.