Joyful Dance Laura Stanyer

Joyful Dance Laura Stanyer

Monday, 2 May 2011

Skills in Dance

What is a dance skill?
Simply a skill is the ability to repeatedly perform a technique with the desired result.  As we practice dance movements we learn by making mistakes we begin to select and perform the right techniques at the right time repeatedly with accuracy.

What is technique? Technique is the key movements of any dance practice, a pirouette in ballet or a windmill in break dance are examples of technique. As we develop our dance skills we combine a number of techniques into a sequence of movements or dance.

Skill types
Performing the skill with maximum efficiency prevents the waste of extra energy in unnecessary movement. Dance requires considerable mental activity as dance consists of sequences of complex movements and we need to learn these techniques.

Types of skill:
Simple Skills
Motor skills for example, walking, running and jumping all require considerable co-ordination
Complex Skills
Intricate body movements or complicated motor skills with extra control
Learning New Skills
It is essential to break it down into its basic phases when learning a new skill. Improving each phase will then improve the whole skill.

Cognitive Phase
1st stage of learning a skill, you''re shown how to perform the skill, attempt it learn from trial and error. This can be enhanced by relaxation skills.
Associative Phase
Learning by repetition and practising the skill; refining the skill which takes time and conscious practice. This can be enhanced by using visualisation
Autonomous Phase
Skills are performed automatically; the dancer can focus their attention on performance.

Processing Information
In the early stages of motor learning (cognitive phase) the movements often feel uncomfortable and clumsy. It is important to understand how we learn new skills. The brain takes on information and uses it as part of a system, the information processing system:
The information that comes in through our reflexes and senses
The brain then makes a decision about how to react to that input then tells the body how to respondThe brain creates new neural pathways so movement becomes smooth and refined. The practice of skills through constant, exact repetitions (associative phase) is often clumsy at first as the brain strengthens the neural pathways the movement becomes refined. Then pre-programmed automatic multi-muscular patterns are developed (autonomous phase). This allows dancers to perform complex movements without conscious thought.

Visualization allows the skills to be practised mentally to avoid the risk of overuse injuries enhancing new neural pathways without overworking the body. See the visualization article.

We receive feedback from ourselves, dance tutor or from the results of our actions. This information feeds back into our brain and it makes another decision on how to respond.

Types of feedback are:
Internal feedbackThis is received from propriceptors in the muscles and joints which send information to the brain, how the movements feel. This body awareness is crucial to a dancer
External feedback
The information received from the outside, sound, vision e.g. seeing a video of your performance or verbal feedback from a choreographer, audience member or dance tutor

The dance tutor can give the right kind of support if they understand which phase of learning you are in. As a dancer breaks down the skills to practice and perfect, improvements of each skill will lead to improvement in learning new movement sequences.

Positive guidance is essential, and can be gained in many ways:
Visual Guidance
This can be given through the use of video. If a dancer can see what they are doing wrong adjustments can be made more easily. Note: with mirrors a dancer can perceive themselves to be performing correctly

Verbal Guidance
From an experienced instructor is indispensable. They will discuss, demonstrate important details of the skills

Manual Guidance
With the use of touch an tutor will correct the alignment of the dancer, giving them an idea of what the body should feel like

Encourage dancers to evaluate their own performance to enhance self awareness. Being aware of how the movement feels when performed accurately can enhance performance and self confidence.

Peer guidance
Can be considered as dancers can support and encourage each other within the learning process.

Managing mistakes
If mistakes are observed by the dancer through observation for example a video recording it is important to assess and establish the reasons for the mistakes.

Reasons mistake may occur:
  • Inadequate physical abilities
  • Inability to understand the movement or quality of movement
  • Inappropriate use of power, e.g. throwing weight too fast off point of balance in pirouette uncoordinated movement or sequence of skills
  • Lack of concentration or fatigued
  • Inappropriate clothing or foot wear
  • Environment  e.g. hard floor
With the dance tutor or choreographer the reasons for mistakes can be established and the various factors such as costume can be resolved or specific guidance can be given.

Information Overload
Some input from our senses is discarded or set aside by the brain. Focusing on everything the senses and reflexes send to the brain would make decisions too difficult, resulting in information overload. Information is filtered out by the brain it sends only useful information through for processing.

If you are overworked in dance training or rehearsal without adequate rest and recovery periods you can feel disorientated as if there are too many messages being sent from the brain to the body and they feel like they can’t get through. If you do feel disorientated or fatigued you are receiving signals to stop rest and recover. Ideally rest and recovery periods are programmed into your training or rehearsal schedule.

Information and Memory
Memory allows the brain has to draw on to help inform the decision-making process. The process of interpreting the input and checking against the memory is called perception. These extra aspects are added to the information processing system.

Short Term Memory
Information is stored for a short period of time, if the information isn’t needed it vanishes important information will be passed on to your long term memory
Long Term Memory
Has an enormous capacity to store information, in dance it will hold each skill, technique sequence, choreography and past performance.

Understanding how skills are learnt, processed and retained you can create a higher level of self awareness and enhance your true potential in dance.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this web page is intended as general guidance and information only. and its authors accept no liability for any loss, injury or damage however incurred as a consequence, whether directly or indirectly, of the use this information. All advice on this web page should only be used under the supervision of a qualified dance / fitness / healthcare professional.

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