Total Recall - Remembering Choreography with Vito Bernasconi —
One of the most incredible skills a dancer can have is remembering choreography. From the moment a choreographer starts a new piece, every dancer wants to retain every detail that they set as quickly and efficiently as possible.
A key way for dancers to remember steps is through muscle memory. By physically performing the same steps over and over, your mind and body work in tandem to remember how you moved. It’s very similar to auto-pilot, in the way some people drive home from work, only becoming “conscious” as they arrive at their destination. The same route has been done so many times that your body and mind can do it without actively thinking.
Dancers also find their own personal patterns to help remember choreography. Sometimes you’ll see people counting in sets of 4’s, 6’s, 8’s or even 16’s, for example: ‘this exercise is going to be four sets of eight.’ This way, you only have to remember the groups of steps, rather than try and recall the entire exercise as a whole.
When I started out, I was terrible at remembering anything! One tactic that helped me was to remember steps in the same way I learned lines when I studied drama at school. I would memorise the first line by reading and saying it aloud. I moved onto the next line in the same way, and so on, before finally joining them all together.
While it’s become second nature to me to remember steps and details that the artistic staff, stagers and choreographers give me, I still have a few shortcuts and triggers that I employ. My hands and arms become my feet and legs and I’ll position them in the way I want my lower body to work. Or I look at where I’m standing and imagine what the floor pattern of the piece will be in the studio or on the stage when I’m dancing. Basically, as long as my mind is working, I’m working!
It has taken a lot of hard work and focus to get to this point, but I’m never satisfied. I’m always looking for the next level and the next possibility. The best way to do it, I think, is to make it fun while you’re learning. It helps that ballet is such a passion of mine. It means that I’m always having fun.