At the end of each dance class, I join the ring of students gathered round the teachers to film the routine. But I know I’ll only watch that routine once, when I make notes on it and want to make sure I haven’t missed anything out.
I have always been an extensive note-taker: think seven-colour coding, multiple notebooks, and slight pangs of guilt for helping kill the planet via deforestation. Taking notes about dancing, even though it is a physical and musical skill, comes naturally to me.
Although we all learn in different ways, my note-taking has made it easier for me to practise my dance technique and musicality, remember more moves, and be more creative with how I combine them. Here’s how I use my dance notes, so that you can also borrow elements from it should you wish to.
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What Skills Can – & Can’t – You Take Notes On?
There are certain things that I personally don’t take notes on – although if someone has a method for doing so that works for them, that’s great.
Connection and vulnerability in a dance are, for me, more meditative processes than analytical ones. Additionally, when I take classes as a follower, I don’t write down the routine (although I may make notes about the technique or any shines). My aim as a follower is to recognise the signals and execute the move correctly, not to memorise the order the moves have been combined in.
The things that I do take notes for include:
- Routines that I lead
- Musical theory
- Technique, especially for turns, spins, head movement, and other things that I can practise by myself at home
How I Organise My Notes
Notebook 1: My first notebook for any dance lists musical theory, footwork/shines, technique (turns, spins, head movement, etc.), and details of exercises to practise by myself at home. While the other notebooks are more useful for my leading, this one is useful for me in both roles.
Notebook 2: This notebook contains the details of every routine that I lead. I note the timing, steps, signals, and any opportunities for styling.
Notebook 3: My final notebook for any given dance is a directory of moves. It is organised by sections: basics, turns, moves from wrap, moves from hammerlock, moves in close hold, moves in open hold, body movement… Each section lists each move I know in that category, without going into great detail about the technique, so that I can review them quickly. A lot of moves are listed in multiple sections, which is not a problem (for me).
It’s worth mentioning that I once told a friend about this notebook, and they thought I meant that I had a notebook with moves listed by dance style or mood. Although I don’t do this, that sounds like a great idea and I may try it one day. As they said, it would force you to focus on the music and personal expression rather than just on doing a move that fits from that position.
How I Use My Notes To Practise
I use these notes in various ways:
- Independent practice at home: I practise the content of the first notebook (musicality, footwork, technique) by myself.
- Practice with a partner: I refer to the third notebook (the moves directory) and practice the moves listed with a partner. If I can’t remember how to do the move or it’s not working out well, I check the second notebook (the routines in detail) and review the steps and leads to see what I’m doing wrong. I first practise these moves slowly step-by-step with my partner, then quicker, and then I practise them to music while free-styling.
- Practice of different variations: Having moves listed by position (the moves directory) means that I can practise a few different moves from the same hold, and therefore get more mileage out of a few routines.Also, although I don’t do this often enough, I like to take some of my teachers’ favourite routines and plan variations of them. I take a spare sheet of paper, write out the first part of the routine, and then work out what I would need to do to connect this to other moves in new ways. It’s challenging but fun; sometimes I discover why I really can’t do something… and other times, I discover a new combination that I like.
- Review prior to social dancing: My notebooks stay in my dance bag. Whenever I’m going social dancing, I review them beforehand. If I get frustrated while social dancing because I feel like I can’t remember certain moves, I also know that I can check the notebooks and remind myself during a water break.
Note-taking isn’t for everyone. However, the act of taking notes forces us to think through a move in detail. It becomes glaringly obvious if we don’t know how to get from step A to step C or what timing we need for this. Writing something out can also help embed it in our memory. And, of course, a notebook is very easy to refer back to.
It’s worth mentioning that there are also many ways to organise notes. What’s important is not that we take them but that, if we do, we have a system that works for us.
So, next time you take a video of a class routine, why not consider writing it out afterwards? You might be surprised by the benefits you reap.
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