Watch and Learn
February 8th, 2020 by Elizabeth Radabaugh
As dancers, we love the free feeling of moving through space and enjoying the way music moves us. With that in mind, we can’t forget that using our eyes to take in information is imperative to becoming a great dancer. In today’s blog, we’ll go more in depth into why watching and learning is invaluable to you as a dancer.
From an early age, we simply take on a ‘monkey-see, monkey-do’ approach to learning. We see our teacher perform a step and we copy them. This foundation is repeated throughout years of training and class. However, at some point, our dance maturity evolves and we begin to not only take in the step but, take in style and substance of the step. We begin to perform it. It is at this moment that your teacher wants you to ‘watch’ for not only the mechanics of the choreography but, for substance.
Have you taken a class where a teacher has pulled a student out to perform a solo? They aren’t doing it so that you get the sequence better. They are doing it because they see something extra special in that student and the way they are performing it. You can learn more about style and aesthetic from simply watching. Marking on the side of the room to try to nail down the sequence isn’t doing much for the overall look of the movement. Be sure when a teacher asks you to watch, you stop what you’re doing and take in what makes that dancer special. Notice the uniqueness of the dancer. Notice lines, dynamics and style. These are all things that teachers don’t always articulate but, have an expectation for you as the artist to implement. Understanding this early can certainly create a great dancer.
Interpret a Mark
Watching and learning is imperative to becoming a great dancer. It is a skill you use in every class, audition and convention. In environments like these, you might not find yourself in a traditional studio space. You could be in a ballroom, event space or stage. How does that change the way you take in information and produce movement? In an audition atmosphere, you won’t always have the space to perform full out every time. You might have to watch and learn with little to no space. In a convention environment, you’re not always close to your teacher to be able to see what the step even is. You must be able to listen and learn. In both examples, would you be able to interpret the movement from marking? Can you “watch” with your ears?
Your teacher may not be able to always show the choreography full out and as the performer you must be able to adapt to that. Not every choreographer is young and spry. You must be able to take in the information as much as you can with your eyes and ears. You may not always have the opportunity to ask questions. As you become even more advanced, you must be able to pick it up and do it with little instruction. Much like developing your quick-study, this takes practice. It is a skill to be able to watch and learn with little to no room, instruction and time. Start practicing this skill in your studio classes. Prepare yourself in your classes and you’ll be ready for your audition.
While watching and learning is a concept we develop from our very first dance class, it evolves as much as our dancing. It changes from ‘monkey-see, monkey-do’ to interpreting movement with substance. Honing the skill to interpret movement for more performance quality is imperative to becoming a great dancer. Find moments in class that you can develop this skill because when you do, you’ll find yourself ahead of the game.
Marissa Anderson is a performer, choreographer, teacher and adjudicator for StarQuest with over 20 years of experience in the dance industry. She also hosts, writes and produces her own podcast on iTunes called “Beyond the Mirror: A Dancer’s Podcast”.