While observing a weekly dance class, one might wonder why the dancers repeat some of the same steps each class. We all know that repetition is necessary for acquiring new skills like learning piano, a new computer program, a new language, or how to swim or play baseball, but why is repetition necessary and helpful for dance? Let’s dig in!
Simply put, repeating movements every week allows for the dancer’s body and mind to master each movement and increase the quality of each movement.
“My child’s class learned to skip last season, why are they skipping in class again now?”
Learning ballet steps has many levels, like layers of an onion. As you peel off one layer, another layer is ready for you to learn. Let’s use the example of skipping.
First, when dancers are young (or beginners,) the dancers learn and practice the physical mechanics of how to skip. After they have mastered the mechanics, they learn how to improve the quality of the skip (by pointing the bottom foot fully, jumping higher, lifting the working leg up to a high passé with a pointed foot, holding the posture correctly, using the arms correctly, etc…) Next, they begin to correct the next level of technique, working on direction, patterns, timing, musicality, speed, dynamics, style, grace, tempo, etc.. Next, they learn how to combine the skip in a combination or enchaînement with other steps. Each layer requires practicing physically skipping. What changes is the layer of technique on which the dancers are working both intellectually and physically. From a parent or outsider’s perspective watching class, it might look like the dancers are just skipping again, but they are intellectually practicing different things each time as they move through the levels of technique.
Digging in further on the importance of repetition, many studies have proven that repeating actions/activities often helps us develop neurological patterns and pathways that not only engrain the practiced skill into the body but also lead to the development of lifelong mental skills like problem solving, decision making, and memorization.
Repetition consolidates learning.
So if you wonder why the dancers are practicing some of the same skills each class, rest assured that the teacher is challenging them by introducing new layers of technique for them to incorporate into their class and overall repertoire.
Our curriculum involves gradually introducing new steps, building on the steps already learned, and eventually creating combinations or enchaînements incorporating multiple steps, as professional dancers do.
Professional dancers use repetition as well, repeating a multitude of steps, including hundreds of tendus and pliés every single day as part of their technique training. Even after years of dancing professionally, ballet dancers repeat these same movements daily, always striving to improve their quality. They already “know how to do” tendus, but they continually practice and repeat tendus to maintain and improve their technique.
There are also physical benefits to repeating movements. Physically, repetition in dance (for both beginners and professionals,) helps improve muscle tone, increase coordination and balance, gain strength, correct core posture, and improve one’s overall cardiovascular health. The physical benefits alone are wonderful!
In these times of instant gratification in a fast-paced world, studying the art of dance teaches persistence, growth mindset, and the importance of striving for and reaching long term goals. If we only taught new steps to our dance students every week, it might be exciting for the time being, but no real skills will be learned or developed. Just like any skill, activity, or sport, excellence cannot be achieved without practice.
Our teachers strive to educate the whole dancer, not just quickly teaching basic step mechanics, but also delving into the quality of the steps to help the dancers advance and become the best technically and artistically proficient dancers they can be!
For further reading, check out the following articles: