Cognitive Skills in Ballet
People that frequent the ERG know that they won’t normally see me there before 4:45 PM. After a long day of rehearsal with the Ballet Theatre of Maryland (BTM) from 9:00 to 4:00 in Annapolis, I race over to Severna Park usually making it with just enough time to catch my breath and prepare my materials before my first student of the night arrives.
I love my day job as a ballet dancer and never anticipated that my experiences at the ERG would have any direct impact on it. I became a certified coach in July during my off season from BTM. In October, about a month into the new season, I found myself picking up choreography at a much quicker pace. This is my second year with BTM and I am constantly trying to make a positive impression on our Artistic Director so that I can continue to move up within the ranks of the company. During my evaluation with the director last year, her main comment to me was not about my dancing at all, which she was happy with, but instead was about the speed that I was able to, or more accurately unable to, pick up the steps that she was throwing at us. I have struggled with this skill throughout my dance training and have been frustrated by my own deficiency in this area.
In late September, our director began choreographing a full length ballet, The Dancing Princesses, from scratch which was to be performed at the end of October. Needless to say, everyone was rushed and stressed. I was playing one of two pixies and after our first whirlwind rehearsal, the girl I was dancing with approached me and told me she had noticed how well I had picked up our dance and asked whether I could give her some advice on how to memorize choreography more efficiently. THAT was a new one. I can only attribute this change to my experience so far at the ERG. Though I am not in a program, being the coach has definitely challenged me to think on my feet. I am definitely reaping some of the cognitive benefits from the procedures that I do with my students. Who knew?
I decided to take my revelation to the dance students that I work with. It can be extremely difficult for new dancers, young or old, to pick up even short practice sequences so I tried introducing them to a memory strategy we use at the ERG. I asked my dance students to make up a silly story that would remind them of each step that I gave them. We shared our silly stories and I challenged my students to recite their stories aloud as they practiced the exercise again one at a time. Amazingly, every one of them remembered what to do with significantly more ease. If you come to the ERG and you don’t understand why memorizing the presidents in order is useful, come to me and I will tell you why! It is how the student develops the ability to recite the presidents in order in 40 seconds that is valuable, not just the fact that they achieve this goal. Although, knowing all 44 presidents forwards and backwards is pretty cool anyway if you ask me!
What we do here at the ERG transcends the walls of the center. I noticed it in my other career and saw its effect when I used ERG strategies with kids who had never set foot inside the center at all. Change is slow, progress is sometimes difficult to see, but it is real – the proof is everywhere, including our small dance studio in downtown Annapolis.
Learning Support Specialist
The Educational Resource Group