Ballet is an intricate and demanding dance form. The artistic vocabulary is initiated by basic movement sequences and muscular patterning that enables us to choreograph a visual interpretation of the music.
We begin with these basic movement that evolves through the grades to more complex muscular patterning that later translates into an artistic vocabulary. These become the vocational levels or pre-professional, leading to a career in dance.
Muscle memory develops from the beginning in the way we turn our legs out to the extension through the foot.
A common trait you will experience through this entire journey is the focus on detail . If you are a very young dancer, or enrolling your child into first ballet lesson, you may have an expectation to see a piece of choreography. Please be patient , this takes time. This is ballet. The correct foundation is laid in the initial years. Knowing the steps is just the first stage.
What is muscle memory?
“It is the ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought, acquired as a result of frequent repetition of that movement”
The simplest example of muscle memory is typing on a keyboard. After using the keyboard for a few months you will be able to recall where certain keys are rather intuitively. People who undergo formal typing training and take tests to be graded on their typewriting skills take hours and hours of practice to first memorize the keyboard layout and second practice typing in the letters in a certain sequence progressing further to different sequences before jumping on to typing words & sentences, all without looking down to the keyboard. In the first stage it can be a hard, long slog before you reach stage 2 and 3 where the keyboard layout becomes part of muscle memory and can be recalled without much effort , quite intuitively.
Myth buster: Is Muscle memory stored in your muscles?
Answer: No, of course not. Your muscles are controlled by your brain. With repetition of movement over an extended period of time, these repeated movements become part of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into muscle through repetition.
- When you are starting off, start slow. Do not rush.
- Muscle memory is difficult to reverse, so practice correctly.
- Practice with a teacher who is trained in the art form and can give you corrections.
- Train with a qualified, experienced teacher who gives you corrections
- Listen to the teacher
- Break difficult sections into small parts and take each part slowly until you are able to do it very well.
- Be patient, most importantly. Everybody progresses at a different pace. It is not a race.
Myth buster: If repetition is the mother of success, will I always get better with practice?
Answer: Well , truthfully, no. Remember muscle memory develops through repetition. However if you practice a piano song , incorrectly , probably without correct or any supervision, you will log the incorrectly played song in your procedural memory which will not give the desired outcome ie. a perfect tune. Muscle memory doesn’t judge whether you’re doing good or bad. In fact practicing things incorrectly or in a mediocre fashion may result in you repeating the same mistakes over and over again. This will be a waste of your time and effort.
The beauty lies in detail in ballet and for that matter anything you want to master in life, whether it is a sport or learning to play a musical instrument. Making choreographies and seemingly difficult movements effortless and eloquent on stage requires tremendous efforts and countless hours of class practice and rehearsals to the extent that the steps on stage look spontaneous and almost second nature. Even the world’s finest dancers , who are powerful in technique and performance ability go through this process.
Share your experiences of the ‘A-hah’ moments you have had in class realizing the power of muscle memory.