After the Workshop

West Coast Swing Online Grab Bag

You just got home from a great workshop! Right now, you are inspired. You don’t want this workshop to be just like all the others, when in a week you go to social dance and can barely remember what you learned. What can you do differently to get more out of this workshop?

Great dancers figure out a system to continue adding material to their repertoires. In this post we’ll give you several ideas to try. Your job is to discover how to consistently implement these ideas in your normal life.

Immediately after the workshop

  • Record what you did. Most pros are great about letting workshop participants video a summary of the class. If not, grab a friend and go in the hallway to make your own video. Mention all the little details you can remember, because this will be your reference when you have a question.
  • Write down what you did. Video is powerful, but the act of taking a video doesn’t require much concentration. The act of writing, however, requires you to go through the movement again, to think about how you would break it down, and to recreate it in words. Whether you write the entire thing, or add stick figure sketches, you will remember a lot more if you force yourself to write down some notes.
  • Practice it that night. Most groups have dances after lessons, so you should be able to try throwing your new skill in during a song. You can also take a one-song break to walk to the corner of the room and practice on your own. No one will mind, and you’ll get a chance to reinforce your memory before the night is done. If there is not a dance, take five minutes in your room before bed to walk through the movement again.

The Next Day

The first 24 hours are critical to our memory. If we re-activate a memory within 24 hours, the brain is much more likely to try storing that information into long-term memory. So, within 24 hours:

  • Review your video/notes. As you do so, try to remember what else was mentioned in the workshop that you don’t have noted yet, and write that down. The details of the workshop itself will fade from your memory quickly, so this is one of your last chances to recall a tip that you heard but didn’t yet process.
  • Practice the skill. Work through it at whatever speed you can. If all you can do is step-by-step, that’s fine. Fluency is not important at this point, but re-imprinting the memory is.
  • Put it in a song. If you have enough fluency to dance the movement, even at a painfully slow tempo, do so. This begins the process of training your mind to see this movement as an opportunity while you are dancing, so it can come out spontaneously instead of having to be planned.

The Rest of the Week

Keep practicing! A few minutes every day are better than 15 minutes every other day. Every other day is better than practicing once at the end of the week.

This is a little bit different than normal skill-building. With normal practice, there’s a lot of value in getting in dozens of repetitions in the same session. When you are trying to build fluency, lots of repetitions are essential and doing a movement dozens of times is extremely valuable. But, when you are trying to remember a movement, the more important variable is how many times you come back to the idea, not how long you worked on it during each session.

Of course, at some point you do want to start building fluency. Knowing when to transition requires you to know your own learning curve. Some people can remember what a movement is with two or three sessions; others may need a dozen reviews. As you add more movements to your repertoire, you’ll be able to recognize similarities and pick up on new movements quicker, so don’t be discouraged if you need more reviewing right now.

Then, once you’ve reviewed enough to move the concept into your long-term memory, switch gears and start practicing for fluency. Now, spending a half hour or more on a single skill is great if you have the time. If you don’t, practicing for two songs is better than practicing for none.

If you follow this process, you’ll be amazed at how much more you learn from workshops. Remember: a workshop can introduce an idea, but owning it requires some effort on your part. If you are deliberate in re-visiting the skills during that first week, you’ll see a huge improvement in your memory and your dance ability!

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Dance Instructor

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