Recital rehearsal time is upon us. Many parents ask us how they can help their child practice at home? These practice tips are divided by age. Our main priority is your child’s well being. It is important to recognize a child’s age development for motor skills, cognitive ability, and focus.
For ages 6 and under
For students ages 6 and under, get a copy of the music and play it for them, A LOT. Play it in the car, at home, at Grandma’s, while playing with legos, while coloring, etc…. Repetition at this age is key. Listening to the music over and over will give them the ability to memorize the song and anticipate the next part of the song. Most of the movements at this age all correlate with the words and rhythm of the music they are dancing to. Not only will this help your student manifest musicality, it will also help them memorize their choreography. Don’t worry if they’re not doing all the right dance moves while listening to the music, that will come. Do not pressure them to show you the dance steps or to practice the dance to a video. That can make them feel pressured instead of enjoying the dance and they can get burned out at an early age. The important part is taking them to class on a regular basis and having fun at home with the music.
For age 7-10
Students ages 7-10 have the ability to memorize patterns and ques. Because of this, we want to give them tools to use for memorizing. The best tool for this age is a journal. Mentally thinking about the pattern of the choreography and then physically putting pen to paper is a magical learning tool. Bonus, they have something to look back on when they are practicing and forget a section. Also, they love using ques. Maybe it’s a word in the music, a friend entering the stage, or knowing what step comes after what step; helping them think about what what ques them into the next section. This is the age where they need to start practicing their choreography at home. They may also use video to follow along until they can do it without looking at the video. They may also incorporate stretching into every day activities such as reading to build flexibility. Please be cautious about over practicing without proper technique. Focus on flexibility and choreography memorization. Do not over practice skills or push them to do harder skills without a teacher present. It might seem cool to practice turns, jumps, or tumbling skills that the older students are doing, and it might look as though they are doing it correctly. However, it takes a trained eye to be able to spot improper technique. Students at this age can learn easily through muscle memory which is both a positive and a negative. Positive if they are using proper technique and being carefully monitored by experienced teacher who can constintly correct bad habits before they start. Negative if they are practicing at home using improper technique over and over; their body will learn improper technique that is very difficult to reverse. Not only can improper technique hold them back in progress, it can also lead to injury. Leave the leaps, turns, and tricks to the teachers. For at home practice, students at this age should be practicing with their journals, their videos, their cognitive skils, and their stretching.
For ages 11 and up
Students ages 11 through adults have the ability to self correct, self motivate, and self control their learning pace. They can choose whether to take it easy and just have fun, or whether to push themselves to the next level. Having journals and videos at this age are still great learning tools, please use them. However, at this age they can go beyond that. They can take that choreography and not only memorize, but make it their own. Once they have it memorized, they can speed it up or slow it down. They also have the ability to self correct technique after a teacher has told them once or twice. This also means, their teachers expect more of them. Here are some helpful hints on memorizing challenging choreography. Break it down into small sections. Start slow and work that section up to the speed of the music. Then take each small section and link them together to make larger sections. Then link the larger sections to make the dance. Practice the dance as a whole without music and back over problem sections. Then try it with music. After you think you’ve got it, try to learn it by muscle memory. This means practicing it over and over until you can do it straight through with no mistakes. The magic practice number is seven. If you can do the dance all the way through 7 times in a row without a mistake, Congrats! You have the choreography memorized by muscle memory.
Most importantly, have fun while practicing at home! Learning to dance is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes years to master skills and become proficient as a dancer, not months. The best dancer is the one who dances the longest and is the happiest doing it, not the one who's amazing at one recital. Play the long game and enjoy the ride. When you get to the recital finish line, know that it's one of many more to come.