Learning While Moving

Yesterday, we had a discussion about learning styles and dance pedagogy. Acknowledging that we are all truly diverse – our bodies, mental states, upbringing/cultural background, and ability/experience – what is your learning style? How do you cope when presented something challenging, particularly while moving or dancing? What are your thoughts about analyzing while learning? Can you be critically engaged while being lost in immersion?

21 thoughts on “Learning While Moving

  1. I learn best by observing! I am definitely the dancer who needs to see something twice, then mark it in time while watching it, and then try it on my own. When I was first learning dance, I was often frustrated half way through a combination and I didn’t understand why I couldn’t pick up a whole phrase. Then I realized that I had stopped watching while it was being demonstrated because I was already trying to pick up the first part. I also understand movement in terms of spatial relationships! When we were in class, it was affirming to hear that Gerald recognized that that was my learning style. I actually didn’t really realize it until Gerald pointed it out! But yeah, knowing where my body should be in space through movement really cements my relationship to the movement.
    For facing challenges, I have only recently begun to employ a more positive coping strategy. I used to think very negatively when I didn’t pick something up immediately (which made all successive attempts even more challenging and high-stakes)! Then one time I was in a Ballet class, barely making it happen, and half-way through the combination I shrugged my shoulders, rolled my eyes and started laughing to myself. I was just like, “Girl, this is not your day, but you’re chillin’. You’ll get it eventually! Or you won’t. But literally who cares”. My internal monologue was on it! I realized that my expectation was essentially perfection–and that’s just an absurd standard. So these days, I breathe through and laugh through those difficult days because when that happens I know I’ll have a much better chance of coming to the next class ready to keep learning.

  2. I am a visual learner and I need to either see a movement or be told what to imagine or how to feel to do something in order for me to execute something well. When I come across movement that is extremely difficult or have trouble imitating a style that is different from my previous years of training…. I need to get lost in the movement to rediscover how I should feel doing something new. When I had to learn how to dance in Joey Toor’s piece last year, I found myself really trying to feel more grounded with the floor. Since my previous years of dance are more ballet,modern,contemporary and hip hop, learning how to do modified positions of break dancing was something I never came across. I had to relearn my relationship with the floor and support myself with my arms in perfect alignment to avoid injury.

    As I challenge myself as a dancer to do something different, I learn to be more patient with my movements and learn how to really understand where I am in the music to hit certain moves on time. Musicality and movement really work together in dance and any style can embody that. Whenever I analyze movement in any dance class, I find myself imagining what it feels like to imitate the texture of each movement. Texture of movement relates to the tempo of choreography. I don’t usually learn through counts, I learn better from seeing and just listening to the musical cues to know where I am in a dance piece. I think it is possible to be critically engaged while being lost in immersion because learning dance is about being in tune with your body and trying to stay in the moment by getting lost in the music.

  3. When learning, i like to observe and engage as the person is teaching. I have always had a somewhat, fast eye at picking up choreography over time. I used to be really bad at memorizing movement. However, I have noticed that I do my best at learning when I am actively trying to engage and think about what I can do for myself to allow me to move with more fluidity if needed or more rigidness. I am always looking at the teacher to pick up on nuances and small detail after I feel I have a better understanding of what the general movement is. When something is challenging I tend to treat it more seriously, however, I do not change my approach. I used to always get in my head about always trying to look “good.” Over time I have found that if I clear my mind and focus on the task at hand it is easier to try to get through. I have learned to not put so much pressure on myself and to just go with the flow.

    I can be critically engaged while being lost in immersion. This biggest thing for me is always trying my hardest to keep going. In guard i have learned to always keep trying, or to pick up exactly where I stumble. If I am being honest, I feel the only way to be critically thinking about what is happening while being lost has to do with how much you are engaging physically and mentally. I truly believe that if you care about something enough, such as getting better, stronger, or applying more, then fighting through difficulties shouldn’t feel so pressurized. I feel as though it should be used as a tool to further heighten your strengths. That is to say that that allowing yourself to be vulnerable in your movements and vulnerable in allowing yourself to mess up helps you further your growth in an activity like this.

  4. Ooo I love this question! I *think* that I work best with LOTS of repetition and segmented phrases–meaning I need to do an 8 count about 5 times before moving on to the next 8. I love to think about movement, which is a blessing and a curse, because usually I’ll be thinking about the opening moves to a phrase and then miss/space out for the entire second half. I find that my brain is about 12 steps behind my body, so learning by rote (though annoying) kind of forces my body to instinctually know the movement and gives my brain the breathing room it needs to analyze what’s going on. I learned (many years ago, back when I was on the convention circuit) that get REALLY overwhelmed and mad at myself when I don’t pick up choreography, usually to the point of tears/or having a really low self-esteem moment. Coming from a more competitive dance sphere, there was always a pressure to not only know combinations, but to immediately execute them to perfection, and I think a lot of that pressure still hovers over me in my “adult” dancing life. I’m trying to work on this, because I know that it’s okay to not be so quick about picking up choreography–that it is not a marker of a “good” or “bad” dancer. There’s just still this annoying little voice that makes me think I’m lesser than everyone else for not immediately getting there…. so I need to continue to work on telling that voice to stfu!

    I think what Gerald said in class about dance/learning dance being a language was really interesting, because for about 4 hours after I was all “huh?” Truthfully at the time I was like, “I easily picked up choreography in another country and they didn’t even speak English??/Why am I having such a hard time here??/Where’s the language aspect coming in??” but I reflected a little bit more and have a better understanding of what that comment means (to me). I really thought about it a lot this past week, and it’s so true; we as dancers all come from diverse backgrounds, but so do our teachers. Every dancer and every teacher has a style, a language that they come from, and sometimes there can be “language barriers” to finding an understanding in method. So I think not only do teachers have a responsibility to sort of see where their dancers are coming from, but it’s helpful for us too, as students, to perhaps readjust how we approach learning on a case-by-case basis.

    • WOW–As I am working on my paper (an excerpt from Steve Paxton’s article on Contact Improv): “The body, having for millions of years on this planet, was tuned first by planetary things that create our potentials, and second by cultural things that develop select parts of the potential. This notion of dual formation is in line with some current theories about how we acquire language; we are born with the potential to make a variety of human sounds and connections, but are guided into the specific language of our culture, and the unused potential withers with disuse.” !! (This helped my understanding of what Gerald said in class even more!)

  5. I am a super slow learner. I learn stuff slower than others, but after I really understand and know it, I will do well or maybe better than others. In our dance class, I learned mostly by repetition. Since I don’t have experience in dancing, I can tell I am not confident enough to dance by myself. I did a lot mimicking and repetition and then I can dance fluently. It is hard to only observe people and then dance by myself. For example, when we learned something new in class, usually we marked it twice or three times, and then we dance in two groups. Before I dance in my group, I’ve danced and observed the same choreography at least four times. I still could not memorize or understand it. However, if we did the same thing the next class, I would do better and able to learn it completely. When I face some challenge in class, such as some movements like roll over the shoulder that I could not do, I will do something else instead. I will learn from it, and maybe next time, I will try to roll over the shoulder and do it eventually. When I meet something really challenging, I will still try my best to do it instead of giving it up. I remembered when we were having the midterm. Almost all my group members failed to do it, but we did not give up. We organized what’s in our mind I finish dancing eventually. I believe that I have to do it first, then I can achieve it. If I gave up half way, I will never be able to achieve it.

  6. I learn choreography best when I can watch and “do” at the same time. To be able to observe while experimenting with a new movement allows me to quickly come up with questions and areas of misunderstanding so I know exactly where to ask for clarification. I also learn best when I can ask questions as instruction is being given and address each question along the way rather than at the end. Once I am able to observe, attempt, ask questions, and get feedback, it is important that I have my own time to internalize the movements for myself so I can create my own associations and personal understanding of the choreography. When presented with a challenging movement, I am often excited to gain a new skill. However, when a new movement becomes frustrating, I often have to remind myself to ease any kind of pressure to “get it right” —because those mistakes are a part of learning. Analyzing while learning is difficult. However, it is an essential skill for a dancer or a performer. While creating shapes, and learning new shapes, the dancer must play between both an individual and extremal perspective. Visualizing the shapes that they are creating as well as experiencing them. It is this constant switching between modes of thought and analysis that makes me love performing. While the performer may appear “lost”, this is not the case. There is always a balance between emotional expression, and attentive anticipation of music, timing and movement that the dancer is aware of. Of course, being “lost in immersion” through dance can happen, however I think when one I am wrapped away in movement and truly entranced, I have difficulty engaging my critical mind.

  7. When it comes to learning, I’m definitely a visual learner. I need various examples in order for me to grasp what’s being presented to me. Often when I’m presented with something challenging involving movement or dance, I have to see every single movement broken down into small steps. Just watching the movements aren’t really that helpful to me, so I also like to try them over and over again until I feel comfortable enough to do them on my own without any directions. I’ve been doing a lot of research about the Alexander Technique, which specializes in moving with your mind and body as one. It allows you to rid yourself of habitual movements so that you’re able to reach your full potential while moving. Since I haven’t quite mastered that I find it a bit difficult to be critically engaged while being lost in immersion. I know it’s possible, but it’s just not something that I’ve learned how to do quite yet.

  8. It surprised me to see that so many people in class are visual learners. My learning style is probably primarily tactile, and secondarily visual. I’m a really creative person, and I’ve always learned best in environments with a really “hands on” approach where I have a lot of creative freedom, but I also sometimes need to visualize how something will look before I do it. My struggles with any subject have always been remembering verbal cues and sequences, and dance is no exception. When I am learning something new that emphasizes my weak points, sometimes it’s really difficult for me to not get extremely frustrated, especially when I let myself feel that everyone is somehow “ahead” of me. I have to remind myself that I will eventually understand the new material, and it’s not a bad thing to take things slow, even if that means stopping for a while. The things that helped me most in this class were being able to see repetitions of dance movements, as well as the times Gerald paused in class to break down specific movements slowly. Analyzing while learning can be important to a degree, but at some point, especially with dance and other performance, I think you really do have to lose yourself in the immersion and allow yourself to “feel” the movements, the words, etc. I think you can absolutely be critically engaged while being lost in immersion, after having built up good effort qualities through analysis.

  9. I learn best when a teacher does the choreography very very slowly and I can mirror their movements at the same time. I have to feel it in my body more than just watching. I can watch choreography one hundred times and not get it until I physically do it many many times over so my memory doesn’t impair me. When I get something challenging I tend to do a type of flailing movement and my technique goes right out the window. It tends to look spastic, rushed and incomplete. I have a hard time analyzing movements while learning choreography because I get too in my head to get the movements in the right order. Once I get the choreography down I can be critically engaged in the movements. The technique and being critical of my movements tends to occur in the later half of the learning experience of the immersion in movements.

  10. When learning difficult material in dance, most of my struggles come from mental blocks. I have then tendency to freak out when I think something is very challenging, which holds me back from fully devoting my mind to learning. Instead of thinking about how I can do something, I focus on my weaknesses. The result of this is that even when I understand material, or have done it before correctly, I let this stress keep me from fully performing. Therefore, learning for me requires trusting myself that I know the combination and using methods to clear my mind. Additionally, by breaking down material into smaller pieces and by going somewhat slowly initially, I am able to feel more confident with the material.

  11. I am most definitely both a visual as well as a kinesthetic learner. This applies not only in dance, but also in other curriculums. I noticed that I particularly enjoy the biology side of science because of the many drawings and diagrams that help me visualize the structures and processes, greatly improving my retention of the material. In subjects such as Organic Chemistry, I am able to grasp the concepts by working through the problems on paper, an aspect of kinesthetic learning where I learn by doing.

    When presented something challenging while dancing, I cope by focusing completely on the task at hand. I mentally (and physically if possible) review the movements over and over, thinking over the precise placements of my focus as well as each of my limbs. I’m not sure how much I am able to analyze while learning, since learning itself usually takes up a lot of my mental capacity…(sounds sad)

  12. I think my preferred learning style is something both visual and movement driven. I find myself often analyzing someone else moving before trying the movement on my own body. I find that my retention for movement is a lot better with movements that are in my “style” or I guess movements that are more natural to me as opposed to something that is more foreign to me. I also learn well by actually doing the movements multiple times and determining which parts of the dance I need to focus on.

    With something challenging, I cope by taking each movement step by step and understanding each move before moving on. Or sometimes if the teacher is moving on, I just try not to get caught up on a specific move for too long and move on with the teacher. I try not to over analyze when learning because when that happens I often find myself focusing too much on one specific move instead of the overall movement. It’s hard to be critically engaged while lost in immersion because being immersed in itself takes a lot of focus, so I don’t think I do it often.

  13. My learning still is definitely a mix of visual and tactile. I find it most helpful to imitate movements i am watching. I do this while being fully immersed in watching the movements and just let my body move on its own. I don’t think too much about how to move my body when I’m watching someone else move and because of that my physical instincts direct my body through the movements. I find that once I try to practice a move or combination that I’ve seen it gets harder for me to imitate that movement or combo. I tend to overanalyze when I’m trying a combo from memory. When things become challenging for me I try not to get frustrated, because doing so just dulls my movements and makes me even more confused. I try to remember to enjoy learning the combo and to focus more on the feeling of it rather than the pure physical movement.

  14. I am both a visual and kinesthetic learner in dance and curricula. In dance, I find it the easiest to mark or follow along as new movements are demonstrated. Depending on how challenging the sequence is, I sometimes have to only carefully watch first and observe the different body positions and steps. Once I feel I’ve gotten the basics down, I have to repeat what I’ve learned quite a few times. Learning is most effective for myself with continuous practice. When something challenging is presented, I feel that counting helps immensely (by 3s, 4s, or *8s), especially when the confusion is stemming from uncertainty in when transitions occur. I also like to go over what I’m having trouble with until I get it down and move on to the next movement. I also find it helpful to observe others to help me better understand how diverse movement and how there isn’t just one way to perform a skill or technique. I do find it important and helpful to analyze, especially in relevance/response to feedback/critique, though to a certain extent. I feel I analyze a lot when learning something unfamiliar like a new movement, but as I become more cognizant of what I’m doing, I try to think less precariously, easing my mind and enabling my body take the lead.

  15. I continue to grapple with what type of learning works best for me. It seems to be different for different activities that I am doing. For the most part, however, I definitely need to practice in order to learn. I can get choreography somewhat quickly, but only after I go through the movements multiple times. I need to know movements in my body rather than just through mental awareness of what the movements are. I have also been learning about myself that I tend to shut down when there is something that I feel I can not do. I get frustrated and that frustration tends to shut me down. I do think that this relates to who I am. I am quite privileged, for I am a white, cis-women who grew up in a middle class family. I have been faced with emotional challenges, but I am sure that I have been cushioned from a lot because of my innate privileges. This is something that I am working actively on.
    I feel that when I am totally immersed in movement, the analyzing comes after breaking from that. For me, when I am lost in a movement, I have reached a point where I am moving without thinking. However, I feel that there are different levels of immersion and that there are ways to be immersed but also actively thinking and deducing. But, I do feel that one learns, then one analyzes. They are separate actions for me. The information is gained, and then the information is unfolded.

  16. I consider myself to be a visual and tactile learner and most of the times I find myself being able to grasp material by seeing it a couple of times. Other times when I am not able to grasp the material easily, a simple touch or adjustment can go a long way for me. It allows me to process the feeling and positioning in space throughout my body and even mind. It allows me to take in an unfamiliar situation similarly to almost like meeting someone new for the first time; you process it and see how it translates onto your body. At times when I find myself really struggling I remind myself to breathe and find of place of calmness and slowly go through the material and really process it and figure out how the information feels on my body. This relates to a place of experience. Mirrors, for instance, personally deprive one of this place and basically has someone rely on a sort of mimicry and completely neglects the knowledge one could obtain by taking the time to really get to know their body and experience every micro and macro sensations that are being given and received.

  17. I learn best by observing and then doing. In dance, I can learn the moves but for me, it all won’t come together until I see it done with the music. In addition, I don’t remember the dance moves completely nor do I get them all down after seeing it or trying it just once. It takes me a lot longer to fully get a dance down, and I need to repeat it multiple times and slowly before I am confident in my movements. What really helps me now is trying to find that emotional connection with the dance that I am performing. I have been told to do that many times but after taking classes here at UCSC it has enlightened me to be more open and aware of the connection between my emotions and my movements.
    I believe that analyzing while learning in anything is beneficial. It allows you to grow a connection with what you are learning and will help to retain the information that was learned. It shows that you have this connection to something that you love and that you can fully immerse yourself into it. That’s how I want to see dance!

  18. Yesterday, we had a discussion about learning styles and dance pedagogy. Acknowledging that we are all truly diverse – our bodies, mental states, upbringing/cultural background, and ability/experience – what is your learning style? How do you cope when presented something challenging, particularly while moving or dancing? What are your thoughts about analyzing while learning? Can you be critically engaged while being lost in immersion?

    I learn best by trying to learn it in my head, then map it to my body. I first try to process it through my mind, how does it look? How does the choreographer connect their moves? How should my weight be shifting? Then as I practice it, I start to remember how it feels rather than the exact moves.
    When I come across something challenging I get excited, because moving my body in a way I’ve never moved it before is an amazing feeling. The challenge is what keeps me dancing, because I want to move my body in every way possible.
    I think it is good to analyze while learning, but make sure you start to get it in your body. At some point you have to stop analyzing and start to feel. That is when you truly dance.
    I feel it depends on the dancer. Some get immersed in the critical engagement. Some can only immerse. Personally for me I think I get lost in the critical engagement. Sometimes I will catch myself just staring intently for long times at the choreographer trying to analyze their every move.

  19. Observing is the best way for me to learn new movement, especially when it is broken down into steps. Watching and maybe ‘marking’ or initiating the new movement on my body while demonstration is taking place, also helps me think about my ‘rights’ and ‘lefts’. When things get frustrating, I really try not to get frustrated. I accept the fact that something won’t be perfect at first, and maybe not for a long time. Laughing and just trying my hardest is definitely how I aspire to get through life and any tough movement class.

    When I get to a point in new movement where I am comfortable and ready to start ‘dancing’ it or immersing myself into it, I try to hold on to the technical factors that got me to the comfortable place and really try and stretch and breath through each movement. It’s going from thinking about engaging my core, what toe is stretching, where is my face?, where are my legs?, what is happening? etc., to keep stretching, am I breathing? am I present? etc. So yes, I believe you can stay focused and critically engaged while immersing yourself, it’s just about finding that comfortable balance.

    Yay for repetition though! If there is one thing I learned from being a dancer, repetition will get you anywhere!! 🙂

  20. I learn best by having a dialogue about the subject. In regards to dance, I find this rings true as I am most able to perform the choreography if I am working to learn alongside other people. Also, by relating certain movements to objects/actions/events I am able to better organize the series of movements in my head. I think that the environment that I am in is also important to my learning. This environment both is the physical location and mood, as well as my mental environment and readiness to learn. I think some of my most groundbreaking discoveries within this class were accompanied with moments of laughter and joy.

    I love a good challenge, who doesn’t? But, I also have found myself so readily trying to talk myself into giving up. Not sure why that is. Specifically in regard to a challenging piece of choreo or difficult movement… I find myself easy to get overwhelmed instead of taking the time to break it down. I think it comes naturally to analyze while learning. When lost in immersion, I think that one is able to analyze by reflecting on the experience instead of losing their focus by analyzing. It is a really thin line to over-analyze.

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