Again From the Top! – Tips for Rehearsing Young Dancers for Body Memory

Seasoned Dancers

and Teachers Know:

The Body Has to Remember the Steps without the Mind’s Constant Input Before the Real Performance Can Begin

Julie Andrews in Disney’s 1964 film Mary Poppins

An excerpt of NYC Ballet Principal Jennifer Ringer’s recent memoir is making the internet rounds. In it, Ringer describes the repetition a professional ballet dancer must go through to anchor all the steps from a large repertory.
But how do we get young dancers to rehearse the same choreography over and over and over again, as is necessary to instill body memory?
“You find the fun and SNAP!
The job’s a game.”


5 Games for Rehearsing Choreography

  • Tempo/Pitch Challenge

Vary the pitch or tempo on your sound system for a run-through so the dance feels like slow motion or super speed. (And maybe the singer has an entertaining “chipmunk voice.)

* For increased difficulty, vary the tempo during one run-through so dancers have to really listen to music to stay on cue.

  • Changing Emotions

Another game to give the mind another task so body memory can take over…. During a run-through, call out a different emotion (or other quality) that dancers must bring to the dance. Examples: depressed, surprised, giddy, tired, robot, jello, etc.

* This game can get too silly to be helpful if students don’t understand that they must keep performing the choreography the whole time and not let the “quality” take over the steps.

  • A Picture’s Worth 1,000 Corrections

Bring in the technology! Use your tablet to take snapshots of the group during a run-through. (A smartphone could work too, but the screen is small for showing the pictures to all your students at once.) Let your students see for themselves that the arms look terrible if they are bent when everyone else’s are straight.

* Pictures of movement can be cruel teachers. Do your best to capture moments that should be held, rather than critiquing transitional moments that you wouldn’t expect to exactly match at the class level you are teaching.

* After discussing corrections from the pictures, take snapshots during a 2nd run-though, trying to capture the same moments so you can check for improvement.

PictureRehearsing (2)

IMG_20140814_131639_kindlephoto-159328411 PictureRehearsing

  • Lyric Call Out

This simon-says type game to use for dances with music that has lyrics. Call out a phrase or word from the music that has an accompanying pose/gesture or short dance phrase that students should remember. See who can recall and perform the step the quickest.

  • No Smile? Sit.

During one run-through warn students that you will call out the name of anyone caught not smiling or (forgetting a step, etc). If you hear or name you have to sit right where you are for three seconds before resuming the dance.

* Make sure you keep this game light by explaining beforehand that this is a game to help you remember to smile or not make the same mistakes and you are not in trouble and have not failed if you have to sit.

Words from a Professional ~

Find Ringer’s memoir on

Ringer’s Memoir

The Guardian recently published an excerpt from New York City Ballerina Jenifer Ringer’s memoir Dancing Through It under the intriguing title, “How dancers learn their steps: music, muscle memory and magic.”

“Layer by layer we train our ear to hear the music and how it matches up to the steps. With enough repetition, the music is inevitably linked by some mysterious connection to our muscle memory so that eventually, we don’t have to think about the steps. Our bodies know what to do, leaving our brains free to give flight to our imaginations in performance.” ~ from Dancing Through It, Jenifer Ringer


 Happy Rehearsing!!  ~ Ms. Linda

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