You have just finished watching the video of the new variation you have to learn. There is a lot of work to do and a lot to think about: you have to learn the steps, understand the music, do some research on the story so that later you can think about the artistry, and then join all of what we mentioned here together, rehearse and eventually perform. Do you already feel lost? Would you like to have a specific and effective work process to follow?
Tips and ideas to work smarter and more efficiently
Countless times, I approached learning a new variation in a very passive way: simply by watching the video, learning the steps and rehearsing it without a specific goal or purpose. The result was never great, so I decided to modify the strategy (or better, to create one) and I ended up with a clear plan that helps me achieve better results over a shorter period of time. I will share the entire process in this article, along with many more useful tips that you can put into practice as well in order to tackle that new variation.
Stage 1: Research, Expand, Take Notes
“No research without action, no action without research” -Kurt Lewin
Without proper understanding of the story, the music, the meaning of the choreography and depth of the character, little to nothing can be done well. Dancing ballet means telling a story or conveying emotions to the audience through body and facial expression. One cannot dance the Dying Swan as one would dance the Black Swan variation. It is of extreme importance to have as much background information as possible before starting to learn something new.
In order to collect information, there is a lot that can be done nowadays that we have access to the internet. If the story is based on a book, read it. Find accurate and rich resources where you can learn about the ballet, the music, the libretto, read notes from dancers who already danced the role and any kind of detail that can be interesting and important. Focus mainly on the variation you want to learn: the character, its meaning, what happened before and what happens right after. Core de ballet has started a Repertoire coaching series that will help you.
Collecting videos from different dancers in a YouTube playlist can come in handy to understand what you would personally like to portray, identify what your taste is and discover the differences between each and every version. You may also notice dissimilar ways of perceiving music, approaching a step, interpreting the variation and using the space.
Stage 1 action steps
researching the whole ballet and the variation’s story
watching various videos of different dancers performing and rehearsing
noting down essential concepts, information and thoughts from your research
Stage 2: Learn, Analyze, Plan
“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail” -John Wooden
Proper preparation before beginning the rehearsals is key to understanding which technical elements need a higher amount of attention and thus make the most out of your practice time. Throughout this preparation stage, we are learning the steps, identifying and addressing challenges and gaining clarity over what needs to get done.
I found the advice of writing the name and the sequence of the steps particularly useful (thank you Ondine!): learning them quickly and precisely, and discussing them with a teacher during rehearsals became easier. If you have any doubts on the name of the steps, feel free to check out the dictionary section. Along with this, I recommend drawing the use of the space so that it will not become a problem later on. When doing all of this, I suggest working on each musical phrase separately.
Successively, I highlight the main technical challenges and ask for advice on which exercises I could add to my daily conditioning routine to help my body and brain create the right connection to overcome them. Of course, focusing on them as well in the daily technique class is fundamental. In this case, you might find what you are looking for in one of the conditioning programs.
Stage 2 action steps
writing down the steps and use of space phrase by phrase
highlighting the main technical challenges
adding exercises to your daily routine that will help overcome those challenges
Stage 3: Rehearse, Review, Repeat
“Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice” -Anton Chekhov
Practice is probably the hardest, yet the most enjoyable part of the process as it includes what we all love: dancing. There are several ways of practicing that range from mindless to purposeful through to deliberate practice. Deliberate practice involves setting specific goals, having a strategy to achieve them, receiving feedback and focusing.
To begin with, I like to approach a hard variation by working on each musical phrase as mentioned previously. This way, I feel that every step and every transition can receive the attention required. Firstly, I take all the time that I need to make the steps clear and neat, then I slowly increase the speed until the musicality is correct without forgetting all that got polished beforehand.
If you have the chance, rehearsing with a coach makes a great difference as they can see what we might still not see ourselves, furnish feedback and advice. Filming rehearsals can help whether you have the opportunity to work with a coach or not. We all have cameras on our phones now, so there’s no reason not to use it. Analyzing the videos and correcting yourself is a highly functional tool.
Stage 3 action steps
working on each phrase of the variation separately
rehearsing with a coach if possible
filming the practice sessions and analyzing them
Stage 4: Improve, Reflect, Feedback
“Keep to yourself the final touches of your art” -Baltasar Gracian
Once that enough practice has been done and the choreography is well incorporated into the body, it is time for the “final touches”, which include any details you might want to incorporate into your dancing. It can be a specific message that you would like to share, deciding the quality to strive for, adjusting anything that still does not click and realizing if what you have done results clear and interesting for the audience.
Once again, I find filming the most useful tool, but you could also ask a friend to assist while you rehearse the variation and listening to their thoughts, feelings and perceptions. You will have the confirmation (or a different point of view) on the intention you previously set and on the message you wanted to portray.
Of course, as we all know, perfection does not exist: there will always and forever be something to work on, some other things that can improve even more and something new to discover, but where is the fun otherwise?
Stage 4 action steps
identifying what else can be improved
further analyzing the videos, especially from an artistic standpoint
asking for feedback and opinions to different people
I hope this article was enjoyable to read and that it has somehow been inspiring you to rethink and improve your variation learning process. I would like to hear more from your experience, so please feel free to leave a comment.What is your own way of tackling a new variation?
What was your favorite piece of advice?
Which will you put into practice for your next variation?