Think Big Part II- In-depth Learning in Dance

What kind of student were you? Did you regularly study for tests or did you cram? Did you simply listen to instruction and regurgitate? And after a test was over, was the knowledge retained?

Much to my elementary-school-teacher-mom's disappointment, it was fairly simple for me to pass without a lot of study in certain subjects. I maintained a 20+ hour per week dance schedule, so long nights of study were not possible. I was the one studying over lunch periods and study halls, borrowing flash cards from friends who had actually taken the time to prepare them and then I’d take the test and score as well or nearly as well from memory. Although, I was able to retain a fair amount, clearly those who prepared the flash cards had a much better understanding of the topics.  

After reading Dr. Benjamin Carson’s Think Big as I referenced last week, I began to wonder how many of us learn things in depth. Carson considers in-depth learning (“I” on his THINK BIG Acrostic) to be learning for the sake of learning, rather than for passing a test or impressing others (Carson, 233). Nowadays, we are so accustomed to researching facts online in order to ascertain a quick answer, that I wonder how many of us really learn things anymore. More than the answer, do we truly have knowledge of the subject matter? Do we study a topic so well that we could teach it or write about it? Do we continue to learn about it even after we “have” it?

 For Dr. Carson, in-depth studies in neurology as well as cardiology led to ground-breaking surgeries. At the right place and time the acquired knowledge came together to produce a solution.

The same idea can be applied to any career. Let’s look at four ways to learn dance in depth:

1.       Class. Take class for understanding the hows and whys rather than just as a warm up or for exercise. Learn the fundamental techniques- ballet, modern, and jazz, in order to understand contemporary work. Study techniques from around the world like African or Asian styles, Flamenco, and Traditional Folk dances. Learn social dances.

2.       Read. Learn your dance history! How can you build upon the work of the previous generations if you don’t know what they have accomplished? Study the history of the techniques, choreographers, dancers, and the ballets that were made. Know the stories behind the ballets. Read magazines, blogs, and articles to know what is going on in and around the dance community. Learn about the business of dance, not just the artistic side of things.

3.       Watch. See live performances. Youtube past performances. Go to rehearsals, watch classes. If you are injured, don’t stay home. Observe and take notes. So much can be learned by simply watching.

4.        Spend time alone. Use what you’ve learned from utilizing the first three methods and investigate on your own. Whether it is to discover a new way of moving or to fix a technical problem in your work, time alone to process is essential to the dancer.

I would also add cross-training for awareness of the body and interdisciplinary studies. In addition to strengthening performance, teaching, and choreography (experiences that increase your knowledge), I believe that these investigations can lead to other ideas of where to use dance training. We are taught to be so geared towards the stage that it is easy to forget that dance can be used for so much more.

Just as Dr. Carson’s studies led to innovation in brain surgery, in-depth learning inevitably leads to innovation in dance. Armed with knowledge, dancers can really make an impact on the world.

Leave your comments below and stay tuned for Part III of the Think Big Series!

AND....Congrats to Sarah Z, winner of the Life In Motion Giveaway!



Carson, Ben, and Cecil Murphey. Think Big: Unleashing Your Potential for Excellence. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1992. Print.