Cognitive Benefits of Movement Reduction
A lot is known about the techniques of ballet but what about the thinking behind the doing of dance? Ted Warburton, former dancer of the American Ballet Theatre and nowadays professor in Santa Cruz with a doctoral degree in psychology from Harvard, is highly interested to find answers to his question: „How do dancers construct and integrate all the necessary information to perform highly sophisticated physical tasks, lined up in hour-long choreographies that have to be flawlessly remembered, at the same time producing expressions of deep emotional quality that have the power to communicate to others?”
Doing research to a better understanding of cognition and creativity he found some answers, now published in Psychological Science. To reduce the mental strain may help the dancer to improve the quality of his performance. The system of dance marking, going through the routine not by doing every move quite perfect but to put the focus on the layout of the routine itself, helps to a better understanding of the steps as a sequence and therefore the performance will be more fluid.
Tests with two groups of dancers – one practicing in performance speed and the other one by marking, sometimes even substituting hand gestures for movements – showed this result. So marking is not only some shift to allow dancers a break but a positive instrument to improve their performance. Ted Warburton`s result: „Marking could be strategically used by teachers and choreographers to enhance memory and integration of multiple aspects of a piece precisely at those times when dancers are working to master the most demanding material”.
Of course this does not mean that dancing students should be lazy and not exercising their routines. Knowing and experiencing the figures is the prior condition for marking.
Photo: Lucia Lacarra and Cyrill Pierre by rehearsal of a Martin Schläpfer Choreographie © Thomas Kirchgraber