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Dance Smart: Make sure muscle memory works for you, not against you

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

In this post, you'll discover:

If you are an adult dancer, understanding the role of muscle memory, neuroplasticity, and neuromuscular pathways can enhance your dance training.


Muscle memory and related terms


Muscle memory is the ability of our muscles to remember and repeat specific movements without conscious thought, developed through the process of myelination.


Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to change and adapt in response to new experiences and learning, critical for developing muscle memory and improving dance technique and performance.


Neuromuscular pathways are the connections between the brain and the muscles that allow us to execute specific movements, which become stronger with repeated practice.


Proprioception, the body's ability to sense the position and movement of its own parts, plays a key role in developing muscle memory.

As you repeat a particular movement pattern over and over, the myelin sheath around the neural pathways grows thicker, strengthening the neuromuscular connections between the muscle and brain. In addition, neuroplasticity facilitates the creation of additional neuromuscular pathways, as well as strengthening existing pathways. Proprioception provides feedback to the brain about the position and movement of the body, allowing for refinement of movement and maintenance of proper alignment and technique.

Muscle memory is developed through practice and repetition of a particular movement or task. As a result, the brain develops new neural pathways and strengthens existing ones that control the specific muscles involved in that movement. Initially, when you perform a new movement, your brain sends signals to your muscles through these neural pathways, and it takes conscious effort and attention to perform the movement correctly. With repetition, the neural connections become more efficient, and the movement becomes more automatic and fluid.

3 muscle memory tips


1. Ensure accurate muscle memory


As a dancer, muscle memory can work for or against you. If you regularly performs a movement incorrectly, you’ll be strengthening the neural pathways to support the incorrect movement, and it will be more difficult to correct over time. The implication is that it is vital to ensure you can execute the more basic movements correctly before proceeding to more advanced and complex movements, or to perform at a greater speed. In contrast, if you take the time to practice movements slowly and correctly, it will become easier over time to perform the movement with less conscious thought.


2. Create space for artistry


As you develop muscle memory, and have to put less thought into executing a movement, you are better able to focus on other aspects of the performance, such as musicality, expression, and artistry. You’ll also find it easier to perform movements faster, perform more complex combinations, and progress to more complex movements.


3. Prevent injuries


Muscle memory will also help you avoid injury by allowing you to execute movements with proper alignment and form. When a movement is executed correctly, it places less strain on the body, reducing the risk of injury.


8 ways to unleash the power of muscle memory


1. Consistent practice


As an adult dancer, repetition is vital to develop and reinforce muscle memory. As we age, our bodies require more consistent practice to retain and improve physical abilities. Consistent and focused practice can help to prevent the natural decline of muscle mass and flexibility, making it easier to maintain and improve technique.


As an adult dancer, it may be difficult for you to find time to practice every day, but making a conscious effort to practice regularly will aid in the development of muscle memory. Aim to establish a practice routine that works for your schedule, whether it's a 30-minute session in the morning or an hour in the evening.


It's important to keep in mind that practicing consistently is more effective than practicing for longer periods of time less frequently. This will help you reinforce movements in your muscle memory and improve your technique.


When practicing, focus on perfecting the basic movements before progressing to more complex combinations. Pay attention to proper alignment and form, as this will help to avoid injuries and improve overall execution.


Finally, it's important to remember that muscle memory is developed over time, and progress may be slow. Consistency and patience are key, as muscle memory can take weeks or even months to develop. Don't get discouraged by setbacks or slow progress, and continue to practice regularly to improve your technique and maintain your physical abilities.


2. Break down movements


As an adult dancer, breaking down complex movements into smaller parts and practicing each part separately can be an effective way to improve your dancing. You might have a busy schedule and limited practice time, so it is important to make the most of the time you have available. By focusing on smaller parts of a movement, you can make progress more quickly and feel more accomplished in each practice session.


Additionally, as an adult dancer, you may not have the same level of flexibility or physical ability as a younger dancer. Breaking down complex movements into smaller parts can help you work on specific areas of your body that need extra attention. For example, if you struggle with a certain turn or jump, you can isolate the specific movement and work on improving it before incorporating it into the full movement.


Another benefit of breaking down complex movements into smaller parts is that it can help prevent injury. As an adult dancer, you may be more prone to injury due to factors such as age, lack of flexibility, or previous injuries. By focusing on smaller parts of a movement and perfecting them before moving on to the full movement, you can ensure that your body is properly prepared to execute the movement safely and effectively.


Overall, breaking down complex movements into smaller parts is an important technique for adult dancers to master. By doing so, you can improve your dancing more quickly, work on specific areas of your body that need extra attention, and prevent injury.


3. Visualisation


As an adult dancer, you may find that your body takes a bit longer to adjust to new movements or to refine existing ones. While you may have less time to devote to practice due to work or family commitments, incorporating mental practice can be a helpful tool in developing muscle memory.


Visualizing the movements in your mind's eye can be a powerful way to reinforce the neural pathways that support proper execution of dance movements. By imagining yourself performing the steps with precision and accuracy, you can enhance your muscle memory and improve your overall execution.


Mental practice can also be a helpful technique for those recovering from an injury or dealing with physical limitations. By visualizing the movements in your mind's eye, you can continue to work on refining your technique even if you are unable to physically perform the movements.


In addition to mental practice, taking a mindful approach to your dance practice can also be beneficial. Paying close attention to the sensations in your body as you perform the movements can help you to develop a deeper understanding of the mechanics of the movements and make adjustments as needed. This increased body awareness can also help you to prevent injury and ensure that you are executing the movements with proper form and alignment.


Overall, incorporating mental practice and mindfulness into your dance practice can be valuable tools in developing and refining muscle memory as an adult dancer. By working to reinforce the neural pathways that support proper execution of movements, you can improve your overall performance and reduce the risk of injury.


4. Slow practice


As an adult dancer, it can be tempting to jump straight into practicing movements at full speed to feel a sense of progress and accomplishment. However, it's important to remember that developing proper technique and form is crucial to executing movements correctly and avoiding injury.


One effective way to do this is by practicing movements slowly to develop muscle memory. By doing so, you give your brain more time to process and retain information, allowing you to focus on the intricacies of the movement and ensuring proper execution. This also allows you to identify and correct any errors or bad habits in your form, which can be reinforced if you practice at full speed too soon.


Practicing slowly also helps to build strength and control, allowing you to execute movements with greater precision and ease. As your muscle memory develops, you can gradually increase the speed of your movements while maintaining proper form and technique.


Remember that learning to dance is a journey, and it's important to take the time to develop a strong foundation of technique and form. By practicing movements slowly and deliberately, you will not only develop better muscle memory, but also build confidence and mastery over the movements.


5. Variations and combinations


One way to keep your muscle memory challenged and engaged is to regularly learn and practice new variations and combinations. This can be accomplished through taking classes that introduce new choreography, or you can practice at home with online tutorials or videos, or even by creating your own combinations based on the steps you’ve learnt.


By learning new variations and combinations, you are forcing your muscle memory to adapt to different movements and patterns. This helps to prevent it from becoming too repetitive and stagnant, which can lead to boredom and a lack of motivation to continue dancing. Additionally, challenging your muscle memory in this way can help to improve your overall dance ability by increasing your range of motion, improving your spatial awareness, and strengthening your ability to quickly pick up and execute new movements.


As an adult dancer, learning new variations and combinations is an important part of maintaining a healthy and engaged muscle memory. It helps to prevent your practice from becoming too repetitive and stagnant, and can lead to improved dance ability and a greater sense of enjoyment and fulfillment.


6. Consistent feedback


Consistent feedback remains a crucial aspect of developing muscle memory. While self-evaluation through mirrors and videos is one way to receive feedback, it is also essential to seek guidance from a trained teacher or coach. They can provide structured feedback on your technique and form, and offer suggestions on how to improve.


In addition to seeking feedback from a teacher or coach, adult dancers can also find training buddies who can offer support and feedback. Working with a training buddy can be beneficial, as they can provide a fresh perspective and offer constructive criticism. This can help dancers to identify areas of improvement and focus on developing muscle memory that can help them progress towards their goals.


Ultimately, for adult dancers, consistent feedback is crucial to developing muscle memory that supports proper technique and form. Whether it comes from a teacher or coach, a training buddy, or through self-evaluation, feedback can help dancers to identify areas of weakness and focus on developing the muscle memory required to execute movements with precision and grace.


7. Cross training


For adult dancers, cross-training can be a great way to improve their overall muscle memory and enhance their dance performance. As dancers age, their muscles become more prone to injury and may not respond as well to training as they did in their younger years. Cross-training with other forms of exercise can help to counteract this by providing a well-rounded approach to training.


Strength training is one type of exercise that can be particularly beneficial for adult dancers. It can help to build muscle mass and increase bone density, which can help to prevent injuries and improve overall strength and endurance. Strength training exercises can also target specific muscle groups that are used in dance, such as the core, legs, and arms.


Yoga is another form of exercise that can be helpful for adult dancers. It can improve flexibility, balance, and coordination, which are all important aspects of dance. Yoga can also help to reduce stress and promote relaxation, which can be beneficial for adult dancers who may have demanding schedules or experience anxiety related to their dance performance.


Incorporating cross-training exercises into a dancer's routine can help to challenge the body in new ways and prevent the development of muscle imbalances. By strengthening the body and improving flexibility and coordination through other forms of exercise, dancers can improve their overall muscle memory and dance performance. Additionally, cross-training can provide a fun and challenging way to diversify a dancer's fitness routine, which can help to keep them motivated and engaged in their training.


Additionally, yoga can help to reduce stress and improve overall well-being, which can have a positive impact on a dancer's mental and physical health.


By incorporating cross-training into their training regimen, adult dancers can improve their overall muscle memory, which can help them to execute dance movements with greater ease and precision. This can lead to a more enjoyable and fulfilling dance experience, as well as improved physical and mental well-being.


8. Proprioceptive training


Proprioception plays a critical role in dance technique, allowing dancers to execute movements with accuracy, fluidity, and control. Here are some examples of proprioceptive training exercises that adult dancers can incorporate into their training:


Balance exercises: Balance exercises are an excellent way to improve proprioception. Adult dancers can practice standing on one leg and holding the position for a certain period. They can also use balance boards or balance discs to challenge their stability and improve their sense of balance.


Floor exercises: Adult dancers can perform floor exercises that focus on body awareness, such as rolling exercises and body isolations. These exercises help to improve proprioception by increasing awareness of different parts of the body and how they move in relation to each other.


Resistance training: Resistance training using resistance bands or weights can help to improve proprioception by challenging the muscles and joints. Adult dancers can perform exercises that focus on the core, such as planks, side planks, and bird-dogs, which help to improve balance and stability.


Ballet barre exercises: Ballet barre exercises are a staple of dance training and can also help to improve proprioception. Adult dancers can focus on maintaining proper alignment and balance during barre exercises, paying close attention to the position of their feet, hips, and spine.


Partner exercises: Partner exercises can help adult dancers to improve their proprioception by practicing movements with a partner. For example, partnering exercises that involve lifts or balances require dancers to communicate and coordinate with their partner, which helps to improve body awareness and proprioception.


Summary


To wrap up, as an adult dancer, understanding the role of muscle memory, neuroplasticity, and neuromuscular pathways can enhance your dance training. By focusing on accurate muscle memory, creating space for artistry, and preventing injuries, you can unleash the power of muscle memory to improve your dancing. Consistent practice, breaking down movements, visualisation, and incorporating cross-training are some effective ways to improve muscle memory. By implementing these tips and techniques, you can continue to develop and reinforce muscle memory, improve your technique, and enjoy your dancing journey for years to come. Remember that muscle memory takes time to develop, so patience and consistency are key to success.

 

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