I think that one the most frustrating thing about learning to dance was that I was so excited about it that I wanted to be really good at it NOW! Everyone around me made it look so easy and I felt like such a klutz! And it seemed to take forever for me to learn even the simplest movement. I couldn’t even remember which foot went where let alone put them there fast enough to keep up with my partner. Why was it taking sooooo long and why didn’t I just “get it”?
When I started taking classes and lessons, I always wondered why the pattern or technique that was being taught would seem reasonably comfortable by the end of the class, but be foggy by the next evening when I tried use it at a social dance and completely gone by the follow week when I went back to class. Then slowly, the earlier basic movements and techniques that I learned became second nature and they were replaced by more complex and difficult movements that continued to torture my self confidence and belief that I could learn to dance! The trouble is that at the time I didn’t realize that I had accomplished anything so I continued to beat myself up on my inability to learn and really, looking back, spoiled the joy of the journey of learning. (I really think this is why kids learn things faster than adults…they look at the process as playtime!)
Dang…how could I be such a slow learner? Of course, the answer is that I wasn’t necessarily a slow learner, I just hadn’t done enough repetitions to get the movement into my muscle memory so that I could execute it without thinking and go on to think about new challenges.
So…how many repetitions does it take to get a movement into muscle memory? (And, while we are at it, how many licks DOES it take to get to the center of a Tootsi Pop?)
According to a 1991 book called Motor Learning by Drs. Schmidt and Wrisberg, it takes 300 to 500 repetitions to burn a new movement into muscle memory! (Muscle memory is the body’s ability to execute a movement without consciously thinking about how to do it.) That is just one movement…not a complex dance pattern or technique which might include several different movements! To put those numbers into perspective let’s consider my favorite dance: Country 2-step. A slow country 2-step that would normally be danced at a country bar has a tempo of about 150 beats per minute. Assume that a dance lasts 3 minutes. That would be 450 beats/dance. If a dance couple only danced the 2-step basic (2 quicks and 2 slows, down line of dance in close dance position, leader going forward and follower going backward) that would be 6 beats/basic pattern or 75 basic patterns per dance. If the only movements they were trying to master was 1) the “2 slow steps”, and 2) the “2 quick steps” (and thus ignoring all the fine muscle control to hold dance position), than it would take at least 600-1000 repetitions of the basic pattern to burn the required movements into muscle memory. At 75 repetitions of the basic pattern/song the couple would have to dance 8-14 songs, doing nothing other than a correct basic pattern to put the 2-step basic into muscle memory!! Add in variations like turns or syncopations, each with several movement components and well….do the math…we just aren’t going to learn to dance in a couple of hours!
Oh…and a bit of bad news….the number of repetitions required to erase a bad habit and replace it with the correct movement? 3000-5000!!! (Note to self…learn it correctly the first time!)
The good news….dancing is an amazing life long journey and social hobby! Getting those movements into muscle memory isn’t painful at all!
Dance of the Day: Rumba
Rumba is the slowest of the International Latin dances that are danced competitively. It is danced to 4-count music and has a basic pattern timing of slow-quick-quick. It is a beautiful, sensual dance of Cuban origin that was introduced to Europe and the United States in the early 1950s.