The checklist: One of the best tools for habitual learning

I don’t know about you, but I have always been in awe of how much a dancer needs to remember simultaneously in order to execute anything correctly. I made this revelation at the ripe old age of 7 when, for me, body awareness kicked in and I realised that I wasn’t as brilliant as I thought I was at dancing. That this dance journey I was on was and is something that will require much more than just ‘doing’. I needed a system. I needed a way to remember and apply the mounds of information I was being given. In a moment of sheer revelation I created the checklist. Something that I would use to develop my dance based knowledge and then use to teach that knowledge to my students. Although, I didn’t know it at the time, I had created one of my most vital learning tools for long term dance success.

So what is “the checklist”? It is the manner in which I remember all the technique that is required for any given skill, quality or movement in dance. Let’s start with something really simple: ballet first. I always start from toe to head when internally or externally moving through it. Before I start though it is important to remember the age and ability of the person using the checklist. The more complex you go, the older and more able the dancer should be. So let’s begin :

Basic list:
* 10 toes spread in the floor
* Knees lifted in to thighs
* Bottom squeezed in the centre and towards the floor
* Belly button to spine
* Shoulders down
* Chin lifted

This very basic list is something I would teach to a fairy ballet class. They repeat it every single class. How you deliver it is up to you. And, without fail, by the end of the year they are executing this checklist all by themselves. Then, whether it is in the same year or when they return the following year they apply it without having to verbalise it or even intentionally think about it. And this my friends is habitual learning. Dancers who execute proper technique without intentional thought means that they have laid the bricks of their dance house and can now safely and effectively add more and more technique without the basics crumbling underneath them.
Once you create your basic check list, no matter what genre you are teaching, you can add more every single year; or even throughout the year depending on how quickly they are remembering and applying their checklists. And to highlight how I might add to it I’ll show examples of slightly more advanced to advanced students:
* Slightly more advance: I might add soft fingers and lifted eyeline ONLY to the above list.
* Very advanced: I might add weight slightly forward on the toes and shoulder, hip and ankle alignment to an already very comprehensive list.
For beginners you might walk them through the list or to a group of up and coming teachers you might use it as a speed round of questioning. The great part about this tool is that it moves with you, your teaching techniques and the students level of involvement. By pairing brain development with physical applications we are able to actualise consistent and confident results that have lasting, positive outcomes.

Published by everythingdancewithashley

Ashley Grottoli is an award winning dancer and choreographer who has helped thousands of students achieve their personal and professional goals. "Teach a dancer tricks and they are impressive on Instagram; Teach a dancer to harness their mind and body’s full potential and they can become anything they want to be" says Ashley.

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