How To Pick Up Choreography Faster- The Tips And Tricks You Need To Know!


Ever been in class and got to the end of a routine only to find you can’t remember how it started? Or find yourself blanking on the same bits over and over? Or maybe you simply seem to find it hard to keep up with other dancers at your work or in class? Maybe you just feel like you can’t pick up choreography faster, no matter what you try.

It can be discouraging can’t it? But don’t worry! Yes, there are people who can pick up choreography seamlessly without seeming to break a sweat, (oh how I wish that was me) but the good news is that with some focus, patience and a little know-how you can improve and get to where you need to be.

How? Change Is In The Brain.

Whilst it IS true that our brains don’t all have the same starting point (we all remember and learn at different rates) the good news is that the brain is not a fixed thing! Until recently it was believed that once a brain had forged certain patterns it became fixed in stone, however recently science has discovered that the brain is malleable- constantly changing and adapting according to how it’s used. This process is known as neuroplasticity. In layman’s terms it is purely the brains ability to transform- the more often you get certain pathways in the brain to fire, the stronger and faster they become. By the same token old pathways fall away and become weaker or more dormant the less they’re used. This is known as the USE IT OR LOSE IT principle.

So What Does This Mean For Pick Up Ability As Dancers?

Quite simply, it means that over time we can learn to pick up Pick-up-choreography-Faster-with-neuroplasticitychoreography faster and retain larger amounts IF we use specifically targeted techniques to help us. And that’s where this article comes in. However it is VERY important that to improve and transform this skill, you practice REGULARLY. Ideally daily. This is because neuroplasticity works better the more frequently it is practiced. Let me give you a real life example- ever experienced it being harder to pick up a routine if you haven’t danced in a while, maybe if you go back into class after the holidays? That’s neuroplasticity.

So now for the nitty gritty, the fun stuff. The list below covers many tips and tricks you can use to harness this ability and get your pick up speed to where it needs to be. Get ready to change your brain!

But How Do I Practice My Pick Up Speed When I’m Not In Class?

YouTube is a veritable goldmine for dancers to practice this skill. Whilst the tutorials for advanced dancers may be limited, there’s a plethora of routines for all levels that you can stop and start whilst you learn.

You can also download a brain training app, and use it to target memory. I recommend doing this daily to keep your memory sharp.

Know How You Learn.

There are 3 main types:

  • Visual- you learn by seeing. Visual-learner
  • Auditory- by hearing the music and the beats things fall on, or making particular sounds to remember certain rhythms. Auditory-learner
  • Kinaesthetic- by feel or by touch. Kinaesthetic-learner

Everyone is a combination of all three but generally one is more dominant so knowing what you need in order to start learning is key. I, for example, learn by doing. So it doesn’t matter how many times I watch a routine, until I actually start to do it, it’s not going to sink in. Whereas for someone who is more visual, they may find it more beneficial to watch the choreographer first before they execute the steps.

The Basics- Work It, Baby!

When you learn a routine brand new, you are using your short term memory. Short term memory cannot be activated without effort. The typical human brain can only hold 7 pieces of information (for example numbers or names from recall,) therefore in order to implement it you have to put in EFFORT. This is why it’s also known as WORKING MEMORY.

You can activate it through mental rehearsal by repeating it over in your mind. Otherwise, it gets replaced by the current flow of information in your present.



To practice mental rehearsal:

  • As a rule try to go over it three times quickly before the choreographer moves on- e.g. the first count of 8, full out if you can but also marking it works or visualising it in your brain.
  • Make a mental note of moves which make you blank and think of a describing word for them.
  • Learn chronologically and add on more each time.

To Get Faster, Know Where Youre Starting From.

Ever get to the end of learning a routine only to find you can’t remember how it started?! Always make a mental note of how the routine starts. Name the movement. Even if it’s just a simple walk forward, think of which foot you step onto first. Say to yourself ‘right’ or ‘left.’ You can also try tapping the leg or wiggling your toes to create touch memory. This is great for kinaesthetic learners. Everything flows from this point, so view it like a mental post-it note and cement it in your memory right away. You can even keep recalling it as you add new bits to the routine.

Visualise The Choreography. Visualise-to-pick-up-choreography

Like the muscles in your body, visualisation is something that strengthens with practice. It is important, as the length of time for which information can generally be stored in working memory when you stop thinking about it is 40 seconds. In an audition situation where there’s a lot of you, it’s not uncommon for them to clear you to one side in your lines while each group perform in front of the panel. They often ask while you wait that you remain still and not mark anything, so visualisation is key.

To practise visualisation:

  • Go through the dance in your head as though you’re actually dancing it. At first, if necessary just take the first 3 moves and visualise doing them. Then carry on. Don’t worry if it’s hard, it gets easier with practice!
  • The fast-forward method- you can go through things in your head much quicker. So imagine you’re fast forwarding a tape and go through the dance as fast as you can. Do this several times. By doing this you will be thinking much faster than you dance and therefore making transitions from one move to the next really secure. This will also help you practice thinking ahead while you dance. Please note that it is just as important to do it full out while learning it, but you can do this in between!
  • Practice visualisation by watching a routine on YouTube. Watch the first 8 counts, pause it, recall it. Then carry on. This is a great way to practice at the end of a long day of training or rehearsal without spending further energy.

Use Word Cues.

Notice where you blank and then think of a word which describes the Use-words-to-learn-choreographymove you’re forgetting. This is my number one go to. For example if your leg swishes forward you could use ‘swish,’ or ‘eyes’ for your hands coming across your eyes, ‘reach,’ or ‘shoulder,’ could describe certain moves or you can use sound cues like ‘pow’ for a punch, or ‘boom’ if the movement is explosive. It can literally be anything. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense, as long as it makes sense to you! As you go through the choreography, keep a mental list of your word cues for the steps you blank on and go through them as you dance it.

If you’re a visual learner you can think of a move as a certain colour.

Chunk it.

With memory, organisation is your friend. If you’re given a large chunk of information your brain will quickly become overloaded and fail to remember much of anything. So to pick up choreography faster, break it down into smaller sections in your mind. This will help you remember much more because the brains consolidates large amounts of information best in patterns and sections. You can name each section, or use a word for the first move of each section, or name it by what is happening in the music or lyrics. Also, try to notice if there are any patterns. This can be a good way to divide sections.

This method also gives you a road map so if you blank and get lost you have a set point at which you can pick it back up again.

Drill Transitions.

Ascertain where you blank and note the step that comes right before it- isolate these 2 steps and drill them linking them. This will get it into your muscle memory and help you memorise the move and keep it front of mind.

Expanded Rehearsal.

Stretch your ability for the length of time you can retain something. You can do this by practicing memorising a routine or a few counts of 8 and then increase the time period in between which you recall it. Start with 5 seconds, then 10, 20, 40 etc.

No Peeking! No-peeking

In class, break the habit of constantly looking at the teacher. As soon as they’ve taught it, turn your eyes away and start forcing your mind to recall. This will make you internally consolidate it and remember it rather than just copying what you’re seeing.

In A Tight Spot? Reverse.

Work Backwards.

By thinking of the last move you remember, sometimes it can jog your memory by reminding you of how you got into it. This is a particularly good one to use when you’re feeling stuck.

You can also make a mental note of what happens on the first beat of each counts of 8.

Order Is Your Friend.

Earlier we spoke about how short term memory can only hold 7 pieces of information at a time, therefore it is important that you start at the beginning and not move on until you know the bits where you’re blanking. If you try to take in too much before you’ve actually learnt what comes before, you’ll end up not being able to recall anything, so it’s important to not overload your brain. Even if you can’t get it all, just aim to get a bit more from memory each time you run it, rather than trying to remember everything at once. Even if you can’t remember it all, it’s better in an audition situation to have a strong beginning and middle and improvise the end than to look unsure the whole way through.

If A Move Is Tripping You Up… Tripped-up

Break it down. Focus on just getting the feet, then add in the arms etc. In an audition situation, if something’s really too hard, it’s better to do an approximation of it and make it your own! Be careful though, if a choreographer emphasises a certain move it’s likely they want it done a particular way so notice what they pay special attention to.

The Sweet Spot Of Memory.

This last one is very important. To improve long term it is about hitting that memory sweet spot. Remember, if your brain is overwhelmed with information it will be like a system overload (like a computer.) This is obviously counterproductive and not what we want, so the aim is to stretch it just to the point where it starts to struggle and gradually expand it from there. Over time you’ll find yourself getting better and better.

Other Tips To Make Your Memory More Flexible And Pick Up Faster.

There are a few other things you can do to challenge your memory and make it more versatile and therefore the most equipped for a dance job.

  1. If you’re practicing picking up a routine at home, try turning and facing a different direction now and then. This challenges your brain to readjust and this can throw you off a little which is great practice!
  2. Start performing the routine with your face as soon as possible. It’s an extra thing to think about and requires further concentration so the sooner you incorporate it into your routine the better chance you give yourself of executing it well and without mistakes.
  3. Take class with MANY different teachers. It’s easy to become specialised in a particular teachers style if they’re someone whose class you do regularly. The best thing you can do is learn routines from as many teachers as possible. This will challenge you and make your brain much more adaptable.
  4. If you make a mistake, force your brain to keep going and not let it throw you off. Although it’s frustrating, (believe me I feel your pain,) make a mental note of it and force yourself to keep going and pick up the routine from where you’ve blanked. Discard mistakes until after. This will challenge your memory to react and retrieve information again quickly!

Be Your Own Cheerleader. Be-your-own-cheerleader

So that’s it- the tools that I use and hopefully you will find just as useful. Above all, don’t forget to be kind to yourself while you learn! It’s easy to get down on ourselves when we’re finding something challenging but if you notice your improvements you’ll start to feel good about them and get much further. Good luck, and let’s me know how you get on in the comments below.






  • Pam

    Hi Natalie,

    Thank you for a well written article, Although I am in no way an expert dancer, your article gives me hope that with practice I can move up the ladder to become a great dancer. I also noted that all the tips you gave for learning how to dance is very much relatable and applicable when learning anything new so I want to say thank you because .



    • Natalie

      Hi Pam,

      No worries, so glad you enjoyed it! Yes the memory techniques are very much applicable to different things. The memory is much like a muscle in that the more we use it the stronger it gets. You can definitely become great with passion, hard work and training smart so keep up the good work 🙂

  • Jenny

    Great article! I have been dancing my whole life (coming from a latin american country) and never even thought how my brain works when doing it, now I know!!

    I’m very good with salsa, merengue and all the caribbean rhythms but very bad following pop choreographies. I will put your tips in practice next time I go to the gym.

    • Natalie

      Wow, how lovely. I adore Strictly Come Dancing so have always wanted to learn all the Latin dances! A great thing to remember is the more familiar your brain becomes with a certain style, the more it will start to anticipate and remember what moves come next. So keep going with the more commercial stuff and it will sink in, I promise! Watching lots of music videos even just at home can be really good for this too. 🙂

  • Wenda

    I’m awful at recalling moves when being taught! I will definitely stop peeking when I’m learning because you’re right– it just causes uncertainty and dependency.

    Thank you so much for the tips, Natalie! I sure do need them lol


    • admin

      Yes, this can be a hard habit to kick, can’t it? It took me ages! But you’ll be surprised how quickly your memory improves when you do! And it’s great the feeling of being a truly empowered dancer.
      A good question to ask yourself is- ‘If no one else was in the room right now to copy, could I dance this routine?’
      Obviously it takes time to get to this point, but it’s a great tester!

  • Kathleen

    This is a brilliant article. There is so much more to dancing than the steps/moves/music. I love the mental challenges and the cognitive correction you offer. You are an amazing coach and writer, it makes so much sense as a dancer to see the whole body mind connection and know what to do! Thank you for the encouragement, let’s dance!! 🙂

    • admin

      Thanks so much for this comment Kathleen, it really made my day! 🙂 Yes dancing is definitely also a mind game. I think as well, by getting our memory to a place where we can cope well with the choreography it frees us up to focus on the intent and expression of the movement and therefore really have fun and get joy from it. So glad it was able to help and make a difference. Keep dancing! 🙂

    • Natalie

      I think it’s a struggle for a lot of us, and not something that is talked about regularly! So I’m so happy it’s able to help you. My advice, don’t try everything at once, just pick a couple of techniques that resonated with you and work on implementing those and making them habit.

      It may get take a few tries to find what techniques work for you best as we all learn differently, hence the beauty of having lots of tools! Best of luck and let me know how you’re getting on 🙂

  • Amy

    Great post! I was in Colorguard in High School and always struggled with remembering the choreography. You have some awesome tips and tricks! 🙂


    • admin

      Thanks Amy. How exciting, I envy America for having things like colorguard and cheerleading! It looks so much fun. So glad you found it useful 🙂

  • Stefan Bradley

    I didn’t know that frequently practicing neuroplasticity can help you memorize your choreography more effectively. My wife is interested in auditioning for a play this month, but she is struggling to remember the choreography. I think that neuroplasticity, as well as getting help from an expert might help her with her memorization skills.

    • admin

      Glad you found the information useful Stefan. How did her audition go?

      Yes, definitely neuroplasticity can make a huge difference, obviously we have a base level of what the brain can do naturally but this can always be improved upon with neuroplasticity.

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