Why yes, I did just say marinate and, no, I’m not talking about grilling meat. One of the dance instructors I work with introduced this concept to me and it makes so much sense. Basically, the idea is that your brain can only handle so much new information at once and that sometimes new concepts don’t immediately click. Rather than force yourself to continue working on a challenging move/concept for the full lesson and getting increasingly frustrated, you make sure you have clear information on how to do it, but then you let it go and move to something else. Your brain will start processing the new information on its own. Maybe you also try the move in your solo practice or watch videos of pros doing it to further help your brain and body soak in the concept of what you are attempting. One day your body will do it correctly, because you’ve let that concept marinate. Sometimes this marination only takes a week and other times it can take months.
I guess you could say this is similar to studying SAT vocab words before going to sleep and believing that during the night your brain will continue to make connections that will help you recall the definitions a little better the next day.
Every person processes new information at different speeds. Some things just click, and others you’ll try 100 times before getting it right. What I like about this concept of letting dance information marinate is that you stop before you get overly frustrated. With a different instructor I’ve had lessons where he just won’t let go, I MUST get that fallaway slip pivot perfect before I’m allowed to move on. And you know what happens? I don’t get it perfect during that lesson, so I’ve just spent a bunch of money on a lesson where all we did was a single step. As someone who can only afford 1-2 lessons a week, I don’t like when this happens. And beyond the money aspect, by the end of the lesson I am totally “in my head” beating myself up and doubting my ability. Oh, and I’m probably fighting back tears too.
Tears?? But, dancing is supposed to be fun!
Ok, so let’s replay that example using the concept of marination: Instructor is fixing something with my fallaway slip pivot in waltz. He explains what I need to fix and demonstrates multiple times how to do it correctly. I try repeatedly, but after 10 tries it becomes clear that this just isn’t clicking for my body today, but I do understand how it is supposed to work. Instructor says “you know what? Let’s let that marinate” and we move on to a different part of the routine. Whew! Didn’t that feel better? I’m still in a good mental space where I can learn (and enjoy!) the rest of the lesson.
But does it actually work? Yes! I’ve had multiple times in the past year where I’m in a lesson and my eyes get big as I realize that I finally nailed something that we had “let marinate” weeks ago.
Now I’m not saying that telling your instructor you’d like to move on and let the feedback marinate is a cop out to not push yourself. Most people taking dance lessons, and especially those competing have a drive to improve and want to be pushed. I’m just saying that there is a tipping point. Some days it may be more productive to only spend 15 minutes pushing super hard on something and then switch to working on another dance.
So beyond just taking a break from working on a particular move or concept, how do you set yourself up for successful marination? Here are a few things I have found helpful:
- Before you start a lesson, spend a few minutes talking through what you worked on last time. For example: “Today we are going to work on tango, with tango I need to remember to get more in my knees, stay further to the lead’s left side, and make sure I am pushing from my heels instead of the balls of my feet.”
- After a lesson make notes of what you covered. Even if you couldn’t make your body do what the instructor was asking, you can still write down notes about what is supposed to happen – “I need to stop turning my head, and instead make it more organic. In the foxtrot short wall my head will change between counts 3 and 4 but that needs to be triggered by my spine moving.”
- Video your instructor doing it correctly with counts and watch that back a few times before your next lesson. Or, if it’s a broader concept and not a specific move, ask your instructor to send videos of pros he thinks execute that concept well.