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What Dancers and Dance Teachers Need to Know about Motor Development, Motor Control, and Motor Learning: Part III

Posted By Donna Krasnow, PhD, and Virginia Wilmerding, PhD, Monday, September 14, 2015

This is the third of three posts looking at the field of motor behavior and its impact on dance training. This post will deal with motor learning, which looks at the changes in motor skills caused by experience and practice, rather than development as described in a previous post. These changes can only be observed by changes in performance and are relatively permanent. This area of motor behavior is probably the most useful for dancers and teachers.


How dancers learn is strongly affected by instructional strategies and learning styles. The three main categories of instructional strategies are demonstration, verbal instructions/cueing, and feedback. Demonstration is very important to dancers, especially beginners, because we are so visual in our learning. What learners perceive when they watch the teacher or another dancer demonstrating is related directly to the coordination pattern of the skill. With verbal instructions, the important message is that dancers should not be overloaded with information when they are learning a new skill or combination. Instructions should be also be age-appropriate. Imagery can be highly useful in keeping instructions concise, stimulating, and suitable for the age group. Finally, feedback that expresses how the movement was done (knowledge of performance), rather than simply giving information about what occurred (knowledge of results), is far more useful.


The importance of motivation in dance training cannot be over-emphasized. Dancers need feedback that tells them what they need to improve, but the tone and message should always remain positive. Criticism does not imply negativity, and can be balanced with praise and support. It is important to set clear and reasonable goals for dancers, which sustains a motivational climate.


All dancers and teachers know that learning demands considerable practice. The issue is how to keep this interesting and progressive. Variability in practice is a key factor. While repetition is essential, variations can help with both developing the larger general motor plans as well as assisting in motivation. A movement or skill should only be repeated in the same way over and over when that particular form of the movement is going to be needed in choreography. Two other factors to consider are using random practice, that is, practicing a variety of skills alternately, and rest. Rest is crucial for muscle recovery as well as consolidating memory.


Dancers and teachers use several strategies to make learning easier. Segmentation means to practice sections of a phrase, before putting them altogether. Simplification involves doing a less complex version of a skill, such as a passé balance, before doing the complex version, such as a double pirouette in passé. Fractionization is for multi-limbed movements, and means practicing just the arms or just the legs before doing all the limbs at once.


Two other tools that dancers can use to assist in learning are mental practice and improvisation. Mental practice combined with physical practice can enhance learning, and even by itself, such as during times of injury, can help maintain skills. Improvisation allows dancers to explore movement concepts and focus their attention on fundamental ideas without worrying about choreographic detail.


With a firm understanding of motor development, motor control, and motor learning, dancers and teachers can make the most of the dance training environment.


Donna Krasnow, PhD, and Virginia Wilmerding, PhD, are IADMS members and co-authors of the newly released Human Kinetics text Motor Learning and Control for Dance: Principles and Practices for Performers and Teachers.

Tags:  dancers  motor control  motor learning  teachers 

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What Dancers and Dance Teachers Need to Know about Motor Development, Motor Control, and Motor Learning: Part II

Posted By Donna Krasnow, PhD, and Virginia Wilmerding, PhD, Monday, September 14, 2015

This is the second of three posts looking at the field of motor behavior and its impact on dance training. This post will deal with motor control. Motor control is the study of the nervous system, that is, the brain and all of the nerve cells communicating with the body, and how this system organizes and guides the muscles to create coordinate movement. It also explains how the senses such as vision and hearing, as well as information from the environment, are used to accomplish movement. The study of motor control can yield valuable tools for the dancer and the teacher.


Sometimes teachers suggest that dancers try to contract individual muscles consciously to create dance movement. However, once teachers and dancers understand how the brain functions to create movement patterns with multiple muscles, and the nonconscious processes that are ongoing, they will realize that what they are attempting to do is inefficient. They will be more effective using language that describes whole tasks.


One important aspect of motor control is attention, which simply put is concentrated mental activity. Today people think that it is possible to multi-task, but in truth, when two or more tasks demand the same type of attention, the brain must switch back and forth.  It cannot do the two activities at the same time.  This is why we can drive and listen to music, but we cannot drive and text safely at the same time, because both demand visual attention. If dancers are distracted in their attention in class or rehearsal, they will not be able to dance their best. Finally, levels of sleep and anxiety can greatly affect attention.


Motor control is a balance between movement that is primarily centrally controlled, and movement that is primarily responding to environmental factors. The simplest example of this balance is to consider an outdoors walk.  Walking is determined by what is called a central pattern generator (CPG).  CPGs are groups of nerve cells that can create rhythmic patterns, like walking, which can continue without sensory feedback once initiated. However, if the environment changes, such as approaching a stairway, the brain can respond to this feedback and alter the movement pattern. It may be possible that CPGs can be developed through dance training, such as continuous jumps in first position.


Another type of centrally controlled movement patterns is called a generalized motor program (GMP). By practicing variations of a given task, dancers can develop GMPs for movement categories. For example, dancers usually learn sissonne en avant first, and then learn versions to the back and to the side. They also learn finishing both open and closed, and many arm variations. This variety helps the dancer develop a GMP for sissonne, so that any new variation can be learned easily.


Dancers can also change movement while in progress if the movement is sufficiently slow. Otherwise dancers must wait for the next attempt to use environmental feedback, such as a correction from the teacher. Teachers and dancers also need to understand that as speed increases, accuracy diminishes. When teaching fast movements, it is best to work for accuracy first. However, the movement must not be slowed down so much that it becomes a different GMP. Walking is not simply a slow version of running!


Donna Krasnow, PhD, and Virginia Wilmerding, PhD, are IADMS members and co-authors of the newly released Human Kinetics text Motor Learning and Control for Dance: Principles and Practices for Performers and Teachers.

Tags:  dancers  motor control  motor learning  teachers 

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What Dancers and Dance Teachers Need to Know about Motor Development, Motor Control, and Motor Learning: Part I

Posted By Donna Krasnow, PhD, and Virginia Wilmerding, PhD, Monday, September 14, 2015

Dance training is at the heart of the art form of dance. All dancers can recall the teachers who had tremendous influence on their growth as young dancers and artists. The science known as motor behavior is having a stronger voice in helping teachers and dancers develop to the top level of their skills and artistry. Motor behavior is an umbrella term that represents three areas: motor development, motor control, and motor learning.  This is the first of three posts that will describe these areas of motor behavior, and explain how teachers and dancers can benefit from this knowledge. This post will cover motor development.


Motor development is the study of ongoing changes to movement abilities that are common to all people, and it looks at these changes through all the stages of life. These changes are both progressive, meaning that one skill builds on the next, and irreversible in a healthy population, so that once a stage of development is reached, it does not disappear.


It is important for teachers to understand the age-appropriate material for various groups of dancers, and establish their expectations accordingly. For example, balance has three components – the visual system, the vestibular system in the inner ear, and proprioception. These systems are all present in the young child of 3 or 4 years old, but they are not integrated until after age 7, and not fully developed until the late teens. This is why children can take the head off vertical, and they can turn while traveling across the floor, but they cannot do both at the same time until they reach a certain age, regardless of years of dancing. Postural control and balance are the foundations for success in almost all movement in dance, and it is essential to focus on these aspects of training in the early years.


Locomotor skills follow a particular developmental pattern: walking, running, jumping, galloping, hopping, and skipping. These skills must be presented in order, and at the right age. These are the general age milestones at which locomotor skills can be seen:

·         Walking at 10-15 months

·         Running with high level coordination at 2 years

·         Various forms of jumping at 2-3 years

·         Galloping between ages 2-3 years old, after having been able to run for 6 months

·         Hopping starting at about 3-1/2 years old, and continuing to develop past age 5

·         Skipping is the last to develop and occurs between ages 4-7 years old


It is also important to realize that the full coordination of use of arms, particularly in dance-specific patterns, can take even longer to develop. And as all teachers know, refinements such as straight legs and pointed feet in jumps can take years of practice. Finally, ballistic skills are some of the most difficult to develop, and include grand battement and leaps, which demand a sophisticated motor pattern, not just the strength to do those actions. Teachers’ effectiveness and dancers’ skills can be enhanced through a sound knowledge of motor development.


 

Donna Krasnow, PhD, and Virginia Wilmerding, PhD, are IADMS members and co-authors of the newly released Human Kinetics text Motor Learning and Control for Dance: Principles and Practices for Performers and Teachers.

Tags:  dancers  motor control  motor learning  teachers 

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