When you can't remember the choreo. (Julie Kent in Lilac Gardens, photo by Rosalie O'Connor)

Whether you're polishing choreography for your upcoming student showcase, or boosting your stamina for your summer intensive (or both!), these tips for better memory will come in handy!

  1. Better learning through oil. Yep, rosemary oil contains a compound that helps with memory formation.
  2. Understand that the first few weeks will be a struggle. Common sense tells us that it takes time to master something, and studies have shown that brain activity spikes during the first few weeks of learning new choreography. It stabilizes after a few weeks, once you've "mastered" the new information.
  3. Power naps are your friend. If you have the chance to snooze or zone out in front of Netflix, choose the former. German researchers found that people were better able to retain information after a nap than after a binge session.
  4. Coffee, coffee, coffee! (In moderation.) It can boost your short-term memory. Yay!

 

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Two of my colleagues don't take responsibility for remembering choreography. It wastes everyone's time, and I end up reteaching them during breaks. How can I confront them? —Michaela

Not everyone is a quick study, so first take a moment to assess why your colleagues aren't picking up choreography. Are they chattering incessantly, spacing out, watching the clock? Or are they earnestly paying attention? If they truly seem to learn at a slower pace, take a more compassionate approach. Suggest that they keep a notebook to write things down after rehearsal—this will allow them to recall steps more easily and to study on their own time. You can also offer to help them for a few minutes at the end of the day. Or, you can recommend that they ask the ballet master for a copy of the video—again, so that they can study on their own.

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Julia Rowe and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira in Giselle.

San Francisco Ballet corps member Julia Rowe's first run-through of Mark Morris' intensely complicated ballet Maelstrom did not go the way she'd planned. “I went to do my first entrance and blanked—completely," she says. “I'd already had a full day of learning other ballets and my brain was fried, but there was no time to stop, so the music just kept playing. It took me an eternity to get my bearings and remember at least some of the steps, let alone the timing."

Memorizing choreography—and retaining the steps and counts—is a skill as important as pirouettes or allegro, and nearly every dancer struggles with it at some point. New company members may have it especially hard, though, when the sudden challenge of learning a large amount of repertoire in a very short time can overload an already fatigued brain and body. Gaining mental stamina takes time and practice, but there are plenty of strategies to improve your brain's power, speed and focus.

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Do you have difficulty remembering choreography? Try spraying on some rosemary oil before rehearsal. A recent study at the University of Northumbria at Newcastle in the UK found that smelling the scent of rosemary could help boost your memory. Researchers think this might be due to eucalyptol, a compound found in rosemary oil that evaporates into the air and can be absorbed as you breathe, and has been shown to play a part in memory formation when it reaches the brain. One little spritz of rosemary won't magically transform you into a quick study, but it could help get you one step closer.

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