Dancing in my head

I have always been a fan of dancing in my head. I was always encouraged to use imagery to help me to get the feel of a step or movement. And I find it helps me to clarify movements, steps or dances. In many ways it feels as if I am dancing it for real. And because it feels like this I can mark things through or do a full-blown performance in my head. What I find interesting about this is that studies in performance psychology show that  there is real value in mentally rehearsing as well as physically rehearsing. So when I feel as if I am dancing in my head it is because this process has a physical response too.

I might be dancing in my head but the muscles that I use to perform the movements fire up in a similar way when I am dancing for real. Professional athletes and sports people use this type of mental rehearsal a lot. Professional footballers, such as, will mentally rehearse taking a penalty and when they do this it is as if they are actually taking the penalty. They will go through the process in their head seeing and feeling it all as if they were on the pitch taking a real penalty. The connection between mental and physical rehearsal and performance is a valuable tool to have and to use.

Sports psychologist, Professor David Collins calls this type of imagery, mental simulation of movement or MSM. Practising MSM is just like practising dancing, we can improve our skills so that we get better at doing it. Getting better at it also means that it is more valuable as a tool to help us reinforce learning and improve what we do.

When I am dancing in my head I imagine that I am dancing the step or movement exactly as I would physically perform it. The images in my head are very vivid and I really feel as if I am doing the step. I can feel the effort as if I am physically doing it and I can hear the music in my head too. I use this type of mental rehearsal in lots of ways such as to help me learn new movements or choreography. And also to re-visit work I already know to clarify things or explore different ways of doing a movement. I can feel the differences even though I am dancing in my head. I find that dancing in my head is a great way to help me to remember combinations or amalgamations – the benefits of repetition without fatigue. Somehow dancing in my head enables me to sort out aspects of co-ordination, footwork and so on. With practise, mental rehearsal can help to improve performance. And it can help with confidence too – being clearer in what you are doing is a great confidence booster. I should just say of course that mental rehearsal is something to do in conjunction with physical rehearsal – it is not instead of doing physical preparation.

You can dance in your head anywhere

Dancing in your head anywhere

One of the huge benefits of dancing in my head is that I can do it wherever.

I don’t need a dance studio or dance space. I don’t need to wear rehearsal gear. I can take my mental dance space with me in my head to use when I want to. A word of caution though, mental rehearsal is something to avoid when your attention should be elsewhere such as when driving. It is brilliant when travelling by other means such as by train. You can sit and lose yourself in your dance that is happening in your head.

Exploring imagery

The following activity is one way to begin exploring imagery relating to dance and mental rehearsal.

  • Sit comfortably and relaxed, breathe slowly and close your eyes when you are ready.
  • Try to picture in your mind the studio or place where you usually dance.
  • Try to see everything and everyone in the studio.
  • Try to hear the music that you often dance to.
  • Try to feel your feet in your dance shoes.
  • Explore these images in your mind, seeing them, hearing them, feeling them until your focus begins to go.
  • Focus on your breathing for a moment and then open your eyes.
Reflect on what you have just done. Was it easy to see the studio or dance space? Could you see everything clearly? How did the music sound? did your dance shoes feel comfortable – did they feel the same as when you wear them?

Try doing this activity several times over a week or two and reflect on any changes such as does it get easier to see, hear or feel what you are focusing on? Do you find that you are in the studio environment mentally quicker than when you first tried this activity? With practise you should feel it easier to get into your mental studio environment.

Try dancing in your head

Pick a step or movement to mentally dance that you are familiar with. And if it is easier you can begin as the previous activity, sitting comfortably, focus on your breathing and then close your eyes.
  • dance the step mentally in your head repeating it if you need to.
  • can you feel your muscles firing up as you dance the step?
  • can you feel the movement or step patterns?
  • can you see them?
  • can you see the studio or dance space where you usually dance this step?
  • can you see your spotting points or focus points on the walls that you usually use?
  • are you mentally dancing in real time and rhythm?
  • can you hear the music and the sounds that you usually hear when you are dancing?

Dancing in your head  Reflect on how this felt. Were you aware of some of the things mentioned above? Were some things easier to experience than others? Did anything surprise you when you were dancing in your head?

Learning a new step

I find dancing in my head is also a valuable tool to use when I am learning a new step or movement. I can slow it down in my mental rehearsal just as I would if I was dancing it for real so that I can pay attention to the details of the movement and how I need to move. I can mentally practise the rhythm slowed down to a manageable tempo and then speed it up when I feel ready to dance it in my head at the right tempo. I find that sorting it out in my head like this reduces the time it takes to learn new skills. I still like to use physical repetition but in combination with dancing in my head.

You might want to give dancing in your head a try next time you are learning a new movement or step. and if you do I hope that it is a valuable tool for you too.

Teaching tips

You may want to introduce dancing in your head to your students and dancers by encouraging them to try the activities above. And then follow this up with some discussion time at the end of a class or session to explore progress and to find out how they are getting on with dancing in their head.