new skill

When dancers are learning a new skill, they are often overwhelmed, frustrated, and can experience a lot of self-doubts if they keep making mistakes. We understand as coaches that learning a new skill can take time, but our dancers often want fast results and will give up if they are not capable of doing a challenging new skill relatively quickly. So how can you boost your dancer’s confidence while they are trying to learn a new skill?

Before you can answer that, you have to think about WHAT the skill is and HOW you teach the new skill. Then you can use specific strategies based on skill type to allow the dancer to experience small levels of success along the way.

When Teaching a New Skill, Consider this:

  • Is it more effective to “break” it into parts in order to simplify it when teaching?


  • Is it more effective to keep it intact in order to facilitate the timing and flow of the total movement?
new skill

Well the short if it is, it depends on two characteristics of the skill being taught:


Skill Complexity

Complexity refers to the number of component parts in any one motor skill. So if there is only one part or one action, it’s a pretty simple motor skill. You can’t really break it up and do separate parts. Like a bench press, shooting pool, or even a backflip. In dance, it would be things like a battement, a hip hop stall, or a toe-touch.

A high complexity skill on the other hand is when there are 3 or more components like pole vaulting or serving a tennis ball. In dance, this would be turns in second, a balancé waltz in ballet, or a top rock in hip hop.

The more complex the skill, the more component parts, which means it takes more cognitive ability. But there are less complex skills that are still very difficult. To decide how complex a skill is ask yourself, “how many things does the dancer have to think about in order to execute this skill?” Granted, there feels like it’s always a million things, but generally, more complex skills with lots of parts take more mental energy. Take turns in second: you have to consider your working leg, your standing leg, your arms, your spot, your core, etc. There are a lot of pieces to put together from the passé to the plie to the relevé a le second and very high cognitive demands when you are first learning the skill.

Now a toe touch has really just the plie prep and the jump. You have to think of a few things like arm placement, pointed toes, and chest up, but the amount of information your brain has to process to execute it well is much less than turns in second.

Skill Organization

For part two, consider the relationship among the component parts of the skill, or how dependent they are on each other. Can you do one part and then stop, and then do the second part, stop, and then the third? Or does part 2 depend in some way on part 1?

Back to a toe-touch. Does part 2 depend on part 1? Yes, you can’t just do the jump part without the plie. Will the timing of the task be significantly altered by “breaking” the task into pieces? If so, there is a high organization of the skill.

For a top rock in hip hop, can you do the first few steps of footwork, stop, then do the other half? Sure. You can break it apart. If the parts of a skill can stand alone, like a top rock, there is low organization.

In the dance world, you can actually consider a whole routine a skill, and then it is always low organization. When learning a pom routine for example, you can do count 1, then count 2, 2and, 3 etc. and break apart each piece.

Back to the original question…

How do I build confidence when training a new skill?


  1. Identify the skill’s component parts
  2. Determine the information processing demands (is there a lot to think about?)
  3. Determine the extent of the interdependence of skill parts (can you break it apart?)
  4. Careful not to overanalyze!
 Low OrganizationHigh Organization  
Low Complexitydoesn’t matter, use any strategy belowWHOLE PRACTICE

If the skill requires Whole Practice:

  • Practice the entire skill as one unit.

If the skill requires Part Practice:

  • Practicing separate parts of a skill
    • Determine what components are independent and practice separately
    • Determine what parts are connected and depend on each other and practice as a unit
    • Once you have the parts down, join them together additively by “CHAINING” each new part to the preceding part
      • Teach PART A, Practice PART A,
      • Teach PART B, Practice A + B,
      • Teach PART C, Practice A + B + C, ETC.

If the skill requires Simplification:

  • Practice of a less difficult version of the whole skill
  • Reduce the difficulty of the skill by going slower
  • Reduce the difficulty by offering assistance or spotting
  • Provide auditory accompaniment (count out loud, yell “hit” on the accent of the move)
  • Reduce the difficulty by reducing complexity (fewer revolutions, lower leg)
  • Sequence skill progressions (singe turn, double turn, triple turn etc.)

Bottom Line:

If you are trying to teach your dancers a skill, stop and consider two things about the skill: can you divide it into parts, and are there a lot of things to think about as you’re learning it. From there, you can determine if you should use part practice, whole practice, or simplification.

Why does this matter?

If you choose the best way to teach the skill from this point of view your dancers are more likely to experience small “wins” and a sense of accomplishment along the way. They will be more confident with the new trick, and more likely to persist and keep trying. Most of what we do as dancers are highly complex and many skills are highly organized as well with lots of component parts. Rather than just drilling the skill, using the simplification strategies will allow your dancer to gain confidence in the less difficult version, completing it slower, or with a spot.  Provide your dancers with a small sense of accomplishment along the way as they learn and they will stick with it and keep gaining stronger and stronger skill sets.

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