The Learning Phase: The Step By Step Guide To Learning A New Movement

The best way to approach learning a new break dance move

Discover the 3 Stages To Learning Any Break Dance Movement

All great dancers know, that learning a new movement does not happen overnight. Especially when it comes to break dance movements. Yes, you can gain a basic understanding of a movement quite quickly, but to truly master it and be able to execute it without thinking takes time.
 
How much time depends on the way you approach both learning and training a movement.
 
In this guide, I will go over what I call the “learning phase” of mastering a move. You will discover the most efficient way to go about approaching a new movement to gain an understanding for all of the components that are involved.
 
This guide includes:
 
  • 2 Things To Know Before Learning A New Movement
  • Stage 1: “Step By Step”
  • Stage 2: “Nit Picky”
  • Stage 3: “Deliberate Practice”

2 Things To Know Before Learning A New Movement

Before jumping in to learn a new break dance movement, you have to understand that there are 2 things that have to be present while learning.
 
  1. You have to be physically ready to learn – meaning you are properly warmed up, well rested, and absent of any injuries that will hinder your movement
  2. You have to be mentally ready to learn – meaning you are focused on the task at hand, ready to be analytical about a movement, and have the determination to reach your end goal.
If you are physically ready but lack the mentality…
  • You may give up early because it is too challenging
  • You may not pick up on subtle details that make the move come to life
  • Worse, you may injure yourself because you were not focused
If you are mentally ready but lack the physicality…
  • You may not try the move enough times for your body to learn the movement
  • You may injure yourself because you did not properly warm up or are suffering from a previous injury
So, you and I can agree that you will not learn a move in the quickest, safest, and most efficient way unless you have both physical and mental readiness.

Stage 1: “Step By Step”

Alright, now that you are physically and mentally ready to learn a new movement, let’s take a look at the first stage.
 
In this stage, you will focus on just the steps of a movement. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many details because this will cause you to overthink and you will inevitably get frustrated with yourself because you are trying to process too much information at once.
 
You will not be executing the movement as precisely as the person you are learning from (don’t beat yourself up about this) but you will be introducing your body to how the movement feels.
 
This stage is important because once you see yourself somewhat doing the movement, it will motivate you to make the move look better and you will have a foundation to start from.
 
You have to start somewhere after all!
 
Again, don’t beat yourself up about not looking like the person who is teaching you. Stage 2 is where we will start to tweak your movement to look more and more like the actual movement.
 
Stage 1 is important but don’t spend too much time here. We don’t want you to practice so much that you start to build bad habits that you will inevitably have to unlearn.
 
I suggest trying the new move until you can do each step of the movement without thinking. For example, if you are learning a 6 step, then you should be able to do all 6 steps one after another without thinking about which step will come next.

Stage 2: “Nit Picky”

Now that you have the steps down, it’s time to put on your “nit picky” glasses and analyze every little detail you can about the execution of the move.
 
Questions you should be asking yourself…
  • Where is the weight distributed?
  • Where is the center balance point?
  • Where is the power or momentum coming from?
  • What is the upper half doing?
  • What are the arms doing?
  • What are the hips doing?
  • What are the legs doing?
 
These are just a few of the many questions you should ask yourself when analyzing a movement
 
Let’s again use the 6 step as an example…
 
Now let’s say that in the front position of your 6 Step (where you should be in a neutral position) you find yourself in a crab position/tabletop where your hands are flat and far behind you, your feet are flat and in front of you and your hips are sagging/your butt is dropping towards the ground
 
Without looking at any other step of the 6 step you should analyze a few things at this part of the movement when watching someone
 
At this point…
  • Your feet should be under your hips and on your toes with your knees pointing at 45-degree angles to create a neutral position
  • Only one hand (depending on the direction you are going) should be on the floor and should be relatively close behind you for an easier transition to your next arm
  • Your center is coming from your chest, hips and toes being in alignment
  • Your weight is distributed about 80% on both legs and 20% on the arm that is touching the ground
  • Your chest should be up and point forward
  • Your hand should have an “eagle grip” instead of being flat
As you can see, there are many small details that are at work for any step of a movement.
 
The more details you can pick up on, the better your movement will look
 
This will be a gradual process of tweaking and fixing your details but, the longer you spend on this stage, the clearer understanding you will have of the movement. As an added bonus, when you analyze a movement with such precision, you will notice later on that other movements share similar characteristics, which means you will already have a greater understanding of future moves you learn.
 
The key to this stage is slow focused practice. That way you can really think about all of the details you have gathered and find new details you might be missing.
 
Once you feel like you have finally figured out how the movement works and it looks good when you do it slowly, it’s time to enter the next stage.
 
[Bonus Tip: If you want to help your understanding of a movement and really know if you understand it, I suggest that you teach it to someone. By explaining and teaching the move, you will see if your details and understanding of the move work for someone who has never learned it. It will force you to figure out how you can explain it better and go into further detail when they are not executing it correctly. Don’t get mad at them if they aren’t executing the move correctly, but rather find the fault in your teaching and understanding.]

Stage 3: “Deliberate Repetitions”

Now that you can execute the movement slowly with perfect technique (well… something can always be improved upon) it’s time to practice the movement… a lot!
 
At this stage, you should start by slowly increasing the speed/tempo at which you execute the move. BUT!… and this is a huge but (I see you laughing), make sure you are practicing the move deliberately.
 
What do I mean by this?
 
Sometimes, when dancers start to practice a move faster, they start to throw away all of the hard work they did in Stage 2 and rush through a movement without executing it with the technique they just spent all of their time perfecting.
 
I know this won’t be you… right?
 
When you practice your move at a faster speed, I want you to deliberately make sure that you are focusing on the perfect technique you have acquired when performing the movement slowly. If your technique isn’t there, then don’t go any faster than the tempo you are currently at until you can execute the move perfectly.
 
“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect” – Vince Lombardi
 
Repetition is the name of the game at this stage, so make sure each repetition counts and you will save yourself from building bad habits (trust me, you don’t want to waste your time unlearning bad habits).
 
Once you get to the point where you can execute the movement at multiple speeds with perfect technique, without having to think about all of the details (in other words, it’s now muscle memory/2nd nature), then the movement has been ingrained into your mind and body.
 
Congrats! You have now completed the learning phase of a movement. At this point you can start the training phase where you practice utilizing the movement you just finished learning OR you can begin the learning phase all over again with a new movement.
 
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