As a young dancer, I struggled to pick up complex routines and choreography and keep my focus right until the end of class. My former teacher chuckles about how I was focussed for most of the class then she would lose me at some point during the centre. Concentrating through a whole class was something I had to work on. However, I'm sure I wasn't the only dance student like this.
So I loved this interview with Dr Srini Pillay on the importance of non-focus and 'positive constructive daydreaming'. Fascinating and quite encouraging for those of us susceptible to 'brain freeze' after prolonged periods of concentration! Some of the discussion strikes me as relevant particularly in relation to dance 'open' classes or classes which require a lot of choreographic focus.
Dr Srini Pillay outlines how periods of rest and non-focus (a sort of structured day-dream which is different from completely zoning out), help with and are essential for both focussing better and creativity. There is debate around how long we can attend and focus for. According to wikipedia it is thought that we can only concentrate in a very focussed manner for up to 20 mins at a time (and that this varies a lot from person to person), so a 60 - 90 min focused class may be a big ask.
So can we take this more into consideration when planning a class particularly with the younger dancer, can non-focused movement be built into a class to help build creativity and help focus? A very simple or 'free' stretch exercise or port de bras after barre might work, where the loading on remembering the choreography is not too high, or perhaps a basic floor routine with a mindfulness/rest component in it? You could mix up tricky routines with some basic or well-known ones for a bit of a 'break'. And of course many teachers consciously or unconsciously may be already doing this.
The interview also mentions the power of self-talk for shaping our brains, and interestingly we are more creative if we imagine ourselves being 'stereotypical' eccentric poets than a rigid librarian, demonstrating the power of imagery to influence. With regard to movement, it is mentioned that studies show we are more creative with flowing movement than with sharp, directed movement, so perhaps some mid-class free 'lyrical' dancing for younger students learning syllabus work is the way to go?
So don't forget the importance of role play as well as a bit of daydreaming here and there for your students to help encourage their creativity in guiding them towards the dancer they want to be.
In general, we're taught focus is always best, but our brains benefit most from a combination of focus and "intelligent unfocus", he says. Too much focus drains the brain of energy to the point where you no longer care about what you're doing and can make you blinkered.