Can I learn a color guard routine in one week?
July 22, 2013 10:07 AM   Subscribe

Please help me learn a Color Guard routine in a week. I'm a complete novice who's horrible at following routines. Help!

I learn by doing... except when it comes to anything involving movement. I'm horrible at learning dance moves, and I've had one person of many (not exaggerating!) explain/show a dance to me in a way that I understood immediately.

I recently joined a local Color Guard to march in a parade in August. I had my first practice yesterday, and unfortunately I'm running into the same problem. I had a really hard time picking up the moves, and the director told me that although I'm not the only novice the other 3 had picked it up a lot faster than me and if he doesn't see a lot of improvement by next practice (Saturday) he may have to ask me to sit out this year. The other beginners started around the same time I did, so yeah, I just don't pick up on physical-movement-things easily.

I know I can't be the only one who has this issue - how the heck do you get around it? The only thing I can think of at the moment is to get a mirror to assist me. What else can I do to be able to learn/follow movement more easily? Feel free to tell me it's an issue I'm stuck with and I should probably sit out.
posted by Autumn to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Would your director let you videotape him doing the routine properly, and then you could use that as a basis for practicing? Along with the mirror, of course.

But that said, a week is an awfully short time to overcome a lifelong difficulty. You might want to sit this one out and make a point of doing more physical-movement based activities, as a way of building your skills. Zumba, or whatever it is the kids at the gyms are doing these days, seems like a low-stakes way to learn how to make your body do as you say.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:16 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, I just realized that he wants *improvement* in a week, and the actual parade isn't til August. I was thinking the parade was in one week.

If you practice constantly, and I do mean as much as is humanly possible, I'm sure you can improve enough in a week for him to notice; it's worth a try.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:17 AM on July 22, 2013

Do you have names for the moves? Can you do all the moves easily / are they ingrained in muscle memory? We always counted + said names of the moves as we learned them, and that helped me a lot.

Would anyone from your color guard be willing to help you outside of practice? In high school the usual thing was that an experienced person would take the person struggling aside and help them catch up. Did you ask your director for practice suggestions? I'm surprised that the director planned to teach newbies a routine in ~four practices.
posted by momus_window at 10:18 AM on July 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have never done color guard but I have done a lot of dance and marching routines. It really helps to have names for the moves and recite them as you practice. If the team doesn't have them, can you just make them up?
posted by radioamy at 10:20 AM on July 22, 2013

Best answer: The only thing I can think of at the moment is to get a mirror to assist me.

I'm no expert, but I think this is the absolute LAST thing you want to do.

I took some martial arts classes recently, and the thing I realized was that- while I had always fancied myself a bit of a polymath- I had no freaking idea how to properly "inhabit" my body. It was a totally new skill set, and my old ways of learning didn't help. To do the work properly I had to understand what my feet, knees, elbows, hands, back, etc were doing, all at once. If I had tried to learn this by watching myself in a mirror, I would have completely distracted myself from learning the actual movements because I would have been more focused on watching the mirror than on feeling my body move.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:22 AM on July 22, 2013

I would break down the routine into smaller movements (4-8 counts' worth) and turn them into drills for yourself , and practice like crazy. Asking an experienced person for help also is a really good idea. They might be able to explain in different, easier-to-understand terms where you are getting off-track.

If you're in the Chicago area, I did color guard, and although out-of-practice, am willing to work with you.
posted by Fig at 10:34 AM on July 22, 2013

I think the mirror is a good idea. I have one in my living room that I use when I do workout/yoga videos, and it really helps me make sure I'm doing the same thing as the person on the video. Try it, and if it ends up confusing you, drop it, but it's certainly worth a try.
posted by pompelmo at 10:35 AM on July 22, 2013

Seconding that a video and another person to practice with will probably help.

Can you write down the moves in some way? Counts in one column, names or descriptions or little diagrams in the other? Can you break the routine down into chunks and learn one at a time?

I have been the weakest link in more than one color guard, and I think you can improve in a week if you practice, though it might take a ton of work.
posted by clavicle at 10:48 AM on July 22, 2013

Can you write diagrams on your hands?
posted by jgirl at 10:52 AM on July 22, 2013

Everybody's brain and body hold things differently. I remember music, so when I'm learning a dance routine, my best memory is muttering the rhythm along with what I'm doing (thucka Boom click Click, Sssshhhhhclick Boom) but some people chant names of the moves along with the motions, and other people have names for whole sections that they call out to themselves in advance ("fish thing, to the right") Try to figure out what it is that makes the most sense to you and work on translating the whole routine into that language.

That one person who did a really exceptional job of helping you learn that one routine - what was different about the way they explained it?

What is it you're best at - nailing 16 beats of movement right, the transition from one set of movements to the next, or remembering what it is you're supposed to be doing? Depending on what you struggle with, you'd have a different practice.
(a) pick a few segments or short moves that get repeated a lot, and just drill those few-beat motions until they look GREAT and you can slam through that move whenever it comes by in the routine. Over time you'll keep adding more and more perfect phrases until the whole thing comes together.
(b) if your form is good but you're always a beat behind because you fumble and get started late, you can practice pairs of moves to make sure you've got the transition solid.
(c) if you can do all the moves no problem but can't remember what order they come in, your best bet is to watch a video of the routine or listen to the soundtrack repeatedly - you don't even need to be doing it, just following along and pretending you're doing it, until you know what comes next automatically.
posted by aimedwander at 11:06 AM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Everything listed above are great ideas, depending on how you learn the best, naming moves and writing them down in order and memorizing might also be helpful. Good luck from an old winterguard, drum corps, marching band person from the 80's.
posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen at 11:42 AM on July 22, 2013

Best answer: I was in colorguard in high school, and I went from total beginner to doing a two minute routine in a week -- at band camp, with hours of practice every day. It's normal for this to take time, and it's unreasonable for your director to expect dramatic improvement between the first and second session. It's also rather farfetched to get someone parade-ready in a month, especially if practice is only weekly. Don't give up, but don't beat yourself up if you don't pass muster next week; few people could.

Getting good at your routine requires attention to the following three areas:

- The moves themselves. If there are any that trip you up (like any tosses, if you're doing a routine with flags/rifles/sabres) or that just don't feel right to you, work on those separately for a while. If you know the move's name, see if you can find a video tutorial anywhere (here's a demonstration of a flag arm extension, for instance). If not, or if that doesn't work, ask your instructor or one of your teammates for help. Practice those over and over and over until they feel right.

- Remembering the routine. Repetition is the most reliable way to memorize something, and breaking it down into digestible chunks will help. Practice in sections of 16 to 32 counts; once you've got an individual section memorized, try attaching it to the next one. Practice to the music whenever possible, and try singing the name of each move (or a name you make up) along to the melody to reinforce the association. (This is how I still know the routine to my high school's fight song after eighteen years!)

- Getting the timing right. A lot of timing will be taken care of once you've got the individual moves down and memorized the routine. The last little bit, unfortunately, is hard to detect on your own. Seeing a videotape of yourself practicing with the team helps. Asking the instructor to keep an eye on you will help, too. Sometimes it's just one move that you're consistently late on, and they'll be able to pick up on that.

Break everything down into its most basic parts, and start putting them together when you feel comfortable with them, and be prepared to put in a good bit of practice before it starts coming together. (I'd plan on at least an hour every day this week.) Don't feel bad about asking for help, and don't lose heart if you fall short - a week is a ridiculously short amount of time to learn a routine, especially for a complete newbie.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:09 PM on July 22, 2013

Oh I wanted to add that once you know all the steps with names, it also helps to recite them out loud all the time and imagine doing the routine in your head, even when you can't physically practice. I used to run through dance routines in my head when listening to music in the car, or even just when walking along, etc.
posted by radioamy at 1:04 PM on July 22, 2013

I would first begin by asking the director for advice on how others have learned everything. If it seems appropriate I'd ask the director who would be some good people to ask. The director a) should have good advice and b) now knows you are serious in your intent to improve.

Otherwise, you will have to find people to help you on your own. You might go up to the other newbies and ask if they want to practice together. You may want to ask another member to demonstrate the routine as you film it. To yet another person ask for help with a technique. If anyone seems hesitant, don't push this person, but ask for suggestions for "a good person to ask."

I know you've said that you haven't had good luck with others explaining movements to you. The best advice I have (besides cloning that helpful person) is to a) choose the most promising person (someone who seems friendly, knowledgeable, and coordinated) and b) tell the explainer exactly what you need. Say things like "would you help me with this move?" "can you break that down more?" "okay... so I start here, but then where do I go?" "will you watch me do it from the beginning?" "is my arm moving correctly here?" "So I still don't understand what's happening with ___".
posted by oceano at 1:21 PM on July 22, 2013

Different people need different explanations to learn the same movements. Most people are terrible at explaining movement, so don't feel bad that you only understood one person's explanation for the dance moves.

I'm not sure what your specific issue is with learning these movements, I might have some more specific advice if you can elaborate on that. Can you do the movements, but forget the routine? Can you do the movements at all, are you able to do them at a slower speed? If you watch someone else do some simple movements (generally), are you able to copy them, or do you find that, for instance, they have one arm up and one down, and you think you are doing the same thing but both arms are down? Does it make a difference if the person is facing you, or if you are standing behind them?

What else can I do to be able to learn/follow movement more easily?

Learn and follow movement more often. Dance classes, martial arts classes, zumba, aerobics, anything where you will be up and moving around, ideally something where the instructor will correct you if you aren't following the movement. Practice playing "copy me" with friends and take turns. If your friends don't want to do that, borrow a 5 year old.

The other novices may have picked up the color guard routines more quickly simply due to having more practice at learning to follow routines.

For practicing this routine on your own, you need either a video or a good notation system to write down the exact routine -- a video is going to be easier to deal with. Film someone going through the exact routine you will be doing -- no fancier things that more advanced people might be doing at the same time. Ideally you'll have two videos shot from different angles. It would be best if you can have one video always showing the person from the back, and another video showing them from a fixed point. Be sure to show the whole body including the feet.

If you have trouble knowing how your body is positioned, a mirror might help. Two possible difficulties with mirrors: your right is your reflection's left. If you get your mirror image to do everything perfectly, you'll be doing everything backwards. Just something to be careful of if you are comparing the mirror image to a video. Secondly, don't get too dependent on the mirror. You might have to show the coach what you've picked up without having a mirror there to look into, even if there are usually mirrors.
posted by yohko at 2:11 PM on July 22, 2013

I find for myself, I get confused if I try to dive in with everyone else. I don't really know or understand what I'm doing, so I wind up just sort of flailing around. I need things like dance steps to be broken down , demonstrated and explained slowly and to practise the step slowly, over and over, until I understand it well enough to do it at regular speed. In a lot of movement disciplines, the teacher will break down the moves slow-ish once, then almost normal pace once, then expect you to be able to join at normal pace. Personally, I can't do that. Maybe you need a similar teaching style.
posted by windykites at 2:11 PM on July 22, 2013

Response by poster: I decided to voluntarily withdraw for this year - the pressure to improve by a long stretch within a week was getting to me too much. Maybe next year!
posted by Autumn at 10:05 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

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