I've gotten a lot of questions about how to pick up choreography quickly in an audition, and feel that I need to address the issue. I've been avoiding it because, all truths be told, I am HORRIBLE at picking up choreography quickly. Teachers and choreographers are always yelling at me, saying it is such a shame that I have such great technique but am so slow at picking up choreography. It is my *hope* that I will be able to interview some teachers, choreographers, and dancers who are AWESOME at picking up choreography and share their advice with you. Until then, I thought I would share some tips that have helped me on my long climb towards being a quick choreography picker-up-er.
The first thing is, I think it is important that you know how YOU learn. Every person is completely different. Most of the dancers I observe learn by doing the choreography full-out with the teacher, as the teacher is doing it. It then gets locked into their muscles memory, and they are able do the choreography brilliantly the first time with the music. If this is how your brain works, that is amazing and you are a very lucky duck. My advice would be get up close where you can see the teacher/choreographer, and mimic what they do as they do it, get it ingrained in your muscles memory, and be fierce.
This is NOT how my brain works. My brain seems to work two different ways - depending on the choreography.
The first way my brain works, is to SEE the choreography so I know what it looks like, and then try and make my body do it. This means, I do NOT do the choreography with the teacher the first time through. It means I stand to the side and watch, almost like an audience member. After I see what the final product looks like, I can process the steps in my brain, and tell my body to do them. I will then "mark" the choreography (not do it full out), and then each time we go over it, commit to the steps more and more until I reach the final product. This is the *best* way for *me* to learn. I have also discovered that choreographers HATE this. I have been told I look "dead" while the choreographer is teaching, and accused of not paying attention, not caring, and daydreaming. So if you do this, make sure you look alive, alert, and enthusiastic whilst doing so.
The second way my brain works is by creating stories. I name the different sections in my head and give it motivation and create and abstract thought pattern for the choreography. There can be the "slow section," "drunk section," "skippy section," "section where I seduce person X," "section where I reject person X," "section where I change my mind and tease person X." (So in my head I might think, I'm tired, so I take a drink, then I get hyper, oh hot guy!, oh come hither hot guy, oh never mind you actually aren't that cool, or maybe you are.") Since my memory is really good with WORDS and STORIES, it helps if I give WORDS and STORIES to the dance steps.
I took a master class with Ann Reinking, who told the everyone to figure out which part of choreography we were WEAKEST on. Then, during our breaks, while we were waiting for our number to be called, etc..., just go over that specific bit of choreography in our heads. I have found that is incredible helpful if there truly is one spot where you are constantly getting tripped up.
I have also found concentrating solely on my feet is helpful. For some reason, I have a really hard time "walking" in choreography. Give me triple pirouettes into a layout, let me kick my face, but don't ask me to walk! So really giving each steps a lot of attention and weight helps a lot. Knowing there are 4 steps instead of 3, and you start on your right and end on your left, is remarkably helpful. So - think about your feet! They are important. Your arms will follow.
A lot of choreographers are also really impressed if you pay attention to where you "focus" is - or which way your head is facing/your eyes are looking. It's a minor detail that may not help you learn the choreography per se, but will impress the choreographer!
Another option, which I take advantage of as often as possible, it to learn the choreography ahead of time. Several shows such as A CHORUS LINE, have set choreography and a set audition that will pretty much be the same wherever it is presented. Broadway shows usually have set audition choreography as well. If I know someone who knows the choreography to a show, I will often write them a very nice e-mail asking if they would be willing to teach me the choreography if I rent a studio and offer to pay them. Playbill.com often advertises (in their "job listings" section) special workshops where representatives from a show will teach the choreography and work with dancers on perfecting it. A company that offers several good choreography learning workshops is "Stage Door Connections." Keep checking their website for workshops and dance classes being offered. I took a "Wicked" audition class there and found it tremendously helpful.
Other than that, the best advice I can give is to take class, and lots of it! And switch up the classes you take. I find I will often get into ruts where I take the same class every day, so I recognize and am comfortable with that specific teacher's choreography. When I take a new class or go to an audition with a different choreographer, I feel completely lost. So, it is important to take a wide variety of classes and styles to always keeps yourself on your toes! The more styles, steps, and choreography you already know, the easier it will be to pick up choreography in and audition.