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Dancers often perform pieces that linger in their brains and bodies long after they are danced on stage. For some dancers, the use of unique pieces of music, unusual technical elements, or an emotional connection to the movement has imprinted choreography in the dancer’s body and mind. In preparation for musicals done at the high school level, dancers are often asked to learn choreography to multiple songs within a short span of time and often have little dance training. This creates a unique position for the high school choreographer who will not only have to teach the actors the steps in the musical numbers but also explain, teach, and model the technique used to execute the steps, in turn, making the retention of choreography even more challenging. This research sought to aid choreographers and dance educators find more effective ways to help students retain choreography, especially when dancers are asked to learn several pieces at once to perform. The goal of this study was to explore whether certain teaching methods in a musical theatre rehearsal process could improve the retention of choreography, particularly amongst high school students with little formal dance training. The essential questions posed for this study ask: Q1 How can teachers or choreographers help build retention skills in their dancers? Q2 Why does the brain allow for some choreography to be remembered long after it was performed, and others forgotten minutes after it is taught? Q3 Does the brain imprint choreography stronger under certain circumstances? Each teaching session focused on musicality, the use of props, or traditional 8-count dance terminology. A memory test was performed after each teaching session to see if the participants correctly performed the sequence 72-hours later. Quantitative data showed that when students used props, they had a higher retention rate regardless of dance experience. The qualitative data produced three themes explaining their preference towards musicality, props, or dance terminology, how practice and repetition affect retention, and why the high school choreographer must adapt based on the abilities of the cast. The limitations of this study included the small sample size and having only twelve out of the nineteen participants perform all three memory tests. Future studies could be conducted on how repetition and practice affect retention and how challenging choreography may result in higher retention.


high school musical; memory; retention; props; musicality; high school choreographer