"It has long been believed, both in terms of theory and practice, that patterns of movement are best learned by observation. We wanted to clarify whether this is really the case," said Dr Bettina Blasing of Bielefeld University in Germany.
In the study there was a strict division made between learning by visually observing a dance sequence and learning by listening to a set of verbal instructions.
As many as 18 dance students from the Palucca University of Dance in Dresden participated in the experiment.
Each study participant learned two dance sequences one first by watching, one first by listening.
In the first part of the experiment, participants were shown a video in which a dance sequence (dance phrase) was demonstrated, but given no verbal explanation.
They were allowed to rewatch the video up to four times and practice the moves. Then, they had to perform the dance phrase, which was recorded on video.
After this, they listened to spoken instructions for the same dance sequence, which were repeated twice, and performed again to show how well they had learned it. This was also recorded.
In the second part of the experiment, the order was changed. The study participants learned another new dance phrase, but this time they first received spoken instructions.
They were allowed to hear these instructions up to five times and do a quick practice before performing.
Afterwards they were allowed to watch a dancer demonstrating the phrase on video. The video was only shown to the dancers twice before they were asked to perform the dance again.
Ten days after the experiment, the dance students were suddenly requested, without any prior warning, to perform both of the dance sequences they had learned.
"We wanted to know how well they could retain a pattern of dance movements over the long term," said Blasing.
This performance was also recorded on video. In their evaluation of the video recordings, the researchers checked how thoroughly the dancer performed each respective phrase.
The result showed when a dancer learned the set of movements first by sight, later, they were better able to reproduce the dance phrase than if they had initially been taught the dance by listening to spoken instructions.
"Thus, learning by visual observation actually works better than learning by mere spoken instruction," said Blasing.

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