Category Archives: teaching

On Pain

A friend of mine had hosted a dancer (I want to put in some adjectives; well-respected, talented, skilled, admired, etc to let you all know that this isn’t just any dancing Joe off the street. This is someone to listen to and to give weight and credence to my story.), and got into talking about philosophy and dance as intermediate and advanced dancers so commonly do. Eventually the topic swung around to injuries and pain. The hosted dancer had been dealing with a fairly serious injury that had taken him out of dancing for a while, and was limiting how he could dance now. They commiserated about how hard it is to learn to do an already learned skill while working around a new limitation. At the end of it, they agreed that pain and injury should be addressed in classes and workshops.

After telling me about the conversation my friend suggested that with my background I would be suited to teaching such classes and leading such discussions. While I think that pain is an important thing, I think it is important enough that it shouldn’t be handled by a huge class. With my training I have at least 7 different types of pain in my mind. Each has it’s own implications and an achy pain is very different than a burning pain. Ways to work around and compensate for pain is just as complicated. Some exercises are the same no matter which way your problem goes. Do your knees tend to fall outside of your foot? One legged squats making sure your knee-cap is centered over your second toe. Knees tend to fall to the inside of your foot? One legged squats making sure your knee-cap is centered over your second toe. This is so common and so important that I tend to teach it to every class who I have the privilege of speaking to. Most exercises or corrections however, are going to be very different from person to person. I am not going to encourage someone who over-tucks their pelvis to do the same visualizations as someone who is sway-backed.

What I do think would help is an emphasis in classes of doing things that work for you. Many classes focus on doing things just like the instructors (not necessarily the fault of the instructor since the way they know how to dance is their way) and this means that people do things that are awkward and uncomfortable. Learning to recognize the difference between this isn’t working for me because I don’t quite get it yet and this isn’t working for me because my body doesn’t/shouldn’t/can’t do it is very important, and should be encouraged. One of the more brilliant things that I heard was talking about styling, but could be easily applied to protecting your body

Do more of the things you like. Do less of the things you don’t like. Don’t do things you don’t like at all if you can avoid it. You only need three consistent things to build up a style. — Paraphrase (mangling) of Bobby White

Basically you should do things that you know you can handle, and avoid things that actually cause you pain. Hardest of all is respect your own tolerance. I know I want to dance all night, but at this point, my knee would not handle it. I need to respect that because I want to keep dancing for a long time.

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Filed under blues dance, community, learning, socialization, teaching

breaking a move

Since I have been focusing on my skills as a lead lately I have been thinking about taking solo movements and how to partner them. Lots of things that I do are pretty explicitly leadable. I could probably get someone who is following well, but who had never seen the move to do it with me, just by managing our centers well. However, I like to think about what would happen if I didn’t lead it correctly. What happens if we do it “wrong”? Yesterday, waiting for the train I think I found my favorite new move to try out by exaggerating a wrong way of doing something.

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Filed under blues dance, leading, learning, teaching

As a person who is sometimes teaching

The best thing to me is to have people thirsty for knowledge that I can share. At my home scene, I’ve helped the pre-dance lesson often by being a demo partner. This past weekend I did that, then had several people find me later and ask for tid-bits of clarification. I probably spent a good five dances in the hall way talking about things. The next day I traveled a few hours away and taught a class of my own. The way I had structured it, the first part didn’t seem very much like dancing at all. Then there was a moment where suddenly everyone, even the first time beginners, was legitimately dancing with someone else.

These are the moments that are addictive. The sudden understanding. The shift from not dancing to dancing, from lack of knowledge to knowledge. I seek out these moments all over the place. I recently spent a portion of a night teaching someone how to find knots and was rewarded with the look on his face when he first felt one release.

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Filed under blues dance, following, leading, learning, teaching

sequences

One of the things that I love about capoeira is that it was one of the first places that my brain would realize potentialities. I would be watching others in the roda and notice that the thing they were doing right then could very easily turn transition into a different move. I think part of this is because a huge amount of time is spent in capeoira training taking the basic few kicks and dodges and stringing them together in drill after drill. I got used to the feeling of using momentum and redirecting. I got used to selecting one movement as appropriate to what my partner was doing and having that suggest to my body the next place to go.

Shortly after I had this break through in capoeira I started to lead in blues. Very quickly the same sort of discovery was apparent to my mind. I would get to a movement, and as my follower was finishing it, I saw possibilities arise. Their position, or momentum or even some movement flair would suggest sometimes one and sometimes a dozen things to do next.

I have attended hundreds of beginner lessons for blues dance. I think that in blues dancing giving beginners a sequence to try out is out of favor, if it was ever in. I’ve had discussions and the feeling toward connection and improvisation is always brought up as why we shouldn’t teach sequences. However, in light of how capoeira drills sequences and then expects you to break them, I think improvisation can be learned from there. Someone else once compared teaching sequences to creating sand art. You follow the direction of someone else until you get it. Then you erase it and use the same rules to make your own.

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Filed under blues dance, following, leading, learning, teaching

More Material

When I worked for Mad Science there was always like 6 ten to twenty minute activities. We had the kids for an hour. Include the time that I had to spend talking about the concept and explaining how to do the actives, that is way way more than needed. My trainer explained that he wanted to make certain that no matter what the class, there was some activity that everyone could enjoy. It was my job as a teacher and part of classroom management to chose activities on the fly that would fit the group.

Planning for a dance class I’ve adopted this method. In my planning stages, there’s a dozen things that I think should be said for each of the handful of exercises or movements I choose to cover. I never get to to do all of the movements, and not all of the things that could be said should be said to the group that is in front of me. At that moment in my life I was learning so much about learning and teaching both on the job and in classrooms. I’ve carried that forward, and I feel lucky that I’ve had these opportunities.

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Social, Partner, Dancing

I made a point to break down to the people that I taught this past weekend that blues is a social partner dance, and that I thought that each of those was it’s own complete concept.

Social – we go out to where there are other people. We mingle and make friends. Our classes have us rotate so we get to know how to dance with many others and so we get to know the  others we might dance with later.

Partner – I like to think that most of the leading and following technique falls here. This is where we find connection, and follower’s physics, and the tacit agreements. A lot of classes give this the lightest of service, and I want to make sure that I always have some part of my classes address this.

Dancing – this is probably the part that is the hardest to teach. It shares a lot of techniques with partnering, but unless there is an intention to dance to music, I don’t think people are learning dance, but instead learning movement.

I think that all of these elements need to be balance. The pull between partnering and dancing is sometimes the hardest to get right, and the sweetest to hit when you make it.

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Filed under art, blues dance, community, following, leading, learning, music, socialization, teaching

Packets of skills

Some people talk about leading and following as a skill. I think this becomes overly simplistic. Of course, as Cheryl at The Enthusiastic Life points out, and I have also been taught at school any skill can be broken down into components, skills that may need to be practiced separately of the whole. As an example, I often think about something “as simple as” walking to be three or four isolatable skills. If I can teach them all at once to someone, great! If not, it’s perfectly fine to concentrate on one thing, go back to the whole, and hold the others for a later time. Physical therapy is structured this way all the time. I think that in some ways so are dance classes. Some people don’t get pulse the first time, but we still let them try and move to the music.

This means when people argue against learning to both lead and follow because “OMG so many learnz to have two different skillz” 1 I am more than a little confused. We are already tossing huge packets of skills at beginners. We don’t expect them to get any of it perfectly the first few months. Why would another packet, with over lapping skills be such an impossible challenge if the first isn’t?

I both lead and follow fairly consistently. I used to occasionally play lead when there was a (incredibly rare) night that was follow heavy. It was hard, and not something I did with any consistency because I was decent as a follow. To follow I didn’t have to work or think nearly as hard. It took a rib injury for me to start leading regularly. Learning to dance is hard. Learning to lead is hard. Learning to follow is hard. How many people choose to do a difficult thing when they can do the fun and easier thing? It makes sense to me to let people spend the first few awkward months when they are still trying to figure out how to move their bodies also grapple with the skill sets of leading and following.

1 This is me being ridiculous. Don’t take it personally.

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Filed under blues dance, following, leading, learning, teaching