“Rock-Step, Triple-Step, Triple-Step”

Most people when starting to learn swing dance can remember a certain pattern they were taught in their introductory class, usually the “Rock-Step, Triple-Step, Triple-Step” pattern.Often there is this solid framework because an issue that John White writes about in his blog post Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition.

In the post he comments how many novice level dances will often look for hard and fast rules for swing dancing. However as many people learn quickly (especially follows) if you try to dance within only patterns, you are only getting a small subset of the dance known as the Lindy Hop.

Positives and Pitfalls of Patterns

Don’t get me wrong though, I am not saying that patterns are rubbish and should not be utilized in instruction or on the social dance floor. They are great at providing a simple model of dance where dancers can work on fundamental technique and isolate external variables that they would normally have to deal with and could crowd out their understanding of the issue.

However the important thing to convey is in fact that patterns are simple models that are not completely representative of the actual social dance floor. Groovy Movie actually lampoons the idea that you can completely learn swing dance through step patterns here at 3:00:

As a follow if all you try to do anticipate the patterns in class, if you dance with anyone outside of that class it can easily become a difficult dance as many new follows quickly learn. For leads if you just lead patterns you learned in a class, often one can technically be on time but still be completely ignoring the music.

The difficult thing for me as an instructor in beginner classes is still providing newer dancers patterns that provide them an isolated environment for them to get down steps to at least survive one social dance, yet still attempting to provide them with instruction technique and give them perspective of where to use these steps. It is a difficult compromise that I am always attempting to fine-tune each lesson.

The struggle for an dancer who moves on beyond the novice stage is often breaking free from this framework. I remember out in California one of my biggest struggles the first summer I was out there was not defaulting to the six-count footwork from open. I had to have several nights where I completely forbid it from my repertoire and forced myself to do other things.

I could ramble on about this topic for awhile, but I’m curious to hear the rest of your thoughts. But before that I will leave you with this quote.

“All fixed set patterns are incapable of adaptability or pliability. The truth is outside of all fixed patterns.” – Bruce Lee [1]


[1] Mainly known for his prowess in the Martial Arts world, it is actually a not as well known fact that Bruce Lee was an excellent dancer as well and won the Crown Colony Cha-Cha Championship in China at the age of 18.

One thought on “The Pitfall of Patterns

  1. Patterns! Woo! I really enjoyed reading your post. Thank you for your insight.

    In addition to being a lindy hopper, I practice a martial art called Hapkido. In studying Hapkido I found so many correlationg principles that expanded my ideas about lindy hop. One of the main principles was the role of patterns in learning the technique.

    When we begin to learn, we learn the fundamental shapes of things. We can see shapes, we can copy shapes. From letters, to geometry, to Hapkido to Lindy hop, shapes and identifying simple patterns are an important step.

    But as we learn more about language, geometry, Hapkido and Lindy Hop (indeed, just about anything) we learn what these shapes teach us! We learn what principles inform the tuck-turn, and as we become more comfortable in the patterns and understand HOW they work, we can begin to apply the techniques elsewhere.

    As teachers, we should understand and be able to articulate what techniques inform these beginner patterns. Group moves together that share complementary or supplementary groups of techniques. Emphasize certain technique by having students exaggerate the differences between a regular outside turn and the tuckturn, or a swing out and Lindy circle.

    From a teaching standpoint, USE shapes as the vehicle to learn technique. The students may not be able to consciously understand the techniques embedded in those coveted moves at first, but they connections are being made.

    I think that it would be a fruitful experiment to find a group of new dancers with the patience to learn from the other way around: from technique down into constructing patterns and discovering rhythm. It could certainly be done. However, we want to get our new dancers dancing right away, moving right away, building their confidence and induct them into the community as soon as possible. So if we understand how teaching MOVES does this, we can better serve them.

    I wrote a bit about this at my blog as well: http://artblog.sarahcarneycreative.com/start-with-shapes/

    Thanks again for sharing!

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