One of the hardest things I deal with when teaching newer dancers a.k.a newbies/novices is understanding their need for context-free and defined rules, yet not compromising my personal beliefs when it comes to dancing.
Probably the biggest philosophy I have when it comes to dance is to pay attention and respond to the music and your partner. Ignoring either is a cardinal sin in my book. You might as well be dancing with a broomstick to a metronome if you forget either of those things.
Yet, newbies on the other hand just want to be able for the most part to get through a dance and not fall over, maybe learn a few “cool” moves if they get past that. The subtleties I care so much as someone who has danced Lindy Hop for years, will fall on deaf ears due to the general lack of context and holistic view newer dancers have.
I’ve found through trial and error when I have tried to explicitly present this philosophy I have it is either is dismissed as “something for advanced dancers/too difficult” or rarely accepted but in a limited understanding.
My friend John White over at Black Belt Lindy wrote a post the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition which made me think a lot about how I learned and how I taught lessons. Lately, this has been rolling around in my head even more due to I have been learning about Expert Based systems in an Artificial Intelligence class. One of the difficulties of building them is extracting “expert knowledge” from the experts themselves.
Now, I don’t claim to be an expert myself under the Drefyus model. However it got me to think of the idea, “How effectively am I taking my acquired skills and knowledge of the field of swing dance and translating it to people who are new to it can benefit the most?”
So what I do is give newbies who take my lessons a decision tree, essentially a manual or a guideline of rules in which some require prerequisites and others have priorities to navigate a dance. For example a high priority rule for a lead would be not to send your follow into other dancers or walls.
However the compromise is I hide subtleties in the lesson that allow the newer dancers who choose to stay after the lesson and dance or practice on their own to discover through trial and error. Because without the context of why those subtle ideas or lessons are important, they will likely fall on deaf ears.
What I would like for anyone who is teaching newer dancers to glean from this blog post is the following : Unless if your explanation for something comes with a funny story or is safety related (a.k.a. engaging muscles to not let arms out and prevent rotator cuff injuries), cut it from your lesson.
The majority of the time the newer dancers will lack a context to understand why those ideas you are presenting are important to their dancing experience.