Thoughts on swing dancing and Lindy Hop, one word at a time…

Teaching Tool: Failure to Provide Insight

The number one request (besides aerials) that most swing dance instructors get from newer to intermediate dancers are flashy moves, flashy moves, and… flashy moves.

I’ll admit for awhile as a swing dance instructor I would teach nothing besides reinforcing technique in aboslute basic moves. While that had the advantage of drilling in solid fundamentals, it had the disadvantage of boring most of my class to death.

For the classes I taught that weren’t the first time dancer crash courses, I changed my methods of how I taught. I would choose moves that while they looked impressive/flashy, would be demanding of a certain technique point I wanted to drill in. Particularly on the point that they would fail spetacularly if people did something such as trying to run around their partner or if a lead tried to muscle a follow around.

This quote from Bug’s Question of the Day by Byron Alley hits the nail right on the head about how I feel about this topic as well,

But even then, it’s important not to imagine that people need to master their basics before attempting more advanced moves. Often it’s the opposite: people need to attempt, and quite possibly fail at, dancing at a higher level in order to appreciate the value of fundamentals. Show them moves that simply FAIL if the technique is not there. Failure is a necessary part of learning, especially a vernacular dance like Lindy Hop. It gives dancers a better understanding of the frontiers of the dance.

(Caveat: there’s a difference between encouraging failure and getting people hurt.)

I will admit though this method of teaching isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. I have recieved criticism in the past that teaching in this way creates an intimidating and discourging envionrment for students. Personally I beg to differ and think that doing this establishes a sense of humility in dancers and fosters a respect for technique because the students gain an context to understand why it is important.

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2 responses

  1. Good to note! Moves as a vehicle for teaching technique’s a good way to go about it in my experience. “Hey, isn’t this move super awesome? Here’s how to make it work right.” Essentially using shapes to teach concepts.

    I sort of agree with Byron in that we don’t need to master fundamentals to keep moving forward, and that failing is a good learning experience, but that’s not at all why I choose to teach flashy fun moves.

    I teach them because they’re FUN! All this serious talk about Lindy Hop sometimes forgets that most students aren’t training to be serious competitors or get masters’ degress in Lindy Hop – they’re out there to have FUN and be crazy/silly. I think that spirit needs to be in everything too.

    December 26, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    • Hey thanks for the comment!

      The interesting thing I find is your last paragraph, the attitude that should be present in classes taught.

      At least for myself my main priority of how I teach depends particular on the level of instruction the class is presented at.

      If i’m teaching a beginner to beginner/intermediate level class, my main priority is always safety, making the class a comfortable environment, and of course having fun.

      When I teach a solid intermediate or above class my philosophy changes and I am candid with my students taking those classes about it. Safety, comfortable environment, and having fun are definitely still a factor in these classes. However my main priority becomes making those students solid dancers.

      I’m not saying this is an optimal method. While many students enjoy this atmosphere because of their intent to seriously get better, I’ve had complaints about bruised egos and classes being far too difficult/fast paced.

      January 8, 2012 at 7:31 pm

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