When stepping into the classroom, we can experience a myriad of emotions, from excitement to fear, and assuming the role of “student” requires of us to take several actions and choices. There are certain techniques to maximize your retention and enjoy the journey of learning to dance that I’ll offer in five parts. All of this advice presupposes that you’d like learn to dance and then improve your skills to some degree, of course, but I hope even those who engage in Swing dance education only peripherally, can take away something of value. Enjoy!
Pt. 1: Asking the right questions
The first thing we must do as a student is have a question or curiosity. “What is swing dancing exactly, and what does it mean to ‘swing’?” “What is my footwork?” “How can I be creative?” “How do I know if it’s a triple step or not?” “What can I do to look good, or at least not suck?” “What is the difference between Leading and Following, and what is required of each role?”
All are valid concerns and questions that you’ve probably had at some point in your dance education, and asking questions of someone who knows more than you places you in the role of “student.” Here are some tips for you to help you ask good questions in class:
- Try it first – Some people are quick to question how/why something will or won’t work, and this doubt prohibits you from trying first. Once you’ve tried a move, you may find the potential question is already answered, or you may discover a better question to ask. Either way, dance is an experiential activity before it can be an academic one, and in physicalizing it, you’ll ask better questions.
- Stay on topic – This will help you, your partner and the entire class focus on the concept at hand, giving everyone the best opportunity to succeed. It’s easy to extrapolate future outcomes from the thing being taught at the moment, but once your brain goes to that place, it takes you out of the moment where everyone else is trying to exist. This can muddle your focus and prevent you from practicing and understanding the concept at hand. So, even if your brain can think 5 moves ahead in the chess game of Swing, try to stay present such that you understand, practice (and eventually master) the concepts that are being taught at that moment.
- Don’t be that person – While the old adage holds true that “if you have the question, others probably do too,” there is a point where raising your hand every 3 minutes to ask a question can be more of a disruption than a benefit (to you and everyone else). Having an inquisitive mind is wonderful, and being a “slow” learner is totally fine, but it is important to give the other students in class time to digest concepts, and interrupting that time with too many questions is a disservice to you and everyone else. If there’s something you’re not clear on, another way to get some help or feedback is wait until the teacher turns on music for everybody to practice then call the teacher over for some direct assistance. Alternatively, you can save that question for after class, when the teacher can address you directly.
In the next installment of “How to Be A Student” I’ll discuss what it means to be an active learner, and we’ll look at tips and techniques to develop that skill set. In the meantime, snoop around the site for your reading and listening pleasure, and please feel free to write us with your questions and thoughts.
Hi Michael and everybody around,
I want to add two aspects: 1. to be a good student requires a good teacher. In my book, a good teacher meets these criteria: technical dancing competence, personal competence, teaching competence and the love to teach (you could also say love for the students). We have come across many international teachers over the years and we did not find the combination of all four factors very often. on the contrary, this is rare and if we do come across such a teaching couple (which is sometimes the case but seldom) it always make us very happy. and if only one of the four factors is missing, it is automatically quite difficult to be a good student.
2. to be a good student it requires a good class. this means a group in which I am enabled to learn well. a group that supports me and does not disturb, interrupt, distract or prevent me from learning. in big international workshops with 80 students or more, I often experience extreme noise produced by the group. I want to understand the teachers and very often cannot because it is too loud in the room. I want to listen and I want to learn and often the learning atmosphere in the room or hall is counterproductive due to homemade disturbance particularly with regard to noisiness. I like groups with friendly atmosphere towards each other, the shared desire to learn, supportive character and respect for the teachers. Only then can I relax.
Thank you, Michael for your thoughts on this topic. Anne
Thank you for your thoughts on this, and I would agree it is difficult to find teachers of any subject, really, who possess all these qualities. I think what you’ve described here is an ideal situation, and while I personally always strive to embody these qualities and create the best environment possible for my students, I’m also wanting to give a little “tough love” to everybody in asking them/us to persevere in the face of adversity in as much as, I want students to empower themselves to learn when conditions aren’t ideal.
Can you learn with you eyes, when your ears aren’t available? e.g. you can’t hear the teacher’s explanation or even more difficult, your teacher doesn’t speak your language(s).
Can you get the idea from what the teacher does, despite their poor explanation?
Can you remember what the class was about if you’re not allowed to film a class recap?
Your teacher isn’t the friendliest person in the world and doesn’t encourage you with a great deal of love in class, but is that what you really need to understand the concepts, or does it just feel good to have that?
I’ve taken so many classes in different styles of dance, and it took me some time to realize what I get from each teacher. Some hip hop teachers that I learned from are so encouraging and life-affirming, but I don’t like their quality of movement, while others are the most amazing movers but are tough on the students and not consistent with their breakdown of their movement.
All of this to say, I know how hard it is to learn but there are also opportunities to evaluate what tools we as students can strengthen and utilize for learning when our teachers don’t outright hand them to us.
As always, thank you for your thoughts, and we’ll talk to you soon
I find it hard to make my brain shut up. As soon as I try to do a move in class I start double-guessing myself. Did it work because I knew what was coming? Or did it not work because I was trying to hard to do my basic and did not allow the leader to change it? Will this actually work if somebody leads it tonight? Especially if I don´t know why I can do it with one leader but not with the other. So I end up (over-)theorizing what I´m doing. I try to understand every nook and notch of the lead and follow in that move. Which leads to a lot of questions. And a certain neediness because I´m aware that I probably won´t see these teachers for a while and won´t be able to go back to them in a month or two when I realize that that move is not working for me. The time (to ask questions) is now.
Does anyone know how to quiet your brain (and maybe self-doubts) without substance abuse? Or is that maybe not even desirable?
Hi Claudia. I think this is normal and in a lot of ways healthy. You should ask questions in the moment. And it is powerful to observe yourself in class and take into account all the details that make a move work or fail. I would advise also to enjoy everything that’s going on. Use your powerful, questioning mind to be curious about your body, your movement and what you feel in any given moment. This is the on going work for Followers. And it will always be changing. It’s a phenomenal way to practice being flexible and holding your stability amidst external forces. And practice moving more because of a force rather than because of a choice. Practice being the “result” of an “action”.