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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.