Swing Discussion Boards > When neither part is terribly skilled

Discussion in 'Swing Discussion Boards' started by blue, Sep 30, 2004.

  1. blue

    blue New Member

    When neither part is terribly skilled
    Two ways of teaching beginners

    Maybe I take my mouth too full now. Oh well, it would not be the first time.

    Currently I take classes as a leader. The level I probably should have taken, as a follower, does not start until later so I thought OK: I take beginners classes and learn to lead.

    The classes I took before, at other places, were based on routines and patterns and made me terribly frustrated; nothing ever felt good. The course I am taking now suits me a lot better. We do simple moves, leading-following exercises, usually not long stretches of routines where the follow know what will happen next and so is encouraged to "cheat". We have done four classes and the moves we have done so far are:

    • · Swingout from closed to open position
      · A simple pull-in to get back into closed position but not yet the full circle
      · Charleston
      · In a "changing partners after two swingouts"-routine, we did pimp walk (leaders) and boogie forward (followers)
      · A simple move called “mess around” where your feet stand still and you move your hips in a circle
      · A move that is similarly stationary, where you step with one foot back and forth – starting either backwards or forwards

    That is the complete list of moves for four classes! It's been lots of swingout... These last moves have probably not been chosen from the point of “what people use on the dance floor”, but to teach lead-follow skills. People always say that beginners want to learn many moves... but you know what? This class is happy about the material learned so far. I certainly would not have liked to have many more, leading these few moves early enough for the follow to understand what is happening is a big enough task... I am a lot more happy than in the previous classes I took. Now I feel like we are dancing!

    OK I have some more experience in lindy now than when I joined my first beginner’s class. That is of course another reason that I feel more happy about it. It is easier for me than for most of the other beginner leaders, who have not been dancing any lindy before this course. Still, I feel the difference in teaching methods is crucial.

    When I go out dancing and I meet these guys who are taught at other places, they would never dream of doing just a few moves like we do in class. Still, I feel dancing in my beginner’s class is a lot more real dancing than what I have done when I have tried to go dancing “for real”. IMHO the leaders I meet out there are "damaged" by the pedagogics of their teachers, or lack of pedagogics. I am pretty much a beginner, so most of the people I dance with will not be terribly experienced either. What happens when two rather inexperienced dancers meet, and the leader is focussed on steps at the expense of leading?

    It took me roughly 1 1/2 class of leading to realise that if the follow gets her steps mixed up, a good thing to do is to go back to really simple basics; then she will find her feet again and you are ready to try that a little bit more advanced move. However, as I mentioned previously I can not see that the leads I meet when I go out dancing do this to me when I get lost - maybe not to basic steps, but most of the times I think two or three swingouts will have me back on track. Maybe they have too much to think about, remembering and trying to execute all those steps they have learned. I feel... "Hey, where is your focus? It is most certainly not on me! so why on earth should I care about what you are trying to do?" Maybe they are more worried about what the spectators will think about the dancing, than about me enjoying it. Or, they simply have another opinion of what is fun than I do. Maybe someone tricked them into believing that the point of the dance is to do many moves.

    If the lead does not give me a clear enough lead so I simple feel where I should go, what should I do and what do I do? Well, somtimes it is really hard to tell a simple swingout from a circle, unless it is almost to late. If I was a teaching tool to this guy I probably should not try so hard to guess what he wants me to do. But I want it to work, I want him to like dancing with me - and he likes to do all those patterns that he can hardly lead me through... so what could I do?

    Parts of our problems are of course because of me. I do realise that. There are plenty of follower skills that I have not yet learned. It does not really matter who is the faulty part though - me, him, or most probably both... When we get into trouble, the guy starts asking me if I know this move, of that move. I feel hey, I’ll try to follow what you lead and if it works, fine... if not, well well we’d better try something else. But he does not think that way. In class I accept to cheat a little bit - in a pattern based class, that is. I have to. But in social dancing? If I start doing this, where will it lead?

    I once heard of a bunch of women talking about the men in their class. It was a beginner’s class, but all of them agreed that there was hardly one guy who “should be in this class”. Well it was a pure beginner’s class, so where should these men be if not there?!? These classes they were taking taught mostly moves. I interpret it like this: the leaders had little chance to pick up how to really lead all these moves, and so the follows were unhappy. When this is the case, then all the follows will want to dance with more advanced leaders instead of the other beginners. OK there still will be this issue of slower learning curve for the leaders but I believe that focussing on moves is a great way to enhance this problem.

    I do simply not understand the point of teaching pattern based classes to beginners!

    and I think that for the near future I will try and get the main part of my dancing with leaders taught in the same place that I now take classes. Hopefully, they are more able to lead the moves that they choose to do. It probably also means they will have a much smaller repertoire, but I have no objections at all to that. I much rather do something that is actually led, than trying to guess what the leader is trying to do. I am sorry for being a bit harsch on the leaders who try to do lots of moves and in doing that pretty much ignore me. I might be a pretty unusual beginner or near-beginner when it comes to what I like, I do not know, but really - if his opinions on what the point of dancing is so different from mine, I do not see much point in trying. And really, I do not blame these leaders. I blame their teacher’s teaching methods.

    I do not know if the other beginner leaders in my class would dare to go up on a public dance floor and try what little moves they know, but as long as the follow is equally inexperienced so I do not bore a more advanced dancer, I would. Maybe not for very many dances, but I would. Really, even if we make some pretty dull basic steps sometimes just to get back on track I do not think it would look worse than some of the people who try to do five times as many moves.
  2. Flat Shoes

    Flat Shoes New Member

    Wow, a long post and a lot of stuff. I'll try to give som comments to some of the topics.

    First, when it comes to learning patterns to beginner leaders, I'm all for it! That is, not only patterns, but both patterns and techniques. Not just one or the other. The reason I'm for patterns is that people are different, and personally I found learning patterns was my way to learn to dance. While a lot others loved the lead-follow exercises, I hated them! They neverfelt anything like dancing to me at all! And I still think so, the feeling of dancing is something completely different, than the feeling in these exercises. The way I learned was teaching myself new patterns outside class, and trying them out in free dance moments. The patterns gave me a security, something fun to do, while I was learning to get the right connection and tension to be a good leader.

    The point here is that people are different, and learn in different ways. And I think classes should reflect that. A teacher having 'seen the light' and found his/her method of teaching, will be great for a lot of people. But not for everybody. Therefore different approaches to the same thing should be used. Like if I were ever to teach a class , I would do some of the connection exercises, even though they do nothing for me personally. But I know other people love them.

    When it comes to beginners dancing with beginners, the best thing is to learn to love the mistakes. When I was a beginner, there was a girl there who had the most fun whenever we did something wrong. That always made her laugh and smile! How great is that for a beginner! not everybody can be like that, of course. But something beginners are often afraid of is making mistakes. But mistakes doesn't matter! I am now a good dancer, but I still makes mistakes all the time. That's becuase I'm taking it easy, having fun and improvising. And that will go wrong!

    As a beginner, don't be afraid to make mistakes. If connection is lost, and you don't know where you are. Just continue dancing solo until you connect again. Laugh and smile.

    I know the temptation to anticipate a leaders move is strong, especially for a beginner. It might be necessary when two beginners dance togehter, but in general it's very bad following. It's confusing for the leader, but more importantly, it brakes connection.

    I was an extra lead in a beginner class a couple of days ago. And every follower does this wrong when dancing the Lindy Turn (Swingout from open position). They anticipate and break connection. They walk out to the side instead of straight forward as lead. They turn by themselves instead of being turned by the frame. They stop and change direction instead of being stopped by the frame and seeking connection with the leads arm. As a fairly experienced leader I can smooth over most of these mistakes, and compensate for some of the broken connection. But an inexperienced leader will not be able to do this. And more importantly, it is impossible for a beginner leader to get the right feeling in a situation like this. And when the lead never have had the right feeling, he will not know what to look for in the connection. He will not only be lost, he won't know what to look for either.

    An anticipating follower is in general the second worst follower there is. (The worst follower is the one who will never smile or look at you.)

    Anticipating, or the girl leading her self, should only occur when the guy is lost and don't know how a certain move is conducted. Then the girl can compensate by showing him/dancing through the pattern and compensate for the lack of connection.

    Wow again, now my post became long too. Much longer than I thougt it would be when I started writing it. :D
  3. normalized

    normalized New Member

    *sigh* Yes, I think I understand fully and unfortunately you don't gain the understanding till you've been doing it awhile. As a lead who's taken beginning classes from most every instructor in town (and now observing some and helping out in one) I see the disparate styles and strategies that teachers use. Unfortunately for lindy, there are as many ways/paths of teaching beginners as ways to swingout. Most teachers take the strategy of "getting the beginner dancing" which most of the times usually means "dancing badly and not leading/following" and the class follows these lines. I have seen classes where connection and leading/follwing is taught, but I get the feeling that for these classes, it goes over the heads of many people. The optimal thing would be to move slowly and teach moves and the techniques behind it but that would take at least 3 months to teach the "basics" that most teachers teach in one month.

    And tellingly you never see these type of classes advertised.

    Yes, there is a certain mentality of teaching that is pretty prevalent, it's usually, "teach them enough to get started and let the student sort it out later". This attitude really tripped me up in the beginning. I knew that what I learned in the beginner's class (when I started) and what people were actually dancing were two separate things. That's fine, but there's never the overall startegy or "where you'er going" laid out. You have to figure that out yourself. And really I never even got the concept of lead/follow till well over a year after I've started taken classes.

    I think beginner's would have a better time if their goals are more clearly realized. Most dancers dance to be social, meet girls/guys and have fun. Then you take lindy and you throw stuff like "connection", "improvisation", "floorcraft", "syncopation" and at some point the dancer realizes they're in over his/her head.

    And for beginner's communication is key, being able to talk and ask for feedback and getting it is important. Therefore, I always advocate being in a dance community when you're starting out. Therefore you have this context of improving together.

    Most of the times, lindy hoppers don't talk. They smile begrundingly and move on to the next partner (see blue's example of the ladies talking in her class). Let's be aware of our dance community and others in it besides your own 3 minutes of seeing out the perfect dance with the perfect partner, okay?

    And granted blue, the things you want to communicate are just beyond how the moves are done ,but the concept of connection and dancing "with" somebody. Perhaps you should speak to your instructor about emphasizing this more. And asking for it in a courteous way on the dancefloor. Is that asking too much? Maybe....
  4. blue

    blue New Member

    Thank you for your response so far!

    Well, of course you need some moves... the question is the proportion of the stuff taught, then.

    All pedagogic methods teaches some bad habits. The question is which kind of bad habits you prefer. As I already say, I do feel that rushing through patterns is a completely different feeling than actually dancing... kind of the same thing you say, only opposite. :) Also, you can structure normal dancing to become hidden follow-lead exercise, by choosing relevant moves and making sure the follow does not know what is coming.

    Isn't a clue here that you taught yourself these patterns? I believe that you worked quite hard on them then, compared with those that you were spoonfed with. And if you had been learning these patterns in class... what would the follows had learned while you were learning them? My believe is that they would have learned to anticipate the move, to compensate for your first inability to lead them thus conserving it.

    Yes, we learn differently and we like different things. I should be grateful I found a place that suits me, I guess. It is always frustrating to be in a minority though...

    Well - yes. And your solution is to ignore the right feeling, not even trying to search for it? This is exactly the thing I hate. My solution is to slow down the speed of pattern feeding... mind you in my beginner's class we have not yet done the swingout from open position. I suppose our teacher has a darn good reason for waiting with it! so we can try and find some feeling in simpler moves, before starting wrestling with the lindy turn.

    But oh, please please tell me how to survive a pattern based class without anticipating...? It's like, damned if you do and damned if you don't. If you don't go where you are "supposed to go" quite often the beginner leader will assume you did not understand the step, and tell you verbally where you should go. If you do go to the right place although you are not being led there, next time he will make a stop to "check" if you are following or not and then almost triumphantly tell you you made a mistake.

    Maybe a solution could be to practice patterns in two steps: first with participation, to find the pattern to start with, and then without. That would make the difference clear, maybe? I promise you that you can say "don't anticipate" about a zillion times to those beginner followers, and they will think they understand what you are saying but they will not. If they have never been led, they do not understand the difference.

    Parts of the ladie's doing the lindy turn is not actually led. Possibly it is when you are really good, but so far I have not experienced anything else than my having to make sure myself to complete the turn 180 degrees at four, take a long step on three and then short ones in the turn... I tried to only go where I was lead, the first ten or so classes I took. It resulted in me not learning to do a decent lindy turn, much to the frustration of my leaders I suppose. But hey, don't anticipate. Bad follow.

    Leading, and learning to lead, might be a quite bit more complicated task - but so much more straightforward.
  5. etchuck

    etchuck New Member

    Gee you guys write a lot. ;)

    The rationale of teaching beginners patterns only and not techniques has been pointed out, except I think it comes from the wrong vantage point. It's the customer (the beginning leader in this case) who wants to answer the question: what does it take for me to learn to dance lindy (or whatever)? The most satisfactory answer is to teach a person patterns so that he (assuming leaders here) has a more tangible outcome to build confidence. "Hey I can do a swing out! Hey I can do a left-side pass into an underarm turn into Charleston kicks and boogie walks!" sounds so much better (and is easier) than "Hey I can take smaller-than-shoulder-width steps and understand compression."

    That's the issue I have a lot of times with salsa teachers; they teach more to patterns in many of the "drop-in" pre-dance party classes than they teach technique to lead those patterns properly... if they actually can be led.

    And I completely agree: patterns-only classes are a total disservice to followers, and eventually becomes a complete disservice to the leaders who should learn how to get any follower to do that said set of figures.
  6. blue

    blue New Member

    yeah, I always write too much...

    Unfortunately? Why? I am so happy I have more than one option to choose from...

    Wait a sec.

    I've been through some different styles and schools of aikido, and while some technical difference exist the biggest difference often is the pedagogics; if aikido is a huge bisquit the different schools let the student take their first bites from different parts of the bisquit. What is taught early on in one school, is learned much later in another.

    Students who have been training for one or two years, will be very different depending on teacher/school/pedagogic system. If they were to train together (which does not happen very often) they will have some difficulties in interacting technically; their respective kogs don't match. Sometimes they can spend quite some time discussing how useless people from other styles are, not realising they actually have an interaction problem.

    These differences even out over the years though. When people have been training for many years they usually care a lot less about the differences between the styles - and actually, the difference between what they do is usually not so great anymore. They arrived at more or less the same place, but took different roads to get there.

    So maybe it is clever to stick to "my school" for a while. At least if I want to avoid frustration.

    Yes. So far I have never seen a dance teacher use the tell three
    ("First you tell 'em what you're gonna tell'em. Them you tell' em. Then you tell 'em what you told 'em.")
    neither in small scale (what is the point of today's class) or in larger (where are we aiming in this course). Every single university course I've taken, though, have tried to identify objectives in the first lecture. Sometimes I think people just teach in the way they were taught, not questioning if another method would suit better... btw this is exactly the same in aikido and other martial arts.
  7. etchuck

    etchuck New Member

    Now we're starting to discuss things like pedagogical strategy and philosophy.

    Personally I would not feel so comfortable "teaching" a class until I've had three people show me what they teach and how they teach. In the same vein, I would not consider myself as a true master of a particular figure unless and until I've had three teachers give me feedback on it. Hence, that's why competitions are important to me (though I don't do it so much anymore).

    I do find that despite the fact that in ballroom there exists a syllabus of steps, lessons are amazingly not that well organized. In swing or salsa, it's even worse as there is no set syllabus per se. As it is, most instruction in a large group setting (or sometimes a smaller one) is all about making sure everyone can do at least two or three things in the class (even if those things are incorporated into one figure, mind you). It's not so much about technique as it is about "nuts and bolts" footwork in the fastest amount of time possible. It's nothing against the teacher, but students want to feel like they get something out of a class. Consequently, it may not be a great outcome but this is how we get leaders and followers who don't quite have things down.
  8. d nice

    d nice New Member

    I hate watching what people who learn patterns in a beginner class look like, but not nearly as much as I hate dancing with them.

    Everyone learns differently, very true, but as much variation as there is in learning styles there isn't nearly as much variety in what will produce good dancers. The formula is actually pretty simple, two parts lead/follow technique, one part moves, one part patterns. The lead/follow technique should not be all drills... it shouldn't even be half drills, it should be disguised as learning moves. In my day one beginners class I teach the swing out, the lindy turn/whip, and the circle. I then have them execute it as a pattern.

    I teach moves that are based on the same principles or that are easily grouped together because it helps hammer in the same skills and techniques for the entire class. From that first class I do a review and then add on one or two moves each following class.

    People who don't want to take the time to learn the right way and "just want to dance" can learn in any number of drop in classes before a swing dance, taking a series is intended to make you a good dancer. When I see people who don't like doing repetition and want to move on before they even have the basic skills covered of the move we are on, I suggest after the class that they try taking the drop in classes before a dance. Mine or someone elses. The series approach while better for them, is not what they want.

    Its like trying to convince kids to eat their veggies when all they want is desert. As good as it is for them, it can be a losing battle. A good teacher picks their battles and tries to appease and cajole the student at the same time.
  9. blue

    blue New Member

    d nice, I would probably like your beginner class - and esp. the kind of beginner dancer it produces. I always assumed that the venues that offer drop in classes before the dance are beginner-friendly but maybe that depend on what kind of beginner you are, what mindset regards... I'll keep that in mind.
  10. Flat Shoes

    Flat Shoes New Member

    I totally agree!

    And for me personally, the drills may be dropped allmost completely. In some cases a non-dancing example may be used to illustrate a point or concept, but all 'drills' I think should be part of the moves in the dance. For me, anyway.

    The values of learning patterns for me, when I was a beginner, were. One was as a security blanket. Then it was an inspiration. I could look at videos, trying to pick up simple things I could try myself later in class. It's was something I could do out of class, without anyone to pracitse with. And it made me think seriously about how the patterns were conducted. If not, I would not be able to reproduce them later. And last, I think that leading different patterns give an increased understanding of what leading and following is like. When leading something new, one must focus on doing the leading part right. If not, it will not work. When only doing a few patterns, it's very easy to start cheating and not lead very well, because the follower always knows what's coming and can easily do it even when lead badly.

    In conlucion I will say that what is important to learn is not the patterns but how to dance, how to lead and follow and the elements of the dance. But learning moves and patterns can be means to this end. As dnice says in the quote above: "The lead/follow technique .... should be disguised as learning moves."
  11. d nice

    d nice New Member

    I think part of the problem here may be symantics. To me there are three levels of "shape" in a dance. Movement is the smallest, simply which direction you are moving in any given time. Moves are the next step up, it is two or more movements that are placed together to achieve a specific result. Next is patterns which are two or more moves that are grouped together.

    Patterns are great learning tools as far as instilling confidence in leaders, teaching base ideas of musicality and flow as well as teaching the followers how to keep up continous movement. However if patterns are were most of the teaching occurs and the goal of learning moves is so they can be used in patterns you will end up with people who march through the dance, possibly executing every move in the pattern and the patterns themselves flawlessly, but that is not enough to make one a dancer. Especially not a lindy hopper which is as much about soul and spirit as it is about technique.

    Dancers need to get up to speed where they feel comfortable improvising even if it is just choreography on the fly.
  12. Flat Shoes

    Flat Shoes New Member

    Yes, symantics. When I was writing patterns, I was thinking of both patterns and moves, but mainly moves.

    Just learning a pattern, as in several moves conducted in a row, I find value for only in being a tool for remembering a set of new moves. (If not a coreography is what one is training for.)

    But even though patterns have a certain value, I often find the distracting too. Because, when dancing through a pattern in a class, I want to focus on the lead. And that tends to make me forget the next move in the pattern. :(
  13. blue

    blue New Member

    "Can do" is a relative term... What about "Hey, I can lead my partner even if she does not know beforehand what is coming" or "Hey, this move I learned a month ago feels much much better now"? "Hey, when we compare this video shooting from second class and the seventh we look so much better now"?

    Why is the assumed costumer, who's opinions on what he needs to build confidence decides what will be taught, the beginner leader? Do the beginning followers agree? If you ask a bunch of follows who has taken classes in a few different dances what skills they wished the leaders developped earlier, what would they ask for? When I talk to people (women) I get the impression that bored follows in beginners class because of men who can not lead are sooooo common.

    If I go to a skating class I expect the teacher to teach me what I need to be an able skater, not what I think I need to become a good skater! Are lots of dance teachers out there teaching to beginner leaders what the beginner leads believes is what takes to make the follows happy, instead of letting them know they are wrong?

    If you let the students start learning dancing by primarily moves and patterns, yes then they will have their mind set on this goal of steps and moves... and then they think than another ten moves is what they need to keep their followers happy. But what if you don't give them the impression that this is what dancing is about from the first place? I don't know if my beginner's class is unusual, but so far no one has asked for more moves. A minority of the course has dropped out, so possibly that was those who did not like the course layout. - But that would be the same with the opposite course design. If some folks drop out because they hate pattern feeding, they'll never tell you - just calmly disappear. (The most impatient leader in class when it comes to moves is probably me; I want to try and lead some more of those steps that I have only followed... I have tried to lead follows who never have done the swingout from open position, through this move. Sometimes we actually made it - don't know if all the feet were in the right places but we ended up somewhat right and it felt OK. :mrgreen: The circle though, I mess it up completely. But it's OK, I laugh and then we start all over from the beginning.)

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