Teaching Musicality


Well-Known Member
When I was taking lessons I would frequently bring my iPod and play various songs (of all kinds of genres) for the lesson music. I could always tell when my teacher was dancing to a new-to-him song, because his musicality would change drastically. It was still musical, but he would focus more on the underlying rhythm instead of the vocals or other elements. Very interesting.

I will never forget the time when, in a lesson, we were dancing to "You Know I'm No Good" by Amy Winehouse. He knew the music, because I had shared it with him. But between the music, and _what_ he lead, and the feel through his body as he lead, and limited eye contact*...I am not lying when he was able to _EVOKE_ emotion in me. And I'm not a particularly emotional sort of girl! But I _felt_ the emotions of that song. I felt anger from him, and felt guilt and remorse in me. Talk about musicality! Not a 3D representation of the music, which is how I tend to think of musicality, but an intense, personal, _visceral_ reaction to him and the music. I remember ending that song and feeling vaguely shaken up. Talk about musicality!

*With my teacher I after danced anything/everything from weight- sharing close embrace to full open, sometimes within the same song. I'm rather shy, so even in open embrace eye contact was a rarity. When it happened it was an automatic ratcheting up of the intensity level.

*end hijack;


Well-Known Member
And there is, of course, another way to teach sequences, as if they were written on clay tablets come down from the skies. I shan't comment too much on that, since it could get ugly ;-).
Well enough people treat tango as a religion, already, but if you could actually produce these tablets, it would at least settle the debate with a degree of finality.


Well-Known Member
From a design blog I follow:

“Do I have any favourite techniques [for designing]? Techniques are habits, and habits are a refusal of the moment and a reliving of the past. A habitual person is not interested in the present, but a person with habits can have style. The person who lives in the moment cannot have style.”
Not sure I agree, but it's an interesting viewpoint.


Well-Known Member
From a design blog I follow:
“Do I have any favourite techniques [for designing]? Techniques are habits, and habits are a refusal of the moment and a reliving of the past. A habitual person is not interested in the present, but a person with habits can have style. The person who lives in the moment cannot have style.”
Not sure I agree, but it's an interesting viewpoint.
I don't agree either but his argument doesn't bear examination
beyond his obscurely made point that fresh design comes from
wide ranging and unconstrained thinking.

The only relevant Miles Newlyn I can find is a UK type designer
and my personal experience tells me that unconstrained thinking
in type design can result in some pretty unreadable typefaces.

Then of course you have to ask whose fault that is, the type designer
(who may have designed the face for a specific purpose)
or the unconstrained typographer who (mis)uses such a typeface.
The following might help when thinking about teaching musicality...

I have heard teachers say, “This student is a lost cause.” or “This student will never be as good as the others.” I disagree with these statements and think this sort of thinking only harms your ability to understand dance and thereby lowers your ability to teach it as well.

As a teacher, my goal is only to improve the dancer compared to where they are, not compared to where someone else is. It is true that some people have developed much less skill in certain areas. At the same time, if you recognize what level of skill they have, you can give them ideas that are reasonable for them to improve upon. And if done well, this technique can dramatically improve someone who seems like a “lost cause” and eventually take them far beyond people who are naturally talented but never strive to improve.

I was not a natural dancer and was considered a lost cause by many people when I first started dancing. Then I went on to win 1st place at the US Open Swing Dance Championship, 2nd place in the World Lindy Hop Championship, and became an internationally recognized dance instructor. I am not saying everyone who wants to is going to become a world champion but I do think that we all have the potential or possibility to be greater than anyone ever imagined and I also believe that how we are taught (or how we teach ourselves) plays a huge role in how far we go.
Think of it like improving someone's math skills. If they struggle with addition and subtraction, you can't just keep teaching them algebra and expect them to ever learn it. You need to recognize their fundamental issues and work to strengthen those. Once you strengthen their more basic skills, you can definitely teach them algebra or something more complex. And if they are willing to work on it, they will eventually understand things that most people couldn't dream of understanding merely with natural talent alone.

The problem lies in that many instructors don't take the time to understand the fundamentals that created their ability to do seemingly simple concepts (most likely because this aspect of learning came too easy for them). Since they don't understand what basic skills the student is missing, they can't help. They continue to teach algebra in various different ways, hoping someday the student will understand because they explained it differently. But the student won't understand until someone actually helps them understand the underlying adding and subtracting skills needed for the topic at hand.

Other instructors recognize that they need to go back and teach them addition or subtraction, but then they are just as unsuccessful at teaching them this more basic skill. They try it in various different ways but the student never seems to understand addition so they will never be able to understand algebra either. So the teacher gives up or believes they just can't figure it out. However, the actual problem was that the student didn't understand numbers, so they couldn't understand addition or subtraction because they didn't have the basic fundamental to understand it.

The teacher that figures out what the fundamental problem is will be able to teach them numbers, then addition/subtraction/etc, then algebra, and then much more complex options that most people wouldn't naturally be able to achieve.
To sum it up... in my experience there are 2 reasons people are unsuccessful at teaching someone else something.

1. They haven't gotten down to the fundamental issue that is holding someone back from learning (as in the example above).
2. The student has a mental block based on something they have already been taught (by life, by another teacher, etc).

There is always something more fundamental that is holding people back from learning, sometimes it is a lack of knowledge as in #1, and sometimes it is actual excess knowledge that conflicts with what they believe to be true (as in #2).

I remember an example of #2. I was teaching someone to relax their arms and everyone in the class was getting the concept except one person who just couldn't relax her arm. I worked with her in private for a few minutes and I did everything I could think of to get her to relax but nothing was working. I tried showing her what it felt like, what it looked like, I compared and contrasted it, but nothing was working. Finally, I just asked her why she thought it wasn't working. She told me, "I can't figure out how to relax my arm without letting it be a spaghetti arm." (unfortunately, spaghetti arms are often mistakenly taught as being "wrong" in my dance form) Aha!!!! I told her that I wanted her arm to be "spaghetti" right now and she said "oh, ok" and was immediately able to give me the relaxed arm that I wanted. She had been taught that "spaghetti arms" were bad so she had a mental block that wasn't allowing her to do what I was asking.

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