About a week ago at a dance lesson my teacher told me that I was too far ahead of the beat. She then asked if I could not feel her pulling back to indicate that I was moving too slow. I did indeed notice that she seemed harder to lead. What was my response? Push harder! I did not realise that she was trying to tell me that I was ahead of the beat. Instead, I thought I was not leading well enough so I responded with more effort on that. If anything, my response probably made me go even further ahead of the beat.
Clearly this method of communication failed. But the question is not what should be done, but instead the question is: what can this tell us about learning and teaching within dance?
Where does learning take place?
It is always good to remember that learning actually takes place in the student. Until the student understands what is meant to be understood, learning has not taken place. Therefore, some feedback is needed. Otherwise, the teacher will not know that anything has been learnt. Further, it is possible that the student could ‘learn’ something different from what was being taught, and end up misinformed.
The need for a common language in social dance learning
To ensure that a dance student understands properly, a common language is needed. Not one amongst all dance students and teachers. Just one between the teacher and the student(s).
A language need not be only words. As I mentioned above, my teacher was trying to use physical force to communicate with me. This will work for some people, but it did not for me. And it might not work for others. Thus, words should always be considered.
This might seem obvious, but we do not all have the same way of communicating. As I go over in part 2 of Dance Better Now, some people lean toward the visual perception of the world, some kinaesthetic and some auditory. If a teacher leans toward the visual or kinaesthetic over the auditory, then that teacher is less likely to use words to communicate. Considering the physical nature of dance it would not be a surprise to find that many teachers rely more on physical expression than words to communicate.
This means two things:
- A dance teacher needs to put the effort into ensuring they explain what they wish to teach
- A student needs to ask question to ensure they understand what is being taught
Given that learning takes place in the student, if you are a student, then you should take more responsibility. This means that the second point above is the more important one.
If a student puts the effort into asking, then a common language, between that student and the teacher will evolve. This will then allow for faster and better learning.
Observance is key
Saying that you need to ask question is easy. But what to ask? Consider the story I told you at the start. It would not have been hard for me to simply ask why my teacher seemed more difficult to lead. She would have then said that I was ahead of the beat, and I would have focused on that instead of leading with more force.
My teacher could have also asked why I was not slowing down. She could have also simply said out loud that I was going too fast. I would have also realised that when she feels like she is being dragged that maybe she is trying to make me realise I am out of time.
If either of us had have put more effort into sharing our observations, then there would have been faster progress. And that’s the key to developing a common language for learning dance. Get into the habit of talking about what you notice so that dance is better understood.