Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Let's Put The Fun Back Into Funeral

There are three main reasons to work over the learning environment of your class. First, having a good atmosphere makes people happy and hence way more motivated and thus the learning easier. Next, as Marie and Hasse, a couple known for their good atmosphere in class, point out, they have experienced students to be more receptive and open to feedback in a positive learning environment. That simplifies the job for us teachers and increases the amount of content students can learn. Last but not least, studies show that if we learn something in one environment we recall that information best in that specific environment. Those environmental variables are called encoding specifiers. If you learn under water, you'll recall what you've learned better under water. If you learn in a bad mood, you will have a harder time to recall that information on the dancefloor than if you've learned it in a happy mood, because usually one enjoys parties :)

The question you must ask yourself before you talk about how to create that atmosphere, is what learning environment you actually want. Personally, this question answers itself quite easily with another question - If we have fun dancing it, why shouldn't the learning be fun? People are more likely to come and stay, if the atmosphere is good. For those who need to have full classes this is a nice side effect. But learning environment is not only atmosphere, but includes other variables. One other point I consider very important is to eliminate the fear of making mistakes. I'll elaborate on this in another article.
So how do you create a good learning environment? The following list of ways to create and enhance the learning atmosphere can be extended quite easily.
  • There are jokes you can pull, but just remember that it's not a stand-up gig but a dance class.
  • Demonstrating a wrong version as caricature can enhance the atmosphere.
  • Analogies can be used to improve the atmosphere as well. You can turn adults into giggly teenagers with sexual references and analogies where the two subjects compared are really contrary, work well too.
  • Changing partners also contributes to a good atmosphere. For example if students know each other, they more inclined to ask questions.
  • Not hiding mistakes when they happen, but rather acknowledging them, helps students to lose fear of making mistakes.

Whatever you want from your students, live it yourself. Enjoy the class, have fun with your material, by e.g. only teaching material you like, make mistakes, be human :)

I recommend you build "creating the learning environment that you want" into your class like the goals you define.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Don't Read This Article!

Have you ever been at a doctors and he told you "This is not going to hurt"? Let me guess - it did hurt. Have you ever heard a parent tell their child "Don't spill the drink"? You know yourself what happened. What if the doctor would have told you "You're going to feel better afterwards."? Throwing overboard an amputation gone wrong, - it would have probably actually felt better. What if the parent would have said "Please be careful with that glass"? The chances are higher that nothing happened.

As teachers a trap to fall easily into is thinking that if students wouldn't do one thing, they would do the correct version. The exclusion of one wrong possibility still leaves a lot of space for many more wrong possibilities. So in no case it's smart to instruct what not to do. But let's see what happens if you use negations. By the way, the terms wrong and right in this article only refer to what the teachers want of their students. Not actual wrong and right - we all know it's a myth.

Don't Pull On Your Partner!

A common situation is a teacher couple seeing a behavior that they dislike and their reaction is to put a lot of focus on that behavior, e.g. by demonstrating the bad example, by talking about why it's bad, etc. They do the same movement/exercise/whatever again and they see exactly the "wrong" thing happening again. How come?

The problem are not the students, but the instructions! Negations are tricky. What happens if you talk about the wrong movement/execution? (By the way, demonstrations of the incorrect versions are like negations) The problem lies in the fact that to know what not to do, we have to imagine the wrong version instead of the right one. Hence you make your students work the bad image and actions instead of the good one. Thus the wrong image is dominant in their minds when they try to execute it for the next time which explains them doing the opposite of what you want.
Another moment where the opposite of your instructions happen is when after you give the correct instructions you add just before they start for example "and don't pull on your partner!". When in this example your students pull on their partners, it's due to the recency effect.

So next time you are teaching, instead of talking about what not to do, tell them what to do! "Move your hip back" instead of "don't pull", replace "Stop talking" with "listen" and so on.

Now are Negations always bad? No. Demonstrating shortly a bad version might be good for comedic purposes or a quick realization what they are actually doing. Saying quickly what the situation is like can be good to get them where they are, before taking them where you want them to be. Just make sure, your focus is always on the correct version so it stays the dominant one. Also make sure to always finish with a positive formulated instruction or a good visual example so that the good version is the last thing they have on their minds.
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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How To Empty The Dancefloor

 There is a saying in Germany: "the dance floor proves the dj right" which implies that you can do anything as long as the dance floor stays crowded. At least in swing, I think there are good reasons to occasionally empty the dance floor. Of course the problem is always how to empty the dance floor while keeping the dancers happy. This article is not only about various ways of clearing the dance floor but also how you can use these handy tricks in different locations.

Get A Drink!

At least in Germany, there are a lot of social dancing events in pubs. The classic drama is that the dancers don't purchase beverages but rather refill their bottle in the bathroom with tap water so they can quickly get back onto the floor, making the owners unhappy because they don't earn any money.  This destructive behavior usually pays off quite quickly in the form of organizers' having to search for a new location for their dance event. I have seen this happening all over the place and most of the time I see it repeating itself, despite some local teachers' effort to explain _why_ the dancers need to buy the drinks at the bar, even if it's non-alcoholic.

DJs have the ability to influence this behavior. If you play music that makes people not want to dance all the time, there will be a higher chance that they will post themselves at the bar and order a drink.  However, simply DJ-ing badly will upset the dancers. This creates a dilemma - you want to keep the dancers happy at the same time that you want them to get off the dance floor.  One tactic I've been using to sort out this dilemma is using multiple styles. This is good anyway because of people's varying tastes. E.g. I will play five songs in Fats Waller style with a stride piano sound, then five big band songs, then five New Orleans jazz tunes and repeat. Changing styles will make the dancers more happy all around and it also encourages them to leave the dance floor and have a beer when the music style doesn't fit their taste anymore.  Of course this example picks only three different styles; you should feel free to change those and adapt as the floor requires.

Give Them Some Space To Swingout

Big events live off a large attendance and the crowds are usually workshop participants of a beginner to workshop-advanced level.  However, it is also necessary for these events to attract top dancers, who may not take part in the workshops, because they make for exciting Jack'n' Jills, Strictlies, and shows.  They also help to create an overall inspiring atmosphere - put another way: good advertisement. To attract the level of dancers between the workshop participants and the teachers, the parties will need to give them a chance to dance. A situation that arises quite frequently is that the dance floor is way too packed to dance freely. One way to solve this issue is to empty the dance floor by playing faster tempo songs. This usually clears the floor of the majority of beginners and some intermediates. The advantage is that you keep the advanced dancers happy, because they usually don't mind faster tempos and enjoy finally having room to swingout.  At the same time the beginners and intermediates, because they have someone to watch, return to the dance floor when the tempo drops again with a new inspiration to continue dancing and learning.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Lindy Hop Is Like Salsa

is a horrible analogy in many ways. Generally speaking, analogies are a great tool, though.  Analogies offer a way to turn abstract ideas into something tangible. Analogies make something familiar out of something completely unfamiliar. Analogies help us understand complicated thoughts and help with many aspects of learning, including the recollection of knowledge.  Analogies can also make for a fun atmosphere.  Basically, analogies are da shit!  So let's be a bit anal about them. 
While analogies are neither always good or always bad, there are 6 main points to consider. 

1. Known Source

You want your students to connect something new with something they already know. Video games and math might have parallels, but both domains are not something the average Joe will have a clue about. If the students don't know the other half, there is no way they can derive anything - hence knowing the other part of the analogy is crucial! That is what makes an abstract idea tangible. This way, they'll get a better idea of what you're trying to describe.
You can use generally known domains, like food or sex, or if you have a group of people that are from a specific domain, even deep water fishing analogies can be good.

2. Correspondences

Once you've stated your analogy, it's important to point out the correlations. For example, using the math analogy from my the section Putting Technique Where It Belongs, when comparing a new Lindy technique to the use of negative numbers in math, you need to explain the correlation between the two, like so: In math we start with positive numbers, at some point when a bigger number gets subtracted from a smaller one, there arises the need for negative numbers.  Likewise, in Lindy Hop, we sometimes find that we need a new technique in order to do a new move.  We start out leading forwards and backwards, and that's all you need if you only ever want to go forward and backward.  But when you want to turn yourself or the follower, you'll need something new, so you add a core twist.

3. Aspects of Difference

Not only the parallels are important to point out, but also the differences. So if there are derivations that could easily be made from an analogy that are wrong, you need to point them out! Else you'll end up again with wrong conclusions.
If you use the title analogy, which I really don't recommend, one difference to point out would be the different use of hip movement.

4. Distance

Distance is the main reason, why the title analogy is bad in most cases. Usually the further away the analogy domain is from the original one, the better the analogy. This is due to the fact, that you have to make the correlations visible, and you won't have "false" correlations by accident, e.g. having a firm hand hold around your follower but a relaxed arm, compared to hanging from a pull-up bar.

5. Multiple Analogies

For getting more aspects of your point across, it will help to use multiple analogies. Dancing like a drunk wedding couple will get the point of happiness and enjoyment of simplicity across. Having a connection like a rubber-band will hopefully get the idea of energy transfer across. If you describe more complex matters (as many things in dancing are), finding one analogy that hits all aspects will be tricky. Serving multiple ones will be helpful. 
Additionally, you will have the chance of wiping out misunderstandings that might have arisen due to one analogy or strengthen one that was only partially understood.
And last but not least, you will catch students, that didn't know source one, but source two.

6. Deep Analogies

The better the analogy, the more parallels can be drawn. The rubber-band has for example additionally the continuous build of energy as parallel and others.   See A Dance Is Like A Conversation for an example. 

Share your favourite analogy in the comment section below!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

6 Ways To Demotivate Your Students

is the title of one of my favorite articles from my studies. No teacher demotivates their students on purpose. That's why this article focuses on the non-trivial ways to demotivate your students, those that happen by accident, and how you can prevent from falling into these traps!
By the way, preventing demotivating your students is not equal to motivating your students.

  1. Taking Away Control ...

     ... is great - if you want to kill your students motivation. Imagine a situation like this: You have a student and you really want the student to get it so you will just stand right next to the student and correct every mistake every time. You might just want the best, but you've taken away all the control and what you need to do is to back off.
    Another moment where this happens way faster than one might think is when over-explaining, giving too detailed instructions. 

    One easy thing to implement is the three-try-rule. If we do something new in class, let your students always do it at least three times before you correct them. Giving them multiple chances, they can correct themselves, which in addition to avoiding demotivation also results in a way better learning effect, because they solved the problem themselves.
    To avoid the second problem: know your goals!
  2. Untold Goals ...

     ... will suffocate motivation. You might perfectly well know your goals and they might even seem obvious to you. But not knowing why you learn something, without focus and without application, for example check out Something Is Wrong, where technique isn't a helper anymore, will leave them unsatisfied and with less motivation.
  3. "They aren't ready ...

     ... for that amount of technique yet. It's all about the fun!" Yes, let's go for fun only, because it feels so great to be treated like an idiot! Unfortunately this attitude can often be seen when teaching "low" levels. People are often afraid to "over-challenge" their students and yes, that's of course demotivating, but under-challenging them is equally if not more dangerous. To you it will feel like they learn something, and to them it will feel like you just turned their juicy steak into some liquid baby food.

    To give you one example - when teaching technique, which is usually a challenging factor in class, adapt it to exactly what is needed. This way you can have a challenge your beginners with technique. They are never too unexperienced to have the necessary technique. Check out Putting Technique Where It Belongs. This does not only relate to beginners.
  4. Lack Of Trust ...

     ... or simply doubting their own expertise will kill motivation! It doesn't matter if the insinuation of lack of expertise is presented as verbal feedback, a gesture, your behaviour or how you manage certain situations. This could be even positive feedback as "Hey, now finally even you have managed it". Finally and even are what demonstrate your lack of trust. 

    What I like doing with something new is that I demonstrate only visually and let the students copy it. They can try it out first. I confide in them that they can do it. Once they have tried it, you can give them the help they need to put it completely together - it might not even need your help.
  5. Being Part Of It...

    ... is for motivated people, but who would want those in ones class? There is a fundamental need to be socially involved and accepted, to feel trust and care. If this need is infringed upon, students will feel rejected or neglected which also results in demotivation.
    A classic situation where this is bound to happen is when someone has a question. By answering too short or demonstrate in another way that you don't care, will trigger the feeling of neglect.
    E.g. during the warm up do an improvised big apple. This is a small contribution towards the "belonging together" part.
  6. "I Don't Give A Shit"...

    ... about my own material. This attitude will react in "We Don't Give A Shit About Your Material", which are just other words for demotivation. You come into class and you feel like today's class is only one of those classes you "have to teach", but you couldn't care less about it. You are too good for the material and why should you hide your feelings towards the students? 
    It's infectious! Not showing your students you care about your material leaves them wondering, why they should care and if you don't see anything interesting in it, how could they?  
    There is two things you can do about it: First - change your view from the one who has done it for years to the view of student, who doesn't know the material yet, for example Be A Beginner. All of a sudden the material becomes new and interesting again. 
    Second - Only teach material you find interesting. No "I must teach this in lindy hop" classes anymore for me. If I can't find the interesting part to it, you're not going to learn it in my classes. This way I'm sure I don't fall into this trap.

    If you liked this article, share or comment on it!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jumpin The Numbers

Swing DJ-ing is choosing music. Choosing music based on dancers, atmosphere, style, maybe place and several more aspects. Atmosphere is a two-way street. On the one hand, you DJ based on the atmosphere, and on the other hand you influence the atmosphere by the music you play. While there are multiple factors that influence the ambiance, the focus of this article is on the speed of the music played.

Speed Up!

What I often do to increase the speed of the music is something I learned from DJ Jenn: pick the next song 4 Bars Per Minute (BPM) faster and the one after 2 BPM slower. Then repeat. Example: 36, 40, 38, 42, 40 ...

This way you will continuously get faster (and increase the energy of the dance floor) but letting them get accustomed to the faster speed, by always having a little slow down.

I've added a few things to smooth out various little hiccups. Usually I encourage everyone to DJ the whole range from very slow to very fast. Sometimes this is not practicable, like when DJ-ing a floor of beginners who can't dance fast, or a late night floor where people want swing but are not ready anymore for fast tracks. The problem is that you'll get too fast out of a range that is comfortable to dance, if you stick to 4-2. If the music is too slow, the dancers will likely have no energy or go home. If the music is too fast it might be frustrating. So to stay in a good range, for example 34-42 BPM, you can change 4-2 to 3-2. This way, you'll go up slower and stay longer in the same range.

Another hiccup often occurs in the higher tempos, when the energy of the crowd is not high enough anymore to maintain fast tempos for a long time. It's the opposite problem from late nights. Opposite in the way that if you follow 4-2, you will stay too long in the fast range. The 50-60 BPM range will exhaust the floor easily. There are two way of solving this issue. One is to increase the intervals : go 6-3 or even 8-4. The other way is to go without going down anymore. Go up up up. 52-56-60.

And Slow Down

To go slower one can simply inverse 4-2 and go down by 4 BPM and then up by 2. I hardly ever do this. I prefer to drop the speed at once. The amount of the drop will vary depending on the energy available. I'll give you a couple examples:

60BPM to 30BPM

This might fit well onto a big dance floor with many people who you just exhausted on very fast music. They'll long for some slow tracks and a few beginners who got left out towards then end will happily join in again after getting inspired.

55 BPM to 40 BPM

This would be typical for a dance floor full of dancers with lots of energy. Dropping the tempo to low might kill the atmosphere here.

52 BPM to 29 BPM

This could be from a set where the scene is not accustomed to dance to beats over 42 BPM. So 52 was definitely on the very high end and dropping the speed to 29 will not kill their energy.

Remember to drop to odd and even numbered BPMs. Otherwise you will miss half of your music.

Occasionally I like to top things off before dropping the tempo. This is done by choosing a song that starts slow and turns fast. A classic is "After You've Gone". After this, people will be ready to dance to some slow songs that swing hard.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mixing It Up

Learning simplified is done in three steps. The first step in learning is perceiving information. Todays blog post is about how you can code your information and how it effects perception. The dual-coding theory states that information provided in two different codalities sticks better, since two different kinds of "memories" are involved. The two codalities are auditive (phonological loop) and visual (visual sketch pad). If we serve only one codality, e.g. auditive (talking), and the students resource to perceive this information is blocked by something else, e.g. talking to their partner, the information is likely to get lost. On the other hand, if you are serving two codalities, students might still be able to perceive the information in the free codality. 

Hands On 

One obvious one might be dancing and talking at the same time. It's definitively auditive and visual. Something to add here though is that you can serve differently here. You can say what you dance as in what your body does, you can count (might be actually distracting more than helping - unless the focus is counts) or trying to auditively add the feeling, by adding sounds like woo-wap, shi-baam, etc.

This can be used not exclusively for learning, but also for changing partners. If you accompany "Leaders change partners counter-clockwise" with the matching arm movement, you provide visual and auditive coding of the information. You will notice that changing partners will happen more fluently. 

Triple-Coding theory? 

Many people in different kinds of jobs, e.g. social engineers, salesmen and last but not least dance instructors, have experienced that there is a third variable that doesn't show up in the dual-coding theory. That is the kinesthetic part. It seems that some peoples best developed sense is feeling. Of course this raises the question why this is not part of the dual-coding theory. My personal guess is that first of all it's more work to test out three kinds of codalities, and find a proper environment to test all three variables. Probably more important though is that most test environments are not geared towards learning of physical capabilities. Nevertheless, my personal experience is also that feeling the movement helps a lot of my students.You can use this knowledge to add an additional perception layer to your information, simply by making your students feel, what you want them to learn. Might it be a connection or might it be simply the kind of bouncing you want your students to do.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Reverse Lindy: Find Beginners Material As Beginner

Everyone who teaches will eventually run into the curse of knowledge and be faced with a full class of beginners who are totally lost. When developing beginners material there are a few factors that have to be considered. The material is supposed to be fun, easy to learn, but at the same time very basic. These manifold goals naturally open up many different ways of teaching beginners.
This article talks about how I got to what I do nowadays when teaching beginners.

Reverse lindy hop is everything in lindy hop done in reverse. Ta-Da! :) A small example: If you start as leader in a swingout with your right foot back, hold the left hand of the follower instead of right, with your right, instead of your left, and you turn to your left instead of to your right, then you are doing what I call reverse lindy hop. Max & Annie are doing this here.

Starting Out

When I first learned lindy hop we didn't use any technique really, in the next school I learned a lot of technique. Technique was usually taught as a "boring" necessity you had to go through. When I taught my first beginners class, I did the same and taught lots of dull technique. Hence my beginner classes were hard and tedious. For a short period of time I tried to do "fun" classes with very limited focus on technique. This way I lost less students in comparison, but the classes were very unsatisfying to me, since I saw that my students would eventually have to re-learn everything. 

Something Is Wrong

At some point I realized two important things, that have completely shifted the way I teach lindy hop: First I realized - I had done so much technique that technique had become the goal itself. Second I noticed I couldn't do my beginners material out of the box with beginners, with the technique I wanted them to use. Out of the box meaning, without telling them how to react. This felt inherently wrong. So I decided that my lesson plan had to be completely changed.

Be A Beginner

I had been teaching reverse lindy hop for ages already, but I hadn't seen the true value in it. Until then reverse lindy had been more of a game. Reverse lindy hop had one funny property - it was surprisingly difficult. Even as a good dancer I couldn't just switch everything to the other side. This proved extremely useful. Reverse lindy hop enabled me to put myself into beginner's shoes. I recommend everyone to dance reverse lindy for a while. 

Reverse Lindy Results

Everything arm-leading related and in open position turned out difficult. What proved easiest were close position and body leading. 
From close position with body leading you can easily develop everything. Keeping rhythm (as opposed to speed) is something that proved to be easier in close position as well. 

Putting Technique Back Where It Belongs

Starting with basic movements in close position and adding technique when needed has one more advantage it becomes a neccessity- it starts like math in school. First you have the positive whole numbers, at some point you subtract a bigger number from a smaller number and then you need and hence introduce the negative numbers. 
For that necessity to arise, you will have to let them try first and also let them fail. If you anticipate their failure and introduce the new technique beforehand, it easily turns again into "just" technique.
What I experienced is that technique when only taught right in the moment when needed, no one finds technique boring and no one minds. My classes end up to be way more successful than the "pure" fun and no technique classes. Technique has become what it was originally designed for: not a goal itself, but a support for dancing better with your partner.

The Open Position

Now there was only one thing left. It takes forever to get into open position, which is actually quite a fun position to be in and good to know for social dancing. 
In the meantime I had found out, that I wasn't the only one working on this topic, but also quite a bunch of friends - including my favorite dance instructor, Dax Hock, who also provided the above math analogy - seem to have ended up with more or less the same conclusion. The trick I picked to solve the open position debacle ended up being from Birgit, a great teacher from Berlin who runs her own dance studio It's a send out. Open position there you are! From there you can do the underarm pass, which is a nice and easy move, and from there come back to close position. 

Share your thoughts on how you teach your beginners below!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Time Management: Or Why It's Called A DANCE class

Studies have found that the most effective classes in a school environment all have one thing in common - as much time as possible on the matter. This also applies to teaching lindy hop. To learn lindy hop the best way for the vast majority is dancing itself, combined with feedback and error corrections. It is unfortunately quite easy to lose lots of time on other things. This article covers the basics of time management for classes, so you can maximize dancing time and hence learning time.

First there are a few things that fit best the category organisation. It might not be visible, but this group does take a lot of time.

  • Setting up the group, lines or circles?
  • changing partners: who rotates and when?
  • locally, you might have to check people in, e.g. stamping some booklet
  • locally, you might be informing your students about current events

The first two points can be reduced to one by making up your mind what you want before you start class and then giving clear instructions.
The third point is a little bit trickier. What you want to avoid is that you are checking in people 15 minutes into the class. If you can get your students to come 10 minutes before class starts, you can check in your students then. Else, you might want to check the late coming students in after class, or find someone else that does it for you. It does stay disturbing though, even if someone else does it.
Pointing out local events is a great action and I love doing that when teaching local classes. Just make sure, it's not in class time, but afterwards.
The elements in the above list are examples. There are more organisational things. Think about what you do, and find a way to handle them more efficient. Always try to move organisational elements out of the classroom. If it is organisational regarding the way you conduct your class, decide beforehand and then apply in class. Deciding before class will have the nice side effect that it frees your mind for relevant dancing issues.

Then there is another group of stuff, that is hard to find a topic for. Let's called it mixed.
  • talking time
  • getting stuck on a specific problem that only one couple/person has

This list could also be extended, but they seem to be the biggest two points to me. Talking time is not dancing time. Chose well what you want to say, say it, and free the rest of the time for dancing.
If you notice that a problem concerns only one couple tell them that you're going to answer their question in person during the next song (and do so :)).
Almost last, when you plan your classes calculate time for actual dancing, not only getting through the material.
Last, starting on time is always a good idea. If you train yourself to start on time, your students will know that as well. This way, you don't lose 5 to 10 minutes every lesson.

Enjoy your next dance class! :)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

If In Doubt, Try It Out!

Teaching and learning are complementary but different. Simply put - teaching is done by the teacher and learning is done by the student.
It is fortunately impossible to open a student's brain, pour in information, close it, and then see immediate results.

Teaching is providing a learning environment and supporting the action of learning.In this article, I'll talk about 3 ways to improve your learning -- all tested and proven by yours truly. ;)


I'm positive that most students come with an expectation to learn. But there are certainly those that come expecting to be entertained or to receive some form of affirmation. In both situations, it's the teacher doing the work. To learn, you have to do something.
If you are a student coming to class with the expectation that your teacher is supposed to give you something, your classroom experience will improve drastically if you change your mindset to: "Today I'm going to take the most possible out of this lesson."


I've found that lindy hoppers are a very collaborative bunch - which is great! I support inter-partner-exchange 100%! However, if you main focus is improving your partner, the extent of your own personal growth decreases greatly.
So what do you do, if your partner isn't "getting it"?
If you are a leader and your partner struggles, try harder to do exactly what the teacher has instructed. If you don't know how you can improve, ask how you can make things better, so it'll be clearer. This way you will improve. 
If you are a follower, try following exactly what your partner is leading, because it's not the move you are trying to learn, but rather the art of following! (That is, as long as the focus of the class is a new move or new technique. This obviously doesn't apply if you are working on individual improvisation.)


Last but not least, trust your teachers! I've personally found this one tricky from time to time, so let me repeat that: trust your teachers! Why? There are a bunch of good reasons, but let's focus on the one related to learning only.
Instructors provide you with information, instructions and help. If you question one or all of these, you'll do them half-heartedly. It is crucial, especially when trying out something new (and might it be an old move with a new technique), to do what the instructors tell you 100% in order to make it work.

Remember - If in doubt, try it out!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bars vs. Beats

When it comes to organizing swing music, one fairly common criteria is the so called BPM. I also use it to a certain degree when actually DJ-ing. BPM is a measurement for the speed of a song and stands for either beats per minute or bars per minute. The difference is simply in the number range. Beats are four times the bars, because there are four beats to a bar in swing music.

While Beats are more exact (when using whole numbers) I don't see much use for that extra precision. I've seen both in use. I personally use bars, mainly because it's less work to get and because I don't need it any more exact.

Getting the BPM

To get BPM, you'll have to either tap them out, count them out, or find a (to me) still unknown program that can handle swing music and determines it for you.

To tap out the music, you'll have to get a software or use online software and depending on wether you want to determine beats, you have to tap once every beat, or every fourth beat to get bars.(Some programs might actually do the beats to bars conversion itself. There are of course more software options to explore if you are interested.

I usually count out music, by counting bars for 15 seconds and then multiply the number by four. While there are more ways, this is the one I prefer.

Fun Fact: Just from talking to fellow DJs, it seems like there are national tendencies. ;) If you are a DJ, state your country in the comments and if you are using beats or bars!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Finding Music Vol 2

This post follows up on where to find new music. In most cases, those two collections named will probably keep you busy for quite a while and might be more then sufficient.

If you want to dig deeper though, there are a couple of other ways of course, and these are ways I use:

Who Played With Whom 

Find out who played in the bands you like and look for those names. Often there were sub-groups or they formed groups later on in their career. Information about who played with whom can be found e.g. on the covers of the chronological series (background image) or wikipedia. Looking for members of Duke Ellington's band, I found Johnny Hodges, who has some amazing recordings himself.


On that note I want to mention a book, "This thing called swing", where there are plenty of connections shown, and many interesting people named.

Antique Shops

Occasionally you have luck looking for old records in shops. Success strongly depends also on what country and city you live in. I've personally never found anything useful, but I know people who have built their collection by doing this.


  • free online music like Spotify or Deezer (might be country dependent)
  • Often music from that time is now freely and legally available on the net. The thing to watch out for is illegal downloading and poor quality (below 192 kbit/s) (e.g. youtube). 
  Search for
  • public domain repositories (,
  • chronological covers on google, and find forums that share public domain music
  • archives
  • blogs


The two collections mentioned in the former post are of course in this category. But from time to time you'll find offers on shops like amazon - 200 songs for 5 bucks. You will probably toss 190 or even 195 of those songs, but if there is one good song in that collection and you did chose this path, it was probably worth the money :)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Changing Partners: Or How to Benefit From Cognitive Overload

Changing partners has its reasons. But frequently I get asked about how to make people change partners, especially in beginner classes where new couples often want to stay together. This post is about the different approaches I've used or seen in beginner classes to facilitate partner changes.

1. The Discussion

Situation: You called for a partner change for the first time, and, despite your clear instructions on how to do so, there is chaos and some couples feel uncomfortable and start to debate with you. Now you'll have to spend precious class time explaining why they should change partners. If you are lucky, they'll agree and change. Or the situation could possibly end in a confrontation with your either forcefully calling "rotate!" or giving up and saying "ok, just stay".
Result: An often awkward situation, unhappy students, bad environment for teaching and learning
Better: Tell them to switch partners now and that you'll explain after class. This way you don't waste learning time.

2. The Explanation

Situation: Before you request a change of partners, you explain the pros and cons of changing partners.
Result: Either you get lucky and people change (but you still have wasted class time on it) or you end up at point one, "The Discussion."
Both have the downside that if someone doesn't want to change partners you're not going to get them to try it out without their being unhappy.

Experience shows, that everybody ends up changing partners anyway. So basically, you want them to try out changing partners without all the explanations and to figure out the benefits for themselves. To do so, I've developed two approaches.

3. The Houdini

Basically this is a magician's way of making people change partners. You shift the focus away from the act of changing partners. How? Well, like this, for example: (Students standing in a circle) "Ok, you still remember who was lead and follow? So, now there is a tricky part coming up and I need you to pay good attention.  Follows, you turn 90° to the left. Now walk over to that guy standing there. Everybody there?"  This way you've got people changing partners.  At this point they are still "at attention", so you'll need to "release" them. Now you simply say, "This is what we call changing partners."
Result: In the best case, the released tension goes to laughter, and you got everybody switching partners and being happy.

I used this tactic for a while, but it still took up too much learning time for my taste.

4. The Cognitive Overload

When I read about cognitive load theory, I wondered what would happen if you created an overload on purpose. And funnily enough, once people are overloaded it usually brings them into a mindless state. Once people are in that mindless state, they won't question (simple) instructions as strongly anymore.  A cognitive overload can often be created simply by combining two requests (using the word "and" as a connective). So, a simple "Follows, go to the lead to your right and say hello," will likely do the job effectively and you'll have more time for actual dancing in class.

Things to keep in mind:
  • Make them dance with the new partner right away after the change. This gives them a more personal connection and reduces the fear of the new person.
  • If students really don't want to change partners, you can't make them. The good thing about the last two options is that they'll try changing partners first before deciding if they like or dislike it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Changing Partners: Or Who Is Next?

Changing partners has been a point of discussion many times.  At some point I was convinced it was only people new to the scene who don't believe in changing partners in class, but it turns out I was wrong. There are some Lindy hop schools that explicitly say that you don't need to change partners if you don't want to.

Most of the time, though, you run into this phenomenon in beginners classes, where new couples wish to stay together. This post talks about why changing partners in class is good.

Here is a list of various facts:
Firstly, problems solve themselves.
      Have you ever noticed that the couples who don't change partners in a beginners class usually have the most problems and also the most questions? Sometimes simply changing partners a few times solves problems, answers questions, and helps people succeed.

Secondly, Lindy hop is a social dance and changing partners is one of the the best ways to learn how to social dance.  With each new partner, you get a variety of requests/responses and you learn how to adapt.

Leading and following is much like a conversation. So, unless everybody already knows how to speak understandably, without errors and mumbling, as well as to how to listen and respond, there is a good chance that they'll miss parts of the conversation (or even the entire thing!).

What happens when you change partners?
What happens is that you can test your conversation capabilities by having the same conversation start with a variety of people.  This will give varying results and the easiest and clearest feedback to refine your actions.

Another advantage to rotating partners is that it allows students to get to know the "other half" of the class. This contributes to a more relaxed atmosphere, which is good for learning.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Cognitive Load Theory: Or How Learning Works Vol. I

The learning process can be described (in a strongly simplified way) as
1) perceiving information
2) processing it
3) and then storing and connecting it to other knowledge.
These are three different steps.  Now, one theory in pedagogical psychology that deals with learning is the cognitive load theory. It states that the learning effect depends on the mental capabilities, the cognitive load, during the processing. 

The cognitive load has to be appropriate to the learner's information processing capabilities. In most cases smaller is better. Size matters..

How can we profit from this information?

The cognitive load depends on many factors, e.g. whether the information is presented mono-modal, meaning only visual or only auditive, or multi-modal. When the information is only available in one modality, it will - counter-intuitevely - take up more cognitive resources. Hence, presenting information in a multi-modal way (visual and auditive) will help reduce the cognitive load, leaving more space for the actual processing.

Intrinsic Load

Secondly, if the information being given demands the student to keep various aspects in mind at the same time to integrate this new information, it will create more of a cognitive load.  In order to reduce that load it helps to use structured and already integrated information.
This relates to when you are structuring your upcoming class to connect the inner bits seamlessly together. It's a lot of work, but so worth it!

Extrinsic Load

The cognitive load also depends on the amount of information available to perceive.  Even if it is well structured, too much information at the same time will result in a greater loss.  For example: talking about the positions of the hand, elbow and foot in one phrase and then letting your students practice will probably make them forget one, if not two, of the three positions.  Pick one important part that you think is essential, talk about that, and then let them practice that one key element. 
True, this can be very time consuming, but the result will speak for itself.  After each key element that you've talked about, give them three times to try it out. Then repeat this with a few key elements, and in the end, shortly summarize those elements and let them practice to music.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Finding Music Vol 1

Whether you are a teacher and you are looking for music for your class or you are a DJ and want to grow your collection, the search for swing music is a necessity. 

Every DJ has a bit of a different story on how they started. I can't recall mine, it just started :D 

The easiest way, and I've seen many people do this, is to ask a DJ for some music. However, I would actually recommend not simply copying someone else's harddrive, but rather getting out there yourself and starting from scratch. With copied music, whether you're using it for class or a party, you'll have to listen to it beforehand anyway to familiarize yourself with the songs and make sure they fit your needs and taste. So why not just use that time to find your own stuff? 
Two birds, one stone: You'll listen to different songs as you sort through albums, familiarizing yourself with the one you like as you go along, and you'll be building your own unique collection at the same time. 

To start building your own music collection, there are two truly great collections out there:
  • The Ultimate Jazz Archive 
  • Chronological Classics 

Getting one of those, or even both, will give you a great start. Since they are quite big, two tips: 
First, check for musicians you like. 
Second, check for a certain time period. 
Get those records first. The collections themselves will be too overwhelming. 

On a personal note, a "less" known musician I like very much and is verydanceable is Bunny Berigan. The time period I like most is 32-39. Have fun with it! :)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Last Things Last!: Or What Is The Recency Effect?

 There is psychological phenomenon called the "Recency Effect" gives incoming information a stronger influence on the memory than previously received information.

How can we use the Recency Effect in teaching?

When teaching, we usually use more than just pure content.  There are also other factors like organization or something to enhance the atmosphere. So, what we say before we let students dance, should be relevant to what they are supposed to train.  E.g. the three main points you just discussed for 5 minutes summed up in one sentence.

Another place where you can use the Recency Effect is in the end of the class. Here you can give a short summary or recapitulate what was important in class.

You can also try to use the Recency Effect in areas other than verbal information, such also feelings and impressions. If you finish your class with something positive, the class will likely stay positive in the minds of the students. This is also good, since this is better for learning and also for motivation.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Too Much To Teach: Or How To Pick A Goal

Most instructors have experienced a time while preparing for a class that they just had so much to teach.  So much that it became too much. Among the things to focus on were technique, and execution, and fun, and and and ...

So, this week's blog post addresses goals and focus. Assuming you want your material to stick and your students to leave without a cognitive overload, there is no way around picking a focus for your class.

So, how do you pick a focus?  The answer depends totally on you.  Ask yourself - What is important to you?  Do you want your students to understand a concept, a technique, a feeling or an idea?  Do you feel like they are missing something?  Do you think it'd be nice if they could do x or y?  Or something completely different?

One good example would be jazz moves:

You could easily put jazz moves into the following contexts and probably several more:
  • jazz moves (e.g. with their particular history)
  • body awareness
  • frame matching (just do it / mirror me)
  • personal movement / stylings
  • creativity
  • isolation                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
What you would teach about the jazz move could completely differ from context to context, without necessarily contradicting your other messages.  You can see that if you want to talk about all the different aspects, you are going to need more than one class. So, instead of talking about all of them, pick a  focus.

You can have multiple goals for each class, of course. I usually try to keep it down to one, so students don't get mixed up and so that they have an easier time remembering what to take from that class.  One place where having multiple goals does fit very well, though, is if you have a series of classes with the same group, regardless of whether it's a workshop or a class series from a local class.  

A nice side effect of picking a focus for your classes, is that it's much easier to evaluate if your teaching was successful or not. (Since you're reading this blog, I'll assume you do want to improve your teaching skills.)  Have you reached your goal?  Or only partly?  

Yet another side effect is that narrowing your focus can help you determining what kind of exercises you need or what kind of moves to teach.   

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Music in Class, Vol I: Or Why It Should Swing

Playing swing music in a Lindy hop class is very natural and important, since music and dance are so strongly connected.  Yet despite what might seem like an obvious choice, it is not always the case that swing music is chosen for Lindy classes.

This post looks at the arguments some people offer for using non-swing music in class and provides counter-arguments. 

The reasons that teachers use non-swing music are usually one or a combination of the following:

  1. There is no (good) slow swing music
  2. It's difficult for a beginner to hear the beat (in comparison to pop music)
  3. Real swing music might not attract people

Let's start at the end and move up.  Regarding Argument Number 3, in my experience patronizing people has almost never been a good idea.  Even more importantly, I've had many students in my classes who first appreciated the music and then started dancing.  Also, if someone doesn't like swing music, maybe Ð just maybe Ð Lindy hop is just not for him or her. 
Moving on to Argument Number 2.  First of all, it's true that hearing the beat is not always easy.  Hearing the beat tends to be more tricky on late 20s Jazz and New Orleans Jazz.  But with a good music selection, you'll find swing music, that has a nice and easy-to-hear walking bass.  Secondly, avoiding swing music ignores the main problem.  We don't avoid teaching swing outs just because they are tricky.  If students have trouble hearing the beat, come up with exercises to help them develop that skill.
And arriving at the Number 1 Argument against using swing music in class, good, slow swing music absolutely _does_ exist.  It's just about getting up and doing some research and finding it. It's not as easy as finding good fast swing music, but definitely still doable :)

In conclusion, it is my firm belief that it is crucial to play swing music in swing dance classes.  I do it, advocate it, and enjoy it! :)

Now read Music In Class Vol. II

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hello and welcome to Veit Talks!

This blog is about teaching, dancing and dj-ing. Three things I've been doing and loving for quite some time now.

The blog posts are mainly catered to those who want to start djing swing music, teaching lindy hop, or are already doing one or both. This blog might also be interesting to organizers or fellow dancers who are interested in all that makes up the world of teaching, dj-ing and dancing.

Yes, yet another Lindy blog. So why read my blog? What makes it different from all the others? The goal is not to hand out my course materials and music sources and playlists, but rather talk about *how* I gather teaching material and *how* I teach and then show you how to get there, too. I believe my ideas are pretty open, generally applicable, capable of yielding various desired results, and thus more valuable to my readers than plain, dry materials/music.

I've personally always shied away from blogs with too lengthy or ranty articles. The former I'm not fond of, since I agree with the saying "Those who have something to say, don't need many words." Also it's a good motivator to write well and concise. Ranty blogs never give me the impression that they could contribute to anything I'd want.
So, that said, I'll try my best to write blog articles that are:

- informative
- educational
- short and easily readable
- "one article, one message"

Since each post is supposed to be short and should contain only one message, there will be multiple topics that will be spread out over several different posts. So I'll ask you to hold your horses when it comes to "incompleteness" please. :) The plan is to release an article each week.
One note about the teaching/learning posts: since humans are very complicated and I want to keep the blog simple, I will simplify the matters a bit, not covering every exception. The fact that my choice of language might be a bit more careful does not at all mean that what I write isn't backed by either strong evidence, scientific proof, or both.

Who is "I"?
I'm a Lindy hop/swing/dance enthusiast based in Zürich. I've studied psychology at the University of Freiburg, where I grew up as Lindy hopper and helped to grow a major part of the active scene.
I'll be sharing hands-on advice on teaching based on my psychology studies. I've written two articles in the past, "Stealing" and "A dance is like a conversation". Currently, I teach Lindy hop workshops and private lessons around Europe. When I'm not dancing, I'm likely to be dj-ing under the name of Dr. Jazz. If you want to know more about me as teacher or DJ, check out the bio pages or invite me for a beer.