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.