Wednesday, January 30, 2013

There Is Different And There Is Shit

Recently I was in the train and a fellow lindy hopper joined me and we started talking about ways of teaching and the implications each method has. What I noticed was that the implementation is often overseen, no matter what method is used. The topic is important to me, because I think there are many misconceptions especially about teaching beginners, and there are many things that, once taught, are hard to reverse.

Disclaimer: While this article is sparked by a discussion about teaching beginners, its application reaches to teaching in general. 

There are many people that add "that's just different" in discussions. But no, not everything is just different! It's impossible. If it were, there would be no need for levels in classes, since they are all doing the same and there is not better and worse. But some are better and some are worse and so we differentiate. When it comes to teaching methods we have to think at least two dimensional (just "different" would be one dimensional). There is different and then there is the quality of the implementation.

Bottom Up

I used to teach by dissecting everything down to a T and then building up from there. This is the way I learned it. Crash courses would start by having students rock step over and over again, of course with addition of how much weight is actually shifted back and forth. Then we would add triples, triple for a while, then add those together, etc. Teaching a basic side by side Charleston would take forever, usually by the end people had forgotten how to walk and were completely up in their heads, while the movement still wouldn't be any good.
What happened inside of the students? We had taken something that they new very well (walking) and had broken it down into so many parts, that they couldn't handle it anymore. We created problems for them, that they didn't have before.
Also we had taken complete control over them and placed mistrust in them, by arrogantly showing them again what they had been doing properly for 20-40 years already. Two perfect ways to demotivate students.

Top Down versus Bottom Up

Opposed to this way of step by step instructing or also known as bottom up, is the so called top down approach. We start with the complete picture (doing the movement) and when problems arise we address those. The question is not which approach is better but rather what material suits which approach and how the approach is implemented. Top down works great with simple movements in the beginning and they can become increasingly difficult with increasing level of the dancers. Bottom up works perfectly to structure a class, a workshop or a class series.

 Technique As Solo Body Movement

What I've seen a lot as and also what I guess most people that have had bad experiences with top down is "Just do it" and "Move your body" with no explanation or support. That people will struggle in those classes and have "feet to be sorted" is obvious. The problem is the implementation though and not the approach. Something I've picked up recently is something I've seen Dax Hock do and what I call "Technique as Solo Body Movement". This approach trains dancers to first get the solo body movement to follow and lead the movement and then apply it by just connecting physically to the partner. This is genius. This way technique isn't a construct for mental masturbation anymore but rather something that helps the dancers. It decreases talk time, increases dance time, decreases mind-focused dancing, and increases the amount of details transferred.
That's why I roll with solo body movement not only in trains. Always remember - it's what you do and it's the way that you do it.

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