Should teachers teach footwork patterns for leaders at intermediate level?

Interesting post-dance pub  discussion the other day. Should teachers teach footwork patterns for leaders at intermediate level?

Some of the leaders were complaining that the teacher made things really difficult for them by not teaching  the footwork pattern and leaving it up the leaders to work out for themselves if their foot should go behind, in front or to the side.

I listened to the arguments being made and I thought yes, it is much harder if the teacher doesn’t tell you where to put your feet but you learn so much more about dancing if you have to work things like this out for yourself.

I think I understand what to teacher was trying to do, your feet end up where your feet end up – hopefully they are under your body.  Your feet should cross because you are keeping them under your body not because that’s what the pattern says you should do. If you are taught to cross your feet to do a certain move it might be easier and you can learn that move more quickly but the shortcut means that you don’t learn much about how the dance works and it’s harder to progress as a dancer.

As a follow I think you give up on attempting to do the ‘correct’ footwork pattern fairly early on in your dancing career. A few social dances in and you realise that the patterns don’t fit what most leaders are doing most of the time [perhaps they do where you dance?]. Learning how to respond to what the leader is actually doing is the really tricky bit of following and it’s not something that you learn from being taught footwork patterns.

As a follower, I definitely prefer classes where you learn skills rather than patterns.

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7 responses to “Should teachers teach footwork patterns for leaders at intermediate level?”

  1. Sarah says :

    Guided discovery is the answer here. Yes, many students will benefit from working it out on their own and yes the product will be better and they’ll have acquired the tools to do it again in the future.

    However, we can’t forget that not everyone thinks the same way and we all learn at a different pace. Some class structure should be in place for the teachers to implement some guided discovery. Without giving the answer away can they pose the right questions? Can they ensure the students have the right tools? Is there space to allow for the presentation of students’ different solutions/expressions?

    I think that follows don’t get enough guided discovery as they advance when there is so much room and need for it. Intermediate follows know the basic 8- and 6-count footwork, but often we aren’t taught the SKILL (as opposed to ephemeral manic pixie zen follow feels) to adapt. There is a strategy to finding a good foot to land on, a strategy to improvising within an unfamiliar pattern.

  2. Milknosugarta says :

    I agree with what I think Sarah is saying with regard to guided discovery, I also think that everyone learns in different ways and at different rates. Some leads seem to want the ‘pattern’ and think that that in itself IS the move, I feel that most leading is done through moving your body relative to your follows positioning which cretates the tension to lead..

    It was a big eureka moment when I ‘worked out’ or understood the above point and it still doesn’t happen all the time when I’m dancing – so sometimes I end up muscling a follow through a move because I’m in the wrong place and my movement can’t flow along the prescribed (or improvised) pattern.

    I think teaching a pattern can help leads to pull off a move if they can remember and execute that pattern at speed, I think allowing leads to develop their own footwork (maybe with the provision that they need to end on ‘This Side’) helps them to improve as dancers, it just might not be as smooth a road and almost definately not the quickest route to executing the spin/turn/feeling etc..

  3. Rumi Native says :

    Anyone serious about improving their dancing should never say no to learning proper footwork. But when a teacher doesn’t provide this guidance, why not just ask? It is indeed fulfilling when one can “figure it out” themselves. But figuring out one way to make a pattern effective doesn’t mean one has figured the best footwork or why it works. Sometimes, getting out of the follower’s way is enough. Often, a certain footwork sequence provides the proper kinesthetic cue to the follower. Students, when in doubt, ask. As for teachers, never forget to teach footwork, weight change, rate of weight change, how to sense weight change, etc.

    • Milknosugarta says :

      I agree with Rumi too, But I feel that it’s fair to add that the way a teacher teaches footwork to a certain move may not be the best possible way to do it – just ‘A’ possible way, Perhaps the best way for them? Added to that I believe the best way to pull off a move can be dependent on each persons physicality or approach..

    • sleepingglitter says :

      It was the leader’s questions during class that triggered the discussion afterwards. The questions were along the lines of should I cross my feet at this point? And the response was, well that depends where your body is. Your feet should be under your body and if they are under your body and you are in this place at this point in the move then yes your feet will cross, if you’re in a different place or you step outside your body then your feet wont cross.

      I should probably say intermediate in this context means people who have been dancing regularly for 3-4 years on average, some much longer. The leaders usually know how to do the moves being taught in the class but the teacher will throw something into the mix that makes them just a little bit different to normal.

      What was so interesting about the pub discussion was the whole issue of whether or not the teacher should explain the “correct” footwork so that the leader can copy or should they teach the move as a whole and let the footwork fall into place based on where the leader moves his body (and where the leader/followers end up)? Real mix of views from the leaders. Some wanted explicit footwork patterns, some liked the body leading/more self guided learning approach.

  4. Tanya says :

    Yes please. It’s disconcerting as a follower when 10 different leaders do basically the same move with 10 drastically different feels because each was forced to reinvent the wheel and develop their own footwork from scratch.

    Think about how amazing a swingout feels when the footwork is precise. Now imagine that all moves could feel that amazing.

  5. sleepingglitter says :

    This is a really badly titled post now I think about it but it followed on from our discussion. I suppose the title would be better as ‘How do you teach body leads?’ If you teach the footwork then the body lead will happen but the movement is probably going to come from the feet. If you teach a body lead as a body movement, it’s hard, it involves a lot of experimentation, it takes longer and people’s feet end up all over the place.

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