Mojo starting to return – the dance floor ain’t nothing without ya girl

Thanks everyone for your comments on my previous post, the dancing mojo is slowly starting to return although I still don’t have my lindy hop mojo back.

I think I needed a confidence boost more than anything and, bizarrely, I found it in a hip hop drop-in dance class. I have no idea who Usher or Gucci Mane are but an hour spent with them solo dancing, in a dance studio, in front of mirrors, following complex choreography, where I was at least 10 years older than everyone else and twice the size of the most of the women (i.e. about as far out of my comfort zone as it possible to get) reminded me of just how enjoyable dance can be.

Lindy Hoppers and Balboa teachers are passionate about what they do, the teachers really want you to get it ‘right’ and the correct/preferred technique is explained in minute detail and mistakes are corrected*. All well and good but sometimes, for me at least, it sucks all the joy out of dancing. I end up focusing on everything that is wrong with my dancing and cease to enjoy actually dancing.

Contrast this with my hip hop class. Certain technique points were briefly explained but then it was really just a case of repetition, teacher demo, more repetition, teacher demo and then a bit more repetition. Each time we repeated a sequence I saw a little bit more and understood the choreography a little better and noticed the subtlety of movements that I had missed before. Hardly anything was said during the class and I completely lost myself focusing on the movement. If a dancer needed help the teacher came over and did a demo in slow motion with them until they picked it up but almost nothing was said it was a really interesting learning experience for me.

Towards the end of the class, when everyone had the basics of the choreography and had just about go the timing, the teacher made a point of singling us out during the chorus, pointing at the spotlights in the room and then pointing at us and non-verbally indicating to us to give it our all:

“Cause the spolight ain’t nothin without ya girl
And the dance floor ain’t nothing without ya girl
You a show stopper ohhhhhh
Let’s get it poppin”

It was a special class and I felt incredibly inspired and privileged to be learning from a teacher who could make me feel 100%, make me dance with spirit and appreciate the effort I was making without criticism – even when a quick glance in the mirror revealed just how far away I was from what I was supposed to be doing!

* I know I am not alone in having had some very bad Lindy Hop learning experiences. Some people might be motivated by being told they will never get something, that they are useless, that all the women in the class need to lose weight because we sound like elephants, or being singled out because you are doing it wrong but I am not one of them. I’ve also had some amazing Lindy Hop teachers who have a very special place in my heart because of the support they have given me and their belief that I would get ‘it’ eventually.

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10 responses to “Mojo starting to return – the dance floor ain’t nothing without ya girl”

  1. H from O-Town says :

    Jeepers, girl! where do you lindy? Some of your lousy experiences sound all to familiar, but not the lindy browbeating session.

    The talk-for-thirty-minutes-and-teach-for-fifteen class? Done it. The I-am-talking-to-other-stars-and-do-not-have-time-to-answer-your-questions-on-the-class-I-just-taught-and-you-paid-for teacher? Ah yes.

    And the exacting method of perfectionist teachers? Actually, I kinda need that, my game needs all the help it can get. 🙂 But no one needs to come to dance– expecting that warm/fuzzy/hug feeling– only to get put down. It sounds like someone’s evil stepmother was teaching that class. Way to instill dance-trauma and complexes!

    Sometimes it’s so frustrating (as a beginning class teacher, myself) when you see people who are fine teachers and wonderful dancers, but they get lost in minutae. Sure its great if you teach them perfectly the first time. Nothing to unlearn! Perfect is great, but if you’ve frustrated your class to get there, well, beginners don’t come back. People like yourself might. Unless they burn out.

    But I tend to think that’s setting the bar pretty high for student and teacher. We’re all just people, with dayjobs and dramas and other things to worry about. Dance shouldn’t be one of them. (Unless someone is competing or competitive or does it for a living, I suppose. Our scene is a nonprofit though, so we do it for free)

    I’m glad you found ways back to the enjoyment we all seek when we dance. A bit jealous actually. After hiphop classes your body isolations should be in fine shape!

    Glad you got your mojo on the rebound.
    and now I go back to lurking.

    • sleepingglitter says :

      🙂 I suppose you only really remember the bad comments. Although there are certain teachers within my scene who seem to have a knack of making people (especially beginners) feel bad about themselves. I doubt they do it deliberately (and I know they can also be amazingly supportive) but it’s such a common complaint that you know there are problems there. I am sure they would say something like you need to push people and give honest criticism but I am not sure how many beginners (or intermediates for that matter) welcome the tough love approach! Fortunately the London scene is big enough that many of these dancers find a happier home elsewhere.

      The talk-for-thirty-minutes-and-teach-for-fifteen class? Sometimes I quite like this one; you definitely need to be in the mood for it though. It’s great when people are passionate and sometimes it is nice to learn about the history of the dance or a certain teacher’s theory of how a swing out should be done but not so great if you just want to dance.

      Not had the The I-am-talking-to-other-stars-and-do-not-have-time-to-answer-your-questions-on-the-class-I-just-taught-and-you-paid-for teacher?

  2. H from O-Town says :

    I’ll grant you, I too like to hear people teach me something about dance, its history, or their interpretation, or even their experiences. Perhaps not when its during a pricey workshop weekend though. 🙂

    ugh, the other fella was at a Bal workshop/comp weekend a couple years ago. He’s very good. and he probably didn’t mean to come off like that. That one sticks with me because he had particularly pointed out in class (correctly) that I was not correctly following something my partner was doing.

    But to be fair it was a one time thing, not my average experience by any means!

  3. Freddie says :

    Bad experiences with specific teachers aside, I do share your experiences to some degree on the differences in teaching styles, but in my experience the big divide is between solo dancing and partner dancing.

    In solo dancing, your screw-ups only affects you and the focus of the class is primarily (most often) to teach you a choreography. In partner dancing, your screw-ups also hinders the person you’re dancing together with and the focus of the class is primarily (most often) to teach you basic leading/following concepts so that you’ll be able to dance socially.

    • sleepingglitter says :

      Agree partner dancing is definitely a different beast but when I think about solo Charleston classes, Shim Sham classes or authentic jazz classes taught by Lindy Hoppers there can be an awful lot of verbal instruction going on and much less emphasis on repeating the moves. Of course, depending on your level, teacher knowledge, learning style, phase of the moon, etc. all of this verbal instruction could be seen as a good or a bad thing. Some people want to get as much info as possible out a class so that they can practise on their own, others want to spend class time practising and experimenting especially if there is a mirror in the room.

  4. Sarah says :

    Easily the best Lindy Hop class I took was with Skye Humphries and Naomi Uyama at the Hawkeye Swingfest 2010.

    It was a lot like you described. Teacher demo, drilling and repetition, speeding it up. They did very little talking or critique. No funny business. When they did talk it was to the point, friendly, and just exactly the comment the class needed.

    • sleepingglitter says :

      I think it’s strange how watching, drilling, repeating and then speeding something up can be so satisfying. I like to have time to concentrate and really focus on something without lots of interruptions.

      Obviously not all classes are suited to this sort of treatment but classes with lots of repetition means that I can explore the movement being taught in a little more detail. When moves are repeated over and over again I can start exploring and think about what happens if I move my weight forwards slightly? What happens if I keep the movement going a little longer? What happens if I extend my arm more?

      • sleepingglitter says :

        Having said that, whilst I find this sort of stuff interesting I can imagine many people switching off and being bored with the repetition, disliking not being told exactly what to do and being unimpressed by the lack of new moves/teacher input!

  5. Jon says :

    I have been in partner dance classes that followed your hip-hop model (in one case the only words the instructor ever used were “Eso!” and “No!”). And in classes where the instructor talked on and on. But people’s learning styles differ dramatically, and as a detail-oriented engineering type, I did much better with the second mode of instruction than the first, where I desperately wanted to ask for clarification and explanation but was unable to. Bottom line is that to reach the biggest possible audience, instructors need to try to serve all the learning modalities among their students.

    • Rebecca Brightly says :

      Well put. Or, another way of thinking about it: students need to figure out their best learning style and follow the teachers that are best at teaching to that style. No need to suffer through classes/workshops where the teacher isn’t doing it for you. I’d rather take classes where the teacher caters to my way of learning. So long as they understand that their teaching style isn’t the be-all-end-all.

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