process not product in learning dance

Valuing the process rather than the product
I’ve been thinking about this again.
Two of my teaching buddies like to quote Ramona: “As soon as you ‘have’ a step, it’s dead.” The implication being that you should never be ‘done’ with a step, never have ‘learnt’ it.

We use this idea in our approach to our own learning and workshop attendance. You don’t go to a workshop to ‘learn the content’, tick it off your list, add it to your repertoire and so kill it dead. You go to workshops for all sorts of reasons. To work with that teacher. To see how they teach. To be with that group of people, learning with them. Most importantly, to participate in that class, to feel how that teacher manages a class, and to experience that class in that particular moment.

When you approach workshop weekends like this, suddenly every weekend is very exciting, and you never come out of workshops bored or frustrated. Beginners or introductory classes become particularly interesting. Because teaching beginners is the hardest thing in the world. Which is why I don’t understand why people have their least experienced teachers teach beginners.

The content becomes just one part of the learning process: you learn about how to be in a class, you learn about how that teacher manages a class, you learn about how the coincidental grouping of people in that moment create a particular, fleeting learning environment. It’s quite wonderful. It can also be quite confronting, because each time you go into a class, you have to be open, and assuming that you know nothing. You have to be really ready to learn, and to try to set aside what you ‘think’ you know.
To me, this seems the logical extension of a rhythm-based learning or teaching or dancing process. You treat each class as though you were sitting in with a band. Everyone in that band has a heap of useful skills, but they may not all blend perfectly at once. But you have to make the music together, so you have to make it work. So you have to come in determined to work with people, and open. Very open. You have to be ready to change the way you do things. To have your opinions changed. And that can be so confronting for someone who’s been dancing for years and years.

This is also a lot like Frankie’s approach to social dancing: you are in love with that person for 3 minutes. They are the queen or king of your world. So be there, be present. Whether they are the best dancer in the world, a poop person, a wonderful person, a really physically frail person, a brilliant conversationalist. Whatever it is that they are, you work with them to make a new dance. And you have to be prepared to be something, yourself.
I don’t mean this in a condescending tone: it’s not like you approach a dance with a total beginner or a ‘terrible dancer’ as though you are the best dancer ever and you have to ‘make it work’ with that person. That’s a terrible way to approach partner dancing. There’s a very good chance that you actually suck. Your attitude certainly does. Total beginners have something you don’t have, and will never have again: they have that moment where dance is totally NEW and fantastic for the very first time. It’ll never be like this again. You could only dream of feeling dancing like this again. So pay attention, they’ll teach you how to be right there in the dance.
More importantly, this is a partner dance. You are both working together.

I think this is why I’m so fond of multi-level partner classes. They’re really hard to teach. And they require your complete attention. You have to be there.

So classes and learning can’t just be a matter of ‘collecting’ all the moves. You have to approach dancing, all the time, as though you haven’t gotten to the bottom of it yet. You have to keep looking, because you won’t find everything in a step or a song or a sequence in just one through.

My favourite example is in learning a routine. Memorising the steps is just the first step. It’s only then that you can really start working on the dancing. And you realise you have to actually start all over again, because by ‘learning’ the step and fixing it in your memory, you’ve killed it dead.

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