Cognitive load and lindy hop

Leah Jo linked up this interesting article, ‘Cognitive Load Theory
How the cognitive load of a learning task affects a person’s ability to memorize it’
on facebork.

It’s very interesting.

Fran then asked about the point that because processing more than one type of data increases cognitive load, we should avoid it.

I’m not entirely sure I understand the article’s point, as I haven’t read the original research. But that won’t stop me blabbering on.

I’ve just read that bit, and I reckon it means:

  • Different types of data are processed in different ways (eg auditory info – sound – and visual info – stuff we see).
  • Processing more than one type of info at a time increases cognitive load (ie it’s more work.)
  • Therefore (this article suggests) we should only present data in one form at a time.
    In our case, that’d be just scatting a rhythm, or just dancing a rhythm, not dancing and scatting.

I think I can dig this, especially for total beginners who are just learning to dance for the first time. They can be learning to process visual info (bodies in motion), auditory info (clapping), etc etc etc.
So what we’ve found (coincidentally – I’d never heard this theory before), is that we demonstrate one thing at a time. eg we dance the whole move. Then we clap a rhythm. Then we may tap the rhythm with our toes. Then we may step it out with no sound, but shapes. This way the info (ie the rhythm) comes to them as lots of different data types, but one at a time.

Having said all that, as we know, dancers are super good at processing a few different types of data at once: we can be led through a routine and see the shapes, we can listen to the music and hear the melody, we can feel the physical cues and respond with the shapes.

But these are skills we come to after practicing and learning for a while.
I think retention (memory) is under-emphasised in our skill sets. I mean, we learn complex rhythms (which are essentially like learning complex mathematical formula or series of words), retain them, and then repeat them back with or without variation. We also learn whole sequences of steps during our dancing years, and then recreate or revise them in real time.
So one thing we learn when we do a dance class is to see/hear/feel data in one way, then retain that ‘way’ and information while we’re watching and retaining a section, third, fourth set of data. Then we synthesise it all and do it with another human being surrounded by heaps of other human beings also dancing or playing music!

That’s some seriously heavy cognitive load. So one thing we need to do in classes is teach students how to cope with a) the pressure of increased cognitive load, b) how to actually carry increased cognitive load. And lindy hop is awesome because it’s so fun: it rewards increased cognitive load management with good endorphines and happy times. :D

We can also just start with simpler tasks, then increase the complexity. For example, begin with one type of data at a time, then gradually increase the combinations. I think we do this with our beginners. So we may just give them one rhythm in the baby version of i-go, you-go, but as they get more experienced, we increase the number of things they have to do during that task (eg the next step in this game is to have the pair take turns dancing a rhythm at each other, in real time, so they have to invent a rhythm while they’re watching and retaining their partner’s rhythm. The simple solution to this is to take something from your partner’s rhythm and build on it in your rhythm, so you don’t have to make something entirely different. This is what tappers do in jams. It also provides rhythmic coherency or consistency).

I’ve been interested to compare teaching in a quiet environment after teaching in a noisy environment with lots of distractions. The former is very much the marker of middle class, anglo-european teaching philosophy. The idea that we need a quiet ‘room of one’s own’ to do good solid thinking and learning. But if there’s one thing we know about lindy hop, it’s that it was born and thrived in loud environments full of information and noise and other people. One of the very first things you learn in a tap class, for example, is how to handle the cognitive load of a very loud learning environment. A lot of people simply can’t get past that first bit (I personally really struggle with this).

I also noticed that when we started welcome small babies and children (and doggos) in our teaching space, at first I found it impossible to stay focussed. Then I just learnt to ignore it (as I suppose mothers learn to ignore random kid noise, but respond to particular noises or lack of noise :D). So you learn to filter out extraneous data to decrease your cognitive load.

…following that thought on. We know that people learn best in environments where they feel happy and safe. This is probably because when we feel unsafe, we are ‘hyper vigilant’, taking in lots of information about our environment, _and_ keeping our bodies ready to fight or fly. Which is why anxiety or social phobias or trauma are so exhausting.

So while I dig this article, I think that it’d be really useful to compare it with learning in other cultural spaces. I haven’t checked the samples in this piece, but I wonder if they used predominantly white, middle class people between 18 and 25 (ie university students) in laboratory environments as their samples?

Perhaps one of the most important things about thinking of lindy hop as a black dance, is that we remember where and how people learnt to dance: in vernacular spaces. Everyday spaces. Spaces full of noise and stimuli and other people. Which is not only why we see the influence of everyday stuff in lindy hop (eg rhythmic movements borrowed from stuff like sweeping or hammering or ball games or playing hop scotch; familiar personalities like pimps and kids skipping; familiar animals like chickens and cows), but the ability to bear massive cognitive load while completing complex tasks…

Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 4: Teaching ethos and goals)

Other posts in this series:

  1. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 1: a class structure)
  2. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 2: I-go You-go)
  3. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 3: graduated challenges and application)
  4. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 4: Teaching ethos and goals)

How does this fit with our teaching ethos and values?
I strongly believe that teachers should be guides on students’ learning journeys. People who provide a space and some structure for learning and experimentation. This means dismantling a top-down hierarchy and replacing it with a student-centred learning space. In the case of lindy hop, this literally means getting teachers out of the middle of the circle, and giving students permission to use the entire dance floor.

It also means that I think we need to give students more responsibility in class. Make them responsible for finding the beat, counting themselves in, knowing when to stop or start a sequence, having the skills to speak and work respectfully with partners and class mates. Rather than funnelling all this work and communication through the teacher.

It doesn’t mean that we leave students rudderless, or that we let our classes become a chaotic jumble. On the contrary, classes need to be thoroughly planned out and structured. That structure might change (will change, probably :D) during the hour, but it should be thoughtful change. Teachers should be responsive to students’ needs, using their repertoire of teaching tools to address students’ needs and interests and willing to change and adapt their teaching.

Most of my thinking about class planning and structure and goals I’ve learnt from talking to Sylwia Bielec and Adrian Warnock-Graham from Montreal. I’ve never met them in person, but they’ve both been endlessly generous and patient with teaching materials and advice. I’ve also learnt a lot from Rikard Ekstrand and Jenny Deurell from Sweden, who are very thoughtful, gentle teachers who combine seriously old school content with modern pedagogic practice. I did my first tap jams with Tommy Waddelton last year at Herräng, and it blew my mind. His jams were the ultimate exercise is talk-less, dance-more teaching, taking the I-Go You-Go model to incredible heights. As a student, it was exciting, stimulating, creative, inspiring and FUN. As a teacher, it was truly impressive to see this approach in action with such a disparate group of dancers. Ramona Staffeld remains one of my greatest teaching influences. She works in the real spirit of historic jazz dance, but with modern sensibilities. eWa Burek and Lennart Westerlund have also been very important to my teaching practice. Lennart in particular opened my eyes to the idea of rhythm-first dancing, and first demonstrated that students don’t need to be counted in. And Marie N’diaye and Anders Sihlberg are my ongoing teaching inspiration, again combining thorough pedagogic theory and practice with historic influence and creativity. All of these teachers put music first. Jazz music.

Tell me and I will surely forget. Show me and I might remember. But make me do it, and I will certainly understand.
— Old Chinese proverb

(Quote from a teaching resource provided by Sylwia.)

This approach is echoed in the ‘see one, do one, teach one’ model that I’ve seen used in teaching kids about the environment. I can’t remember the name of the documentary, but in this project, they had the kids learn about an issue, try it out, then teach the entire group (including adults) in a big group session. They’d found that this engagement helped kids become and feel responsible for environmental education.

I really like this model:

  1. See one (teachers demo i-go, you-go)
  2. Do one (teacher lead i-go, you-go)
  3. Teach/lead one (they take turns being the caller in partnered i-go, you-go).

I mean, lindy hop basically is i-go, you-go, right?

Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 3: graduated challenges and application)

Other posts in this series:

  1. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 1: a class structure)
  2. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 2: I-go You-go)
  3. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 3: graduated challenges and application)
  4. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 4: Teaching ethos and goals)

How does this exercise scale up for more experienced students?

With the intermediate group after that one, we taught the same class structure:

1. the big apple was faster and harder (I led that one and fucked it up royally. PRACTICE!)

2. Then I-go, You-go with more complex rhythms.

3. Then social dancing lindy, with pauses to ask them to dance as though they’re still playing I-go, You-go.

4. Then we asked them to add on to their ‘basic’ rhythm with a stomp off on &8.

5. Then we worked on a rhythmic variation/shape thingy on 7812 of a swing out. This taught connection stuff, but also required them to stop thinking in 8 counts and start treating a dance like one long rhythm.

6. Then we taught a partnered solo jazz sequence we stole from Norma and Frankie. But they had to lead it and follow it. We looked at how close you stand to your partner, how you can lead a rhythm without touching someone (ie how to do I-go, You-go :D), how OGs used specific rhythmic sequences over and over again, so they developed a shared repertoire, etc. We were really STRICT about them all really dancing these rhythms. No mumbling their way through.

7. Then we asked them to mash all this stuff together.
This bit was wonderful: stomp off &8, clear basic rhythms (time steps), rhythmic variations that may or may not sync with your partner’s, and then these shared open position solo sequences.

Class goals (ie why we used I-go, You-go and the other exercises in this order):
This is my current bugbear: WHY do people stop dead on 3&4? On 8? For breaks? Why do they divide a dance into 8 count blocks?

We wanted to:
– Preserve historic sequences and steps;
– Get them to really partner dance in open position with jazz stuff;
– Use the call and response model to make their lindy hop more rhythmically precise;
– Really engage with the music as a long piece of rhythm, not lots of little 8 count segments.

I’m also really keen on leaders really thinking ahead and being very clear in what they’re about to lead, rhythmically. The leaders have to really LEAD. This is where I don’t really dig ambidancestrous stuff, because I think that leading and following are different roles. To really LEAD, a leader/caller needs to engage their muscles in a very specific way. It requires we engage our bodies and brains. We have to be really clear and precise. Which incidentally engages our cores and makes us easier to follow/lead. And that means making rhythmic sequences and shapes very clear and specific, and always being ready to do the next thing.

It was epic fun.

Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 2: I-go You-go)

Other posts in this series:

  1. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 1: a class structure)
  2. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 2: I-go You-go)
  3. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 3: graduated challenges and application)
  4. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 4: Teaching ethos and goals)

The I-go, You-go game is a tap exercise we’ve appropriated for our lindy hop classes and use in lots of different ways. The game involves a caller/leader who claps or dances a step or rhythm, and is then followed by the rest of the group/a partner, who repeats back that same sequence in the same timing.
The game is fun because the follower repeats back the rhythm immediately after the leader, without pause, and the leader then begins a new rhythm immediately afterwards. So you’re dancing back to back, in time, with no gaps or time to stop and fuss.
The sequences can be a bar long, two bars, a phrase. Whatever works for you and your group. Obviously the shorter the easier (though a tap bar is a lot more complex than a lindy hop bar :D ). If we keep the tap roots of the exercise in mind, the little sequence should be repeated – so two bards (8 counts), where the sequence is repeated is the best option. For tap.

But the game is wonderful because its simplicity allows you to vary it to meet your students’ needs. Or your partner’s and your needs.

For tappers, this is a good intro to tap jams. For lindy hoppers, it’s a good intro to lindy hop – partnered jazz dancing.

We have been using this game as a core part of our beginner (and now higher level) lindy hop classes for about two months. It’s successful not only for students’ learning, but also for our own learning, as teachers and dancers. I like it because it embodies the call and response of lindy hop, and in fact, we now present lindy hop as ‘a long call and response game’ to our beginners. This is a nice way to get around the political issues of using ‘lead’ and ‘follow’ as titles. Though we still use those terms too :D

From a musical perspective, you can listen to a pair playing I-go, You-go, and hear it as an AABB phrase structure. And when you begin to think of the game like this, you can imagine a million other variations for teaching other lead/follow and musical skills. It’s also a MASSIVE amount of fun. Students enjoy it because it feels like fun, and the quick pace means you don’t dwell on mistakes or errors, you just move on immediately to the next challenge.

What rhythms do you use when you’re the teacher leading the whole group?

Depends on the point of the exercise. With the total beginners in this class, we wanted them to just use one rhythm (step step triple step). Why?
– To really make them feel comfortable with this as a time step (so comfortable they get bored and long for improvisation or something different).
– They learn to hear the difference between a rhythm clapped straight or swung.
– We wanted them to feel confident in the rhythm so they’d then experiment with shapes, direction, other parts of their body.
– The main point is that they really focus on their partner: a ‘win’ is where the person responding gets it ‘right’. So the caller understands that being very clear and deliberate is the point (ie you don’t try to trick your partner or be unnecessarily complex).
– I was fascinated to see that after starting this way, they incline their body towards their partner, then keep this orientation in closed/open. They really focus on their partner. So you don’t need to say things like ‘look at your partner’ or ‘check in with your partner to see how they’re going’. They’re already doing it.
– I learnt this from Rikard and Jenny in the Herräng teachers’ track, but I-go, You-go is a tap exercise. Except in tap you have to reproduce rhythm, pitch, specific part of the foot, AND shape.
– This game is also an exercise in mindfulness. So we begin with a big apple warm up (a fun, simpler I-go, You-go game, then consolidate and concentrate the same skills in the teacher led and then partnered versions. By the time they get to actual partner dancing, they are really using these skills intently. That gives them the ‘take care of your partner’ and ‘take care of the music’ elements of lindy hop. When you shift to closed position for gliding, you can say ‘we’re still playing the game. But now you can’t seethe whole of your partner. Use your sense of touch, and the shared sense of timing from the music’. It’s better not to actually articulate that stuff, but to just get them to learn by doing.
– This game also teaches you to learn-by-watching (eg “I’ll do it three times then you do it,”) so you don’t need to break stuff down or talk a lot when tackling specific moves.

The I-go, You-go game can also be played with the teacher using different rhythms (and you match complexity to skills). But you need to be constantly assessing their progress. Repeat something slower if they don’t get it. Do a straight version then a swing version if they’re flattening out the rhythm. Get more complex as they get better. Push them until it gets too hard for them to do successfully (so they recognise challenge), etc etc.

A lot of tap teachers teach whole classes like this. It is FANTASTIC fun. No talking, just call and response.

When they glide with rhythm, we do ask them to do their ‘basic’ rhythm (the one we worked on), but we don’t really mind if they do other stuff too. We basically want them to learn how it feels to move with deliberate rhythm across the floor attached to another person. Maintaining perfect rhythm is just a lovely extra.

Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 1: a class structure)

Other posts in this series:

  1. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 1: a class structure)
  2. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 2: I-go You-go)
  3. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 3: graduated challenges and application)
  4. Independent students and the I-go You-go game (part 4: Teaching ethos and goals)

Last night we taught a group of complete beginners their first lindy hop class ever. And the first time they danced to music with a partner, they STARTED THEMSELVES WITH NO COUNTING IN and they were ON TIME!!!1
They also started at the beginning of the phrase.


We did the class structure like this:
1. Big apple warm up (teacher leads, and makes sure there are a few of the elements of the steps in the warm up; emphasis on starting new moves at the beginning of phrases)

2. the I-go, you-go way of teaching the rhythm (teacher leads, students ‘respond’: 8 counts of clapping rhythm, students come in immediately after and echo that same rhythm. Begin with clapping, then move to using different parts of the foot (as in a tap exercise), then adding in direction for steps (eg a rock step), then moving bodies around floor)

3. play I-go, you-go with a partner (as above, but now they are calling and responding for a partner) without music

4. I-go you-go with a partner with music (and we ask them ‘is it easier with music? why?’ -> because the band keeps time, they know when to start and stop, etc etc)

5. learn to do closed position

6. learn to glide without rhythm or music

7. when they rotate we point out that each partner is a different size and shape, so you can’t just approach your partner with Barbie arms; you need to adjust your embrace. And we demo’d how to talk to your partner about adjusting, and they all tried that a few times.

8. glide with music, but no set rhythms (though they do tend to start adding in rhythmic elements)

9. glide with rhythm to music -> this is where they pwnd all and we didn’t need to count them in!

At about this point we paused to explain about spending a bit more time grooving before they start to move (we had demo’d this but not articulated it yet). We explained grooving as making friends with the music, making contact with a partner (do you hear the music the same way? how do you know? etc etc).

10. grooving again with music -> they are social dancing

11. questions from them: how do you change direction? how do you know which foot to start on? how do you know what your partner is ‘leading’ or ‘calling’ in terms of rhythm? etc etc. This is where I used the phrase “You listen with your skin” in closed instead of watching with your eyes in open. I will never forgive myself for this hippy-ness. I’m sorry.

12. They dance on all this stuff.

By this point they’d been dancing hardcore for 50 minutes. We didnt’ count them in once.

We would ordinarily have introduced another specific shape or two by this point – promenades, circles, whatever. But we had a rowdy group. They were actually enjoying mucking about by moving and traveling the floor, etc.

13. We introduce crazy legs/cool breeze in the knees as a new rhythm. They add it into their dancing.

So they’ve done a loooot of social dancing in this class, the rhythms are tight, and they’ve also learnt nice partnering skills (and connection), they can count themselves in on time on phrase, they have swinging timing rather than straight, etc etc etc.

It was a very fun class. They had a lot of fun, and so did we.


  • My Baby Just Cares for Me – Nina Simone
    It’s a goody for pointing out the role of the bass, plus the piano actually sounds like step step triple step, there’s that little delay/break that makes them stumble, then learn to listen to the music more, etc.
  • Blip Blip – LCJO
    Warm up song, because it’s energetic, hi-fi, vocals and fun for the very first song.
  • Easy Does It – Big 18
  • Stepping into swing society – Ellington 1938
  • Easy Going Home – Hodges 1953
    At the end, to get them experimenting with varying crazy leg/basic rhythm stuff, and to make them laugh.
  • Keeping out of mischief now – Louis Armstrong all stars 1955

Class ‘content’

We’ve just finished a six week long beginner lindy hop block. This whole block could be summarised in one hour (as we did tonight) with the below points. If I had time, I’d also list the specific class plans we had for each individual class.

Specific dance stuff:
– gliding (dancing in closed with no particular rhythm), aka floor craft, partnering, leading and following, comfortable closed position, finding 1, stopping and starting independently;
– circles, aka a specific rhythm (which someone pointed out tonight is 2 x 4 counts) with a specific direction and shape – leads leading and follows following, efficient and deliberate movement through space, being able to choose a smaller step size, etc;
– swinging out from closed position, aka knowing where ‘halfway’ is in a circle (on count 5 or after the triple step), continuing rhythm, leading with your body and the physics of rotation, understanding how far to go away from your partner;
– jazzing in open, then re-starting again, aka keeping time and changing between a single time rhythm and a step step triple step rhythm, leading in from open using your body, following in from open;
– using rotation again to ‘catch’ the follow, making contact with your body to follow the lead;
– combining the two to make an open to open swing out, with or without time jazzing in open, aka hearing 8s, phrases, keeping time, swinging time, etc, improvising, changing rhythms;
– charleston on your own (and using the groove to transition between the two);
– moving from a circle into side by side charleston then out again (using the groove to keep time, knowing when to change, using your body to change direction and suggest a change in rhythm, recognising changes in your lead’s body movement, maintaining a rhythm until it changes);
– the kick through in side by side charleston (how to lead by moving your own body – kicking in and out, pivoting on one foot, pivoting on one foot and turning, a new charleston rhythm, etc etc)
– leading the whole group in a big apple, in turn (hearing the phrase, knowing how to prepare for, then pass the turn to your neighbour, knowing how to pass without stressing, understanding how to lead a move successfully for a group, etc)!
– moving through space (rotating partners!)
– swivels, boogie back and forward, itches, push it, push it out, etc, rocking, and many other jazz steps.

Learning skills:
– learning-by-watching;
– working with a partner;
– dealing with not getting it right first time (aka patience and perseverance);
– i-go you-go learning style in pairs and in groups;
– sticking with a task (no matter how ‘simple’) and refining it;
– working with a range of partners of different abilities, and finding the fun;
– knowing how to stop, chillax and find the groove, then restart and start dancing again with many different partners (esp after ‘making a mess’);
– working on a problem or challenge before asking for help (independent and team problem solving);

Social skills:
– how to ask for a dance, how to accept one, how to introduce yourself;
– how to ask a partner how to change how they’re touching you, how to accept that comment from a partner;
– stopping, then chillaxing, then restarting with a partner to manage stress or making mistakes;
– staying calm and cheery under pressure, and accepting challenges and obstacles as a useful part of learning, without getting angry or anti-social;
– respecting partners’ bodies, and when they ask to stop, change, or adjust a physical contact;

Musical skills:
– finding the beat;
– swinging the beat;
– finding the 1;
– finding the 8;
– accenting 2, 4, 6, 8 (as in boogie back);
– difference between 20s and 40s jazz and how it affects charleston emphasis;
– finding a phrase (consciously and also implicitly);
– recognising a 12 bar blues and 32 bar chorus format;
– finding the right place to start in the music, then getting started and dancing;
– moving between different rhythms (single time, half time, step step triple step, charleston, a range of other rhythms) in partners and alone as solo dancers, and also as solo dancers with a partner;
– being able to recognise, retain, then repeat a given rhythm (as in I-go, you-go);
– being able to transfer a rhythm from clapping to different parts of the foot, to stepping, to physical movement through space.

They learnt so much!
I’m also happy that I’ve learnt how to rethink a class and course structure. I used to teaching thinking ‘ok, what moves will we teach’, and now I can think ‘ok, what skills do we want’, then develop a class that fosters these skills implicitly (rather than through lots of talking). But still uses and shares historic vocabulary and musical knowledge.

Figuring out how to teach content in class is lots of work

Lian noted in the teaching swing dance group the other day:

…in the past few years when planning class material, I’ve found it super helpful to focus on HOW we’ll teach it… Will we have them do it solo first, how about shuffling through geography before diving in with footwork, or a progressive series of movement leading to the final concept.

I commented:
I think this is the most important thing ever. Making a shift away from moves= content to skills = content has been so important for me. From ‘we’ll teach moves x, y, x’ to ‘our goal is x or y this class. We’ll do this game, then this move, then combine the game with the moves in a section to teach this skill.’

It takes ages, but when we work through how we’ll teach, it’s so much better. Especially if you’re working with a new teacher, or if you want to be a better teacher. Breaking down how you’ll teach makes you more self-reflexive, and actively engage with how you understand a move, how you articulate it, how you can take most of the words out, and how you can encourage students to learn by trying.

Super fun. But it really challenges a teacher to try to improve and change their habits.

I’m interested in the idea of class planning as a discipline not only for its effects on teaching practice, but also for the way it organises labour before, during, and after classes, and also contributes to teaching team morale and relationships. The time you spend planning helps you figure out how you’ll relate to a teaching partner.

But a very important of my current teaching process, is moving from seeing class ‘content’ as a bunch of moves, to seeing class ‘content’ as much more.

This includes lots of different teaching tools, and knowing how they work individually and cumulatively to develop students’ skills:

– Having ‘goals’ for that specific class
eg ‘integrating different charleston rhythms with lindy hop’
That means knowing what you want to achieve before going in there (because you know your students’ needs), or going in there, observing the students, and thinking ‘ok, they need some X.’

– Having fun games that develop skills required to reach that goal
eg some solo work to learn how your body works
I’m beginning to think that the whole class should be treated like a series of games. ie just making classes a bunch of fun challenges and tasks.

– Beginning every class with a warm up that includes key rhythms or shapes that we’ll use in the class later, but set the tone of the class.
eg kicks for charleston, or pivoting on one foot, or syncopated timing, or dancing across two 8s rather than one
This warm up teaches specific rhythms and shapes, but also teaches them how to learn-by-doing (ie we literally say “Just join in; the goal is to get warmed up”), how to deal with ‘mistakes’ and challenges, and how to move on from one step to another, or from one challenge to another without giving up. It also trains the eye (what do you _see_), and the ear (each move takes a phrase, and uses specific rhythms across moves).
NB We all practice our warm ups very carefully, and don’t just ‘wing’ them.

– Following that with a teacher-led exercise or game like I-go, You-go to teach rhythms.
This second game continues the idea of learn-by-doing, and is lots of fun. These two ‘warm up’ games also begin introducing students to the skills they need for later in the class. So in week 1 of the beginner block we teach the ‘basic rhythm’ using I-go You-go. But we might also use this to teach a particular jazz step or skill.
This game can be made more complex/challenging for more experienced classes. eg from week 1 to week 6 in the beginner block, it gets trickier as their skills increase.

Paired or small group exercises which are actually dancing.
eg an I-go, you-go exercise where they echo the teacher’s role of calling the step, but take turns being the ‘responder’ as well as the caller, working in turn rather than together.
This then moves them from ‘doing one’ to ‘teaching one’. They learn to ‘teach’ or communicate a rhythm or shape or musical concept with their bodies in a small group (a pair) which is less threatening. It also teaches them to work with a partner (which is central to lindy hop). This develops skills like communication, visual learning (learn by watching), seeing success as a collaboration not an individual victory or competition (eg they ‘win’ if their partner completes the rhythm successfully).
NB These are NOT isolated ‘exercises’, but actually dancing games, where they are literally dancing and experimenting with movement and rhythm.

Moving to a dance move or figure that employs these skills.
eg a call and response rhythm that happens on 1-4 and then 5-8 of an 8 count swing out.
This is the application of their solo dancing skills to the lindy hop setting. They usually figure out that they’ve been dancing lindy hop all along anyway.

Teaching specific lindy hop vocabulary.
Historic moves are wonderful because they incorporate all the things we value: music, swing, collaboration, etc etc. I try to teach at least one jazz step per class. But I may teach it in a variety of ways. I try to collect ways to teach these steps to keep my brain interested, and theirs. So teaching a jazz step isn’t just about passing on a nugget of knowledge. A specific jazz step teaches other things. eg boogie forward teaches how to dance alone with a partner, dancing in blocks of 8, using half time, experimenting with simple shapes to get interesting styles, how to move through space (including floor craft), etc etc etc. I might teach this step by “Watch me, and when you’re ready, join in” or I might break it down into pieces. Or I might say, “Let’s walk into the circle (big apple style), then back out. Ok, let’s use this timing. Nice, now let’s give it some boogie.” And build up the step from a recognisable real-world movement (eg walking).

Plenty of individual/unguided practice or experimentation time.
They count themselves in (start when you feel ready, or when the music tells you it is time), learning to pause and take a breath, communicate with a partner to figure something out, navigate a crowded dance floor, ask for a dance and how to touch someone, etc etc.
These unguided sessions are ESSENTIAL as they teach improvisation, and other social dancing skills. This is the point of it all.

Giving dancers without a partner specific tasks.
eg explaining how to practice a rhythm on your own, experimenting with size, shape, bounce, groove, etc.
I find that most students figure out how to do this on their own, if you begin a class with a strong solo component. The last thing I want is students looking at their phones or blanking out. Even if they’re not actually dancing, I want them to be watching, engaging, or simply taking a real break or breath and learning to realise when they need to take a time out.

Whole-group demos from teachers
eg we’ll do it three times then you do it. This brings all the dancers together, and they can ask questions and listen to each other. It’s important for teachers to use this time to model how to speak to a partner respectfully, etc etc etc.

Whole group synchronised dancing through a step or sequence.
“Let’s all go together as a team.” Dancing as a synchronised team builds cohort feels, but it also strengthens rhythmic sensibilities and collaboration. They feel where it’s going wrong or right, and they learn to start and stop at a specific time (eg with discipline).

I’ve ended with this last tool, because this is where a lot of teachers begin and end all their classes: teaching a series of set moves that everyone dances together as the teacher counts the time, and then they rotate. I think it’s a nice tool, but dancing it this way in class every class, all the time neglects 90% of the skills you need for dancing lindy hop. Even if you break the step down before they do it, using something like a standard – geography, shuffle through, now add rhythm, now refine the leading/following.

If they experiment on their own, they learn to count themselves in, experiment with leading and following naturally, work with a partner, listen to music and dance in swinging time, learn to hear phrases (when the music suggests they start), take a breath and just stand and watch, retain their social skills by communicating with a partner, etc etc etc.

Teaching: follows’ skills

Someone asked in the teaching group this week:

Planning a workshop focused on follow mechanics. What skills do you think separate great follows from good follows, and how would you train those skills?

There were some interesting comments from people asking if there would be leaders in the class (yes), a male lead chimed in to say how much he learnt as a lead participating in this type of workshop, and there was general chat about how to run this sort of thing. All fascinating.

Me I tend to feel that leaders and follows have very similar goals and skills. I do think of leading and following as very distinct roles within the partnership, though. Leaders have the map, the follow is driving the rally car. The leader points out a side road ahead, the follow decides whether to turn, how fast to turn, whether to u-turn etc. An approach I learnt from Jenny and Rikard. So my response below reflects this.
I also see this question as a consequence of a general push in lindy hop teaching to address follows more directly in class.


Things I might look at with follows:
“You are responsible for carrying the beat, and for maintaining your own rhythm. Don’t sacrifice that for the lead.”
This means that you take the steps and move across the floor in a way that feels like the music, and is also a choice. So not always reacting to the lead, but completing each movement, giving each piece of the rhythm the right amount of time, whether it’s a quick weight change or a slow one, a tap or a jump or whatever.

“Know what you are doing.”
This might not be a conscious brain thing, but your body should be making confident choices about your movements. I _choose_ to echo my lead, to synch with them, to add something new. Just as I _choose_ to echo the music, synch with it, or add something new.
This is about being PRESENT in the dance. I am right there in the moment, in my partner’s arms. I’m not predicting the next step. I’m there, with them. Emotionally, physically, rhythmically.

“Both partners find a shared sense of groove.”
This means that it’s not the follow’s job to just ‘match’ the lead. It’s both partners’ responsibility to listen, express their groove (ie dance, not just ‘wait’) and find a nice ‘connection’ (both physical and social – communicative). I think of it as ‘taking the measure’ of a partner before you start to do moves.

“If leads call the rhythm, follows respond.”
In the first few steps of the dance, a leader might ‘call’ step step triple step, or step-step kick step, kick kick-step with their bodies: swing out or charleston. As a follow, I respond to this. I might (as I describe it), listen for a second, and then say “ok, yep, I’m on board with this” and then pick up that rhythm. I hold that rhythm until the lead suggests a change. eg I hold down that step step triple step until the lead suggests a new one ( eg step-step kick step, kick kick-step).
I think of that as the first sort of ‘finding consensus’ part of a dance. As a follow, I say with my connection and facial expression, “Ok, I’m paying attention. Where would you like to start?” and then we do that rhythm together. It’s like the lead lays down a time step, and I get on board and do it too. Until we change it up.
From here, as the music changes, and I get the measure of my partner, I may add in rhythms – ‘call’ a rhythm. The lead can ‘get on board’ by joining in, or by listening, or by holding down that time step/basic rhythm while I improvise on top. It’s all good. But the the type of relationship you have with that partner depends on who you are as people, what the music says, how you feel, etc etc.
So as a follow, you pay attention to how the lead is feeling about all this.

-> As a lead, I don’t want the follow to just copy everything I do, and try to synchronise with me. It makes me a bit sad (and frustrated, really), as a lead when a follow apologises for ‘not getting it’. It’s ok. If we’re together in our embrace, we can do completely different stuff below the waist.

“The follow’s feet are their own business.”
As a lead, I don’t try to tell the follow how to get from point A to point B. I do NOT demand they synch up with me perfectly like I’m the boss. NO.
I might suggest the speed and direction, but they choose whether to maintain that, change it, do something completely different. Because I expect this active response from the follow, I have to pay lots of attention: with my eyes and my body.

“Take care of your body.”
If it hurts, let go. Stop. A lead who clenches your hand when you’re trying to let go is bad news. Leads: if a follow wants to let go of your hand – “Let it go, let it goooooo!”
You want a nice, natural posture with a neutral spine and engaged pelvic floor as default. Don’t ‘stand up straight’ or ‘squat’ or whatever as default. Your natural resting position should be whatever feel right for that dance with that partner. That first moment in closed, hearing that song will tell you what you need to be safe and ready. From here you can adjust or engage or disengage muscles as needed. You don’t have a ‘frame’, you have a lovely system of muscles and veins and bones and things, that you use in lots of different ways to respond to lots of different signals in the music and your partner.
So you want to be able to choose what to do when, not default to something out of panic or habit. So being mindful of your own body, and really present, is really important.

-> learn to read the signs. Sore shoulders? You may be tensing up in your upper body. So soften your knees, think about your pelvic floor, let your arms swing, maybe reorient to your partner from squared up to 3/4 profile (or whatever). See how that feels now. One sore knee? You might be overusing that leg, so perhaps make sure that the other leg is being placed on the ground clearly and with purpose.

etc etc etc. Basically, observe, accept, be ok and safe.

“Check in with your partner”
Visually – look at them! How do they feel? Are they smiling?
Physically – do they feel ‘on’ all of a sudden? Are they relaxing in their muscles? etc etc
-> use your observation skills. Don’t worry about the next ten beats, be right there in this beat, with this person.


Structuring a class: ‘bricolage teaching’ or ‘lots of little bits’

Georgia was just telling me about this great teaching method she’s experimenting with, where you do lots of different tasks in a class, but for only a few minutes or a short amount of time each. I’ve been trying the same thing with my teaching partner lately, and it’s been very powerful. Super fun and interesting, but also great dancing and learning and teaching. Gotta really _plan_ your classes like a focussed ninja, though. You have to tie all those little pieces together well.

I think the key is to be flexible, and totally prepared to jettison half your class ‘plan’ if things change direction. If something is fun – go with it! I also prefer to build technical stuff into fun games or little sequences, so we’re not standing there playing with a giant rubber band or something. Instead we’re doing a swing out with Frankie’s shake-it-on-down on 7/8 1/2 and _feeling_ that stretch through our connection.

If I have an overall goal for the class – eg I want to have follows get a bit more connected with the ground – I won’t actually talk about that issue directly. I’ll do a warm up, an exercise that focusses on each person being confident in their own rhythm. eg the follows have to ‘teach’ each partner a rhythm as they rotate. And they have to do this by demonstrating. So they might do it on 7/8 1/2 of an 8 count rhythm, and the lead has to observe, then repeat it back. They may have only 5 x 8 counts to achieve this.
Then they do the same game, except they have to ‘teach’ the leads while doing a swing out (instead of face to face in open). They’ll take the visual teaching/learning calling/responding, leading/following and apply it to their lindy hop.

This game will teach follows to be really confident in their movements, which will get them lower in their bodies. The leads will stop yanking and rushing, and will pay more attention to their own bodies and core. To really get follows low, I might offer follows a couple of ‘required’ shapes – eg lifting your toes while your heels stay down. I might demo this by making sure my butt is out (for balance).
…or you know, whatever.

The goal is to progress through this class from a visual lead-follow warm up where the teacher leads, to a social lindy hop lead-follow, where they each play caller or responder in their partnership, adjusting and figuring out how to do this with different partners.

Teaching: handling distraction and disruption

Someone in the fb ‘teaching swing dance’ group asked this the other day:

Question – How do you handle distractions and/or disruptions

When your students are simply distracted or causing disruptions
When you as a teacher are distracted and/or having trouble staying focused

*Waving to you all from my own little ADHD corner of the world. I’ll respond more personally in comments below.

I read this as a continuation of an earlier discussion about managing excessive talking/cohort distraction.

I missed the point, that she was asking: how do I keep myself from getting distracted. Which is so interesting.

Anyhoo, the discussion continued.


If they’re getting bored and distracted, you’re being boring. :D
They’re here to dance, not listen to someone talk about dancing.
Instead of hauling their attention back to you and your voice stop talking and dance. I struggle with this because I’m a total show pony. I LOVE an audience. No, Sam, it’s not all about you.
-> move from teacher-centred classes to student-centred classes.

We used to teach in a crowded public bar venue, with lots of ambient noise and crowding. Things we did:
– we do the ‘come in close’ in a circle thing, then say, “Ok, this venue is quit noisy, so when we say ‘come close’, everyone come in close, we’ll talk, then we’ll all scatter again to dance.” Very effective. I like them to come _really_ close. From here it’s quite fun to demonstrate dancing stuff, so they can see how little room you should use on the social floor anyway. And they can see better as well.
-> I still use this technique now in our bigger space.

– Talk less, dance more. So they don’t get distracted, because you only have a minute or so to talk/listen. So instead of explaining how a move works, the ‘we’ll do it three times’ method keeps them focussed.

– “We’ll do it three times only, then you will dance it _perfectly_.” Gee they pay close attention. But this also trains them to learn-by-watching, which means they really _focus_ when you demo.

– Give them the task, _then_ say ‘rotate partners’ and put the music on. That way they can take as long as they want rotating, and you don’t have to fuss with managing noise, distraction, etc. They figure out: if they dick around, they miss out on dancing time.

– If you give them a ‘tip’ or a thing, they have to dance on it immediately. Don’t load them up with three or more things you saw that need ‘fixing’. If it’s lead or follow specific, you also give one to the other role, then they all dance on it immediately. One thing only for each (or both). Then dancing. Less talk, more dance. Less distracting.

– Rather than stepping in to ‘fix’ something you see while they’re all practicing, let them dance and experiment and fix it themselves. If you step in, they rely on you to help, and they lose focus and get distracted. If they get used to figuring it out, they learn focus and patience and can work on a challenge for longer. Your challenge: knowing when to step in before they get dejected.

– Learn the natural patterns of conversation and noise in the room. Give them a task, then let them do it on their own with music (and a partner). If you’ve already shown them how to talk to a partner (eg your demo about how to touch someone), they have the skills to work with a partner.
Let them go. For a _whole_ song with one partner. It’s only 3 minutes, but a lot of teachers _never_ do this!
You’ll see there’s immediately a rush of noise as they try it. Then a lull as they get ‘bored’ and act all ‘there, done it.’ Then the noise rises again as they a) start yapping randomly, or b) start trying again. The random yappers actually stop yapping and eventually try again themselves. Then the noise crests again.
It’s really hard to learn to not step in; learn to hear those crests and troughs, and observe them, and figure out when you’re really needed. I find they rarely ask for help unless they’re really confused. They prefer to work with a partner, or with their partner and a neighbouring couple!
– During this pattern, they learn to stop and restart themselves. When you do all come back together, make sure you point out that you saw people doing this and you loved it: “I saw people get all confuzzled, then stop, say ‘can we try again?’ and then restart. That’s genius.” I often point out a specific dancer or couple who do this really well – I say, “I saw X and X stop, chill, groove a bit, then start in again.” If you do this, rather than saying “When you get stressed, do X, not Y.” They only hear the negative thing. But if you do it the positive way, they realise a) you’re paying attention, b) you trust them to figure out stuff, c) they can trust themselves to figure stuff out.

c is the most useful, because then they learn to focus and stay on track.

-> Anyhoo, I think this is the most important skill ever. For teachers. Let the class get really noisy and rowdy. They want to socialise and talk.

– Don’t rush them to start dancing after they rotate partners. Give them time to do a proper social introduction, to slowly get so they touch each other. Good social skills, good boundary negotiation, but also good vibes.
-> They come to class for each other’s company. So let them have that time. It’s solid gold. It’ll be noisy, but it’s a _good_ noise. And learn to recognise the difference between good noise and antisocial noise.

I really love this approach. I don’t have to stress about being the centre of attention. I let them actually let their partner be the centre of their attention. You know – lindy hop. <3 <3 <3


The original poster then reminded me: hey Sam, we’re talking about getting distracted as a teacher rather than distracted students. Particularly when you’re managing anxiety and ADHD while also managing a class.


Rather than finding it difficult to stay focussed, my problem is that I tend to find it difficult to stop focussing, and to switch topics or tasks. Obsessive thinking r us. Great for practicing or working on my own dancing, not good for teaching.

I think Byron’s point about using your partner is really good. I often rely on my partner to give me the ‘that’s enough talking’ sign so I stop. Especially if my brain is racing ahead and I forget to let them practice something 2 or 3 or 4 times instead of just once.

I’ve seen other teaching couples use the 2-teacher vibe in a few good ways: – they tag in and out for managing little chunks of a class – eg Pete runs the big apple warm up, I do the i-go-you-go rhythm warm up, Pete does the next bit, etc etc. That way the one who’s ‘tagged out’ can gauge the overall flow and step in with the next step at the right time.

– one teacher may ask the other a question about what’s happening, to help refocus the class: “So, Sam, are you saying that we should _practice_ more instead of just thinking about this idea?” or even “Can you show me how you’d lead that, Sam?”

– switching between teachers leading bits also helps students refocus or retune, because different people use their voice in different ways, or explain/demo in different ways. -> peeps with ADHD can also get really _tiiiiired_ because they’re on adrenaline overload rushing from one thing to another. So swapping in and out with a teacher can give the tagged out teacher a little rest and break.


I’ve just been thinking about how we may talk about neurdiversity and students, and the needs of students who are managing adhd, anxiety, depression etc, but we don’t talk about teachers managing these things.
I feel as though I’ve been working with that very limited idea of teachers as somehow homogenous monolithic neuro-same. FAIL. Odysseus’ recent blog post about how to attract and appeal to culturally and ethnically diverse students makes me realise: start with MYSELF, and stop making my own identity markers disappear.