I earnestly wonder how others communicate areas to work on for individuals? I believe I will offer to do so for those students who would like a useful critique. But I think it is a delicate area.Here is a summary of the discussion which ensued. As well as the general discussion, some people gave guidelines, and there was a discussion of methods of dancers opting in to (or out of) personal critique. Marilynn Knight proposed giving the class an introduction to be sure they were all aware of what they were in for, and there was a discussion of the use of touch in teaching. Priscilla Burrage suggested getting the class members to observe each other.
The official line when I took local training for a prelim was NEVER to give individual feedback. Watching teaching, it really does seem to help those who most need a point if the teacher emphasizes that point for everyone.
One year at a workshop, however, I signed up specifically for a class where the teacher was supposed to focus on what you needed most to work on. Then I got to the class and the teacher announced she would not do that - and that to an entire purposely-small class where everyone had signed up specifically for such individual attention! And she followed through - no individual help! Following the RSCDS party line, it seems. There, I think, is the key - the others and I had regarded it as help or tutorial.
I agree that the feedback given to all can be effective, but not always. Sometimes a person really doesn't realize what they are doing (or not doing) unless you tell them specifically. Also, when you get to a certain level of general competency and are hoping to really improve the finer points of your footwork, I find that general feedback given to the class as a whole is rarely helpful. I know I have had very few opportunities to get useful feedback on how I can improve since I got past the beginning stage. One of the few times I actually got something useful was during my prelim exam, and it the comment (regarding a fine point of my skip change step) was preceded by "I'm sure this has been pointed out to you before . . .". Well actually, it hadn't. For all I knew my skip change was absolutely perfect. I've never heard of the RSCDS officially having a position that comments should not be given on an individual basis, but I sure would rather have had this comment *before* I took the prelim exam!
Whether or not we are RSCDS, I feel that a standard of excellence needs to be recognized for all Scottish country dancers. I, for one, welcome all comments from all teachers who are willing to help me learn. I feel no shame being singled out, nor do I take any comment personally. I recognize the intent in the comment and if it is not made in the most tactful way or seems harsh to others, I want to ensure you all that I will still eagerly embrace the opportunity to learn and grow. Plainly, I want to get better. If my teacher is afraid of hurting somebody's feelings to the point where no feedback is possible, then I have been denied my opportunity to be the best I can be. Please; while I understand the need for different levels of instruction for different abilities, by the time we are in intermediate or advanced level classes I expect the dancers to be able to take criticism in the spirit it was intended. We should not be ashamed of striving for excellence.
Part of the problem is that dancers do not realise that they are not complying with every request. They think they are doing it well as few are able to watch themselves in a mirror.
When video cameras first came out we had a teachers seminar on afternoon and some quite 'senior' teachers attended. The most often used phrase on seeing the playback was "that's not me, is it? Do I do that?"
Some just would not agree that the picture of feet on the screen was them and got quite cross about it. It is a problem to convince some advanced dancers that they are not doing what teacher tells them.
When criticising somebody - would it not be a benefit if some of that criticism was positive? i.e. "you have a lovely sense of rhythm - if you put your foot in this or this position, you would find it much easier".
In todays world we always focus on the negative, yet we are never told what is nice about oneself, and likewise we never give praise.
Just a few random thoughts/observations on the recent discussion about crituiquing dancers - The really superb dancers I've met either started dancing very young, had other dance experience before they started Scottish Country dancing and/or learned in Scotland when they were young. Most dancers seem to max out on their skill level fairly early on (usually around three years) - no matter how many workshops and classes they do - some noticeable improvement but not a lot. With each group of new dancers it's usually easy to spot the gifted ones who quickly pick it up and go on to master it, the average dancers who likewise learn the basics and polish a little and stay at that level ever after, those who always find it a struggle but continue for other reasons, those who never seem to get the hang of it and stay around for reasons known only to themselves, and those who quickly decide that it's not their thing and don't return. The only things I've noticed that seem to make a difference is how often people dance and how many opportunities they have to dance with superb dancers (i.e. learning by imitation). Locations with large numbers of dancers who have danced for many years seem to have an environment where it's easier for new dancers to improve. I have tried at times to convince myself it isn't so - that all dancers with enough training, the right instructor, etc. can advance to become if not superb at least excellent - but over time I've concluded that's not the case. I've also noticed that often new dancers are not told anything about RSCDS but only that it's fun and good exercise and then later there's some often unspoken assumption that they're not living up to standards - I've been told (by various RSCDS certified teachers over the years) that if new dancers from the beginning were told what is expected of dancers in the RSCDS approach that none of them would stay around at all! I would hope that's not so, but I've never seen it tried. I think there would be less frustration all the way around if teacher expectations were expressed to dancers from their first lesson.
This is a comment I recognise. Perhaps, when beginning classes, new dancers could be told that the teaching is aimed at the best RSCDS standard for those who wish to attain it, but that the standard they go for is a target of personal choice. They would then have some idea of the standard that is possible ?
The teacher can then play on personal pride to increase class standards, not necessarily in footwork but in phrasing and teamwork. All teachers need to use a little cunning ? :)
When I started dancing (in New Zealand, in the fifties) all dancers were given personal attention and their dancing 'critiqued'. There was none of the 'political correctness' of the eighties and nineties which prevented teachers from commenting individually in the fear of upsetting the egos and/or feelings of the dancers.
When I teach, I expect to be able to 'critique' everyone in my classes - if it is necessary to achieve the results I want. I usually make it quite clear at the beginning of a class that I intend to do so. Of course, I will take into account the dancer's physical disabilities - if I am made aware of them. Having said that, I am more aware of the dancers feelings now than when I first started teaching.
I am known to be a 'task master' and that I expect perfection or, at least, the next best thing. For that reason, dancers in my classes expect to be individually 'critiqued' and often come for that reason.
What a video or mirror can't show you are things like "joy" or dancing on a cloud of air. Unfortunately, I've witnessed more condescension or raised eyebrows in this dance form than I have of people exploding with joyful ebulience. I have yet to be in a class where I am encouraged to express my joy of dancing physically (how would one teach joy, anyway?).
Perhaps it's like what ballet is to modern dancing; that the cost of maintaining a traditional/classical art form is worth the pain that one subjects one's body and more importantly one's psyche to. Or perhaps it's like institutions of higher learning; that the memorization of facts is somehow more important than inculcating the joy of learning. Somehow, I can't believe that this is an either/or proposition.
The whole thing puzzles me. I've taught music workshops and I've yet to find the formula to get musicians away from worrying about playing the right notes to getting them to interpret, in their own unique way, even one simple musical passage with grace.
I remember meeting an accordionist some twenty years ago. He was much older than I and only knew one tune. He played it over and over, but every time he played it, he just beamed with life. That quality of joy really stuck with me. I've seen dancers express that, too, but more often than not, people are too preoccupied for joy to somehow come into the equation.
I watched Steve Hickman do this at our Spring Dance Weekend last year. I won't try to describe what he did, because it was unorthodox, to say the least. He completely changed the setting and had everyone way out of their comfort zone, but he himself was calm, reassuring and patient. People struggled, and gradually began making *their own* music.
I thought this was wonderful until the next morning, when he invited most of his students from the previous day to play with him for my class. One of the things he had done the day before was to work completely without sheet music, and he planned to do that today! I was nervous, but all my dances used traditional tunes that sound good on the fiddle (what else you gonna do when you have Steve Hickman playing for you?), so off we went.
It was a huge hit. The ensemble was rough, but the dancers easily heard the joy in making that music, and they showed their joy in dancing to it.
What Steve did was purposeful, and others can do it, but it takes A LOT of maturity in the teacher. Etienne, if you really want to know, talk to Steve, or write me and I'll try to reconstruct it for you.
As a student, I respond best to the teachers who are interested in knowing what my personal objectives are and then respecting them; I respond least well to the teacher who is determined to pursue his/her objective/agenda (whether stated or hidden) in spite of the objectives of the student(s)/class. If a teacher is clear before the class begins about the teacher's objectives and approach (before I sign up and pay a nonrefundable fee for several months of classes), then if I attend I figure I signed on for it and will give it my best shot. But when a class is advertised as being fun, sociable and a great way to get some exercise and then taught by a teacher whose objective is to train demo dancers and who takes that attitude for that class - that I have a problem with - a negative atmosphere develops - the students can sense the teacher's disapproval/ disappointment/ hostility when they're not measuring up - and especially so with a beginner class - then you're lucky if anyone is left after a few sessions. I'd find it more helpful if classes were described by teacher objective(s) - demo training class - social class - etc. - or in some fashion made clear to people before they sign on exactly what they're getting into. I've always been puzzled by what to me seems a "grade school approach" - treating adults like children - as though they can't make their own decisions about their own abilities and goals - with a teacher who assumes that he/she knows what's good for/best for a dancer rather than just talking to them about it and letting them decide. If a teacher is clear about having demanding standards before a student signs up, then if a student doesn't try or is disruptive, then I think it's totally appropriate to refund a prorata part of the class fee and tell the person they need to go find another class.
I have always understood, that from intermediate classes on, expect personal comment on ones own dancing. Over the years I have heard so many complaints RE the comments "There are some In the class" There is an old and very good criteria for personal comment"Comend, Recomend, Comend," this is fine if you have the time, but if you have a line of dancers in front of you that you are observing, you just don't have the time for niceties, Iain Boyd is quite right, explain beforehand that comments will be made and let the class live with it. Dancers who have reached the intermediate level should be able to cope with personel comments. I have been in classes where there were dancers who were never going to improve and where a discerning teacher just passed them by without comment, but didn't hesitate thank god, to make a helpfull comment on my own dancing, after all surely thats what I'm in the class for. Apart from that, any dancer that aspires to sit prelim or full certificate, had better be prepared to accept personal comment,thats for sure.;-)))
In teaching dancing, there are two aspects that we need to get at. One is individual physical and mental skills - ability to move, understanding and ability to execute the step structure, to dance with a certain posture and grace, to use hands in a certain way, to remember the geography, phrasing, etc. The other is the DANCING aspect of it - taking joy in the music, seeking social opportunities. It is a fact of life, I think, that discussions on teaching will tend to concentrate on the individual skills (yes, individual - even teamwork requires individual skill). I'm not sure why, perhaps because it is more concrete. Perhaps because you can't get around the need for individual technical skill to do the dance "the way it is meant to be done" - whether you're talking SCD, ECD, contra, jive, rhumba, or tango.
But without joy in movement, passion in the music, and social interaction, it doesn't add up to a hill of beans. And so it is encumbent upon teachers, once they have addressed the skills, to also encourage the passion. I say encourage, because I don't think it can be taught - only awakened by pointing out possibilities (in the music, in the movement, and ESPECIALLY in the social opportunities - how to look for them, how to take advantage of them), showing our own passion, and showing that the reason for the technical drill is to make it - or some part of it - second nature so that you can abandon yourself to it.
I really dislike the term "individual critique" and try to avoid it. I prefer "individual attention". The advantage of individual attention is that it enables a teacher to explore with an individual their own goals and can help them set realistic intermediate goals (i.e. corrective actions) that will enable them to improve individual skills and tap into their passion. It can also help the teacher to know that they are, indeed, having a positive effect. But there is a give and take in individual attention - it has to be offered, and it also has to be sought. Sometimes, as Adriana pointed out, you can feel that you're casting around trying to find what the heck is going to motivate a group to do things differently. Half the time, the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude is required - after all, it is THEIR class. But you can also pull in the reins and say "okay - here's the deal: I'll do this for you if you'll do this for me" and hope that in doing what you ask, they will discover something they like.
Well, this was probably pretty incoherent. Can you tell I didn't get much sleep last night? I just felt that we had to allow that there are shades of grey in everything we discuss. You can't get around the fact that dancing is a physical skill, and that different people bring different innate talents and motivations to developing the skill. It is also a passion, and the passion has to be nurtured and freed. Both are the responsibility of teachers.
The following comments relate to my experience in teaching a beginners class. In my experience, beginners benefit greatly from critique starting early on. If you instill in newer dancers the idea that critique does not mean CRITICISM, but pointers as to what habits one wants to avoid and what habits are good, you get great results from your group and, in most dancers, a greater awareness of what it is that they are striving for. I never offer critique without giving the positive as well as the negative. When I critique beginners (usually on steps), the entire group each get comments personally, and, as a way of introduction, I tell them what we are aiming for with the process is to avoid bad habits at the onset and to speed up their learning curve. I have had people simply beam after their critique, after hearing what it is that they are doing right. Beginner dancers usually feel awkward and are thrilled to hear the positive, and then will accept hearing the negative. As to how far to push it -- I use the warm-up session to get an idea how people move, to see who is moving differently that week -- injuries or soreness, or whatever. I also stress that we are all working towards an ideal, but that each one of us have our limitations.
I emphasize eye contact, cheerful socilability, teamwork, accuracy of figures as skills we can all attain, the rest are dependent on physical limitations. One of the nicest things one of my beginners said to me was that although I obviously took the dancing very seriuosly, I did not take myself seriously, so the class was a pleasure. Hands on guiding feet or hands, or hugs get full use where apppropriate. People do generally want to be the best that they can be!
Now, my problem is with the long-time, 'plateaued' dancers in my intermediate group -- some really take joy in 'smooth' dancing, but others just don't see the point. Choreography challenges rule for them -- a mental exercise versus a joyful melding of sound, movement and emotion.
A general beef: teachers in general do not focus on what dancers do right, but only on what is wrong. Both are helpful bits of information in attaing goals.
A good point, but "teachers in general"? I can't let this one go by... I think this comment is unfair. In helping people improve, it is natural that both the teacher and the student focus on what is missing, but it doesn't mean that the teacher is ignoring (mentally or verbally) what is good. In actual fact, I have witnessed BRAND NEW teachers struggle to give positive feedback, probably because they are struggling to figure out exactly what they've seen and what they should do about it. I think good positive feedback is a sign a confident, relaxed teacher. It is also possible to find yourself in a situation where you're giving a lot of negative feedback, and you need to learn to catch yourself and shut up. Teachers have bad days too. And if you think you're getting too much negative feedback, you can always ask to hear something you did right - it serves as a good wakeup call and gets you what you're looking for. Maybe we've been going to different workshops, but "in general", I have witnessed MANY teachers give good positive feedback - certainly more that do than those that don't.
[Norah followed this with:]
Perhaps I could make amends for my touchy response by adding the following. The best teachers I have encountered have the following in common:
My husband and I were in a Ruth Jappy's Basic class at a workshop once, and she handled this so well. She took two dancers at a time (one on each side of her) and danced the length of the room and back with them. At the end of that she pointed out quietly to each person something they were doing well, and gave a suggestion for something each could improve. I remember being thrilled at what I was doing correctly, and being determined to work very hard on the point that needed correcting. I felt I had received her individual attention and time.
Also, thinking back on Etienne's comments on "joy", my first night at TAC I was so nervous because I kept thinking I would ruin the dance for the whole set if I made a mistake. Ruth was in my set, and as I gave her my right hand to cross, she smiled at me and said, "Smile, Donna, you're supposed to be having fun." So I did (smile), and I did have fun. I've been enjoying myself ever since. (Thank you, Ruth!) Added note, how could anyone feel anything but joyful when they hear great music like we get from the Music Makars?
This reminds me that the class can give much feedback/encouragement to the teacher, too.
When I took my full certificate exam, I had to travel from the Twin Cities (Minnesota) to Winnipeg (Manitoba). As are many others, I was extremely nervous. But something happened as I stepped out to do my teaching bit. I actually looked right into the faces of dancers who had come out to "stooge," only a few of whom I knew--and every face was pleasant and kind. I remember well that moment (although most of the day was a blur) when I realized that kind people who would have little immediate gain from my pass or fail, wanted to dance and wanted me to succeed. I actually enjoyed the experience.
Since then, I have found that I teach better when I remember that the dancers and I have a common goal--enjoyment. My favorite teachers have always been the ones with high expectations whom I feel are talking to me and I see talking directly to others, rather than making all general comments to the group.
I think the dictum of not singling out individuals is reasonable for casual teaching/learning situations (i.e. a lot of SCD classes). However, casual teaching produces casual dancers.
Even though we have technological advantages such as written words and sound and video, Dance is ultimately transmitted through personal contact, and the most effective form of contact is physical. While I understand the social context from which shunning individual coaching and physical contact derives, it is sadly inconsistent with the RSCDS's emphasis on standards and excellence in dancing and teaching.
While I do not habitually single out dancers for comment or grab them to move them this way or that, my teaching tools include individual praise, individual guidance and occasionally more-than-hand-to-hand physical contact to show dancers how their bodies should be moving/feeling.
Common wisdom is that people don't like to be singled out, but I know lots of dancers who wish they would get INDIVIDUAL feedback - as in, eventually they start thinking "so are you talking to me or not?". Some techniques:
I've been in some excellent individual-critique classes, and I've had a number of opportunities to give individual feedback to dancers, both in "technique" classes where individual feedback was allowed, and in "critique" classes where it was expected. In general, I've gotten very positive responses, so long as I followed a few simple guidelines:
The mechanics of doing all this are important; note item 7 above, for example. One cannot handle too many folks in a session where people expect to receive individual feedback. I've tried it in groups of up to 24, with reasonable success. Larger than that and I've not been able to keep it moving satisfactorily. About 16 would be my preferred size class. Too few people is too intense.
The concept is more successful, I think, the more experienced/advanced the dancers are. Conversely, you can have more people in the class if the dancers are more experienced. The point is, the phase "two-beat pdb" means more to an experienced dnacer than it does to a basic dancer, so you can spend less time interacting with each person in the more experienced group. As a corollary, it is quite difficult to run a critique class that has a wide range of skills in it. Do you focus on the dancer with no pdb at all, or on the nuances of the position of a jete?
I believe, from my experience in doing this and in being in such classes, that most dancers desire and will respond to a well-done technique/critique class that has individual feedback. I also believe, from doing and receiving, that most dancers get almost no value from the RSCDS standard of addressing a class at large with the typical sort of "some of you need more turnout" remark. In defense of the RSCDS, it is conservative and safe to avoid individual critique: poorly done negative (and perhaps incorrect) remarks will drive someone away. Perhaps it is better to have them come next week, unimproved, than to send them away?
It would be terrific if the teaching standards included training in how to give individual feedback; perhaps this needs to be done in some kind of "advanced teacher training" activity. In my Scuba diving hobby, there are "Master Instructors" who have a higher level of certification. Do we need this in our dancing?
For many years I was "lucky" enough to receive individual tuition immediately after class; the first comment from Helen as we drove home was usually taken with fairly good grace: the second remark was not quite so well received, but I usually put a good face on it: However, as a general rule she risked a two day sulk when she came out with the third "piece of constuctive criticism"!
In more recent years I went on a Dale Carnegie course at work, based on the "How to ......" One of the points made was that when people are criticised they always have a reason for what they did; that night we were doing a new dance and Helen did not get back to place in time; I pointed out this fact, only to hear the words "I was late BECAUSE ..." I don't think the class really understood why I found her remark so funny.
As far as giving general corrections are concerned, that does not mean merely saying "some of you are not turning your feet out enough" - it does mean making them all stand with their feet "in parallel", and then "in first" a few times, so that they can feel the difference; it then means making them put their feet in first, take one foot to second, while looking down at their own feet to see what is happening - i.e. practice the good habits slowly.
For people who want to short cut the basic movements done correctly, then get someone to video you - not in class, but at a dance; see what happens to your jete when you are concentrating on your partner; what what happens to your arms during "Turn corner partner"; look at your turnout when "setting advancing" , and your third position when you have a long way to go ........
Of course it is a well known fact that the video camera does lie, especially in the hands of one's spouse (Sometimes I have to search for a shot that shows me doing a step correctly), and when you point out a mistake you are making you have to put up with "I've been telling you about that for years ......", but overall they do provide the best individual criticism you will ever get. Of course it does not tell you how to put it right, but that is another ball game.
Mel Briscoe says, "In general, I've gotten very positive responses, so long as I followed a few simple guidelines:
1. remember these are adults who [...]" (and I agree fully with every one of his 7 points).
I think this is an important track: paying attention to what's in your own mind, rather than what you do or say. Following this a little farther, I think we can take advantage of the fact that people tend to act the way we treat them. In my own classes I try to "follow the golden rule" by giving people the kind and amount of feedback that I would like to get. Amount varies widely, as Norah says, from person to person and time to time; and yes, you have to trust your antennae (and ask explicitly outside of class). But some general guidelines can be given. In addition to those Mel has listed, I try to follow:
But most important is your own attitude. If you try to act as though you think feedback is welcome, you won't fool anyone. But if you KNOW it'll be welcome (because you welcome it, and you know it'll be useful, crisp and balanced), people will tend to respond favorably.
I speak of tendencies rather than guaranteed results, because that's all you ever get. It's helpful to remember that as you explore these ideas -- ANYTHING you try will flop with some people some of the time, so measure your success by how the majority of people respond (and be prepared to go talk with anyone you may offend).
This is pushing the envelope, and probably works better in the US than in Canada or the UK. The RSCDS' advice of "no individual comments" is safe, and I think it's appropriate for a one-size-fits-all rule. I teach that to my candidates, and I practice it myself if I don't feel a rapport with the class.
One other thing: you can't begin giving feedback which follows Mel's guidelines and mine just because you decide to. It's a skill, and skills take practice. You can practice on your students, your fellow teachers, and your mirror. You can also practice in your head: at a dance or someone else's class, spend some time looking around and imagining what you would do/say if you had 30 seconds with that person.
I agree that this is a difficult situation, or at least it is in our branch. One suggestion I have heard (but not tried yet) is to invite people who would like feedback and critique to stick colored dots on the toes of their ghillies, while those who would prefer not to be singled out in front of the class (or at all) could make their preference known by not choosing to wear the dot stickers.
Well, the ghillie dots sound like an improvement over what was tried at a weekend where I was teaching some years back - the organizers had specified that dancers should put a coloured dot on their *nametag* if they wanted personal critique. Since the nametags were orange, and the dots were lemon yellow, I found it a bit difficult to distinguish them at a distance, being somewhat colour-blind, and felt distinctly at a disadvantage having to inspect the ladies' chests to determine whether they were displaying dots...
At least, the ghillie dots would be placed where teachers' eyes tend to look anyway during step practice!
At our Scottish Weekend, some years ago, we gave fluttery green ribbons to every dancer. When they wanted individual feedback, they were to wear them on their nametag. It was hopeless; there were only one or two people who did NOT wear them, but the reverse proposal would not have been acceptable: "Wear the ribbon if you do NOT want feedback," since no one wants to be in that position.
Our solution, which is also due to the size and availability of dance halls at the weekend, is to divide the workshop into three classes: basic dancers, who expect and get a lot of feedback; a technique class, where the emphasis is on dancING and feedback is expected and encouraged; and a social class, where the stress is on dancES and individual feedback is not expected. The technique class really is too big for much individual feedback, so some advanced dancers go to the small basic class both to beef it up and get more attention.
I realize a weekend workshop is a special case. Mostly people come to Scottish Weekend at Ramblewood to have fun but most also expect to work harder and learn more than at their weekly classes. Even in weekly class, I try to give some individual attention, mostly on things that affect the whole set or other dancers, like handing and phrasing, and less on footwork. Still, the net result is that the weaker dancers always get more attention and the better ones get less, so they plateau unless their own inner drive compels them to continue to improve. This also implies they have accepted the concept of the RSCDS standards as something they wish to meet; it has no effect on those who are happy to simply "get through a dance and have fun."
Another technique I have tried or seen is a technique "night" advertised well in advance. If you didn't want feedback, you'd go dance next door with the basic class, which was run that evening as a social class. We had the luxury of having several teachers available, so the dancers wishing feedback were split into teams of four, each assigned to a teacher. One teacher would have the whole room do an exercise, then the teams each got feedback from their "coach," a chance to correct whatever had been pointed out, then on to another exercise. We've also done local video workshops; those wishing to improve come, watch themselves, get a chance to practice, and repeat. The workshop "attitude" seems to make a big difference in how people accept feedback.
...and this is my argument against dots, ribbons, etc. Anyone not wearing the identifier will be considered unwilling to accept any of what the group, RSCDS, or whatever espouses.
One approach, already discussed, is some form of self-selection: either label a workshop as "individual critique", or let people label themselves as wanting it (As for what those people will think of the others, if that's a problem, then I'll bet it was a problem before they walked in). Where I've been a part of these (on either end), they've worked well. But they start with already-motivated people.
Here we are a Social Dance, rather than Performance Dance! Yet, we represent that aspect of Scottish Country Dance known as The Royal Society of Scottish Country Dance. The dilemma here is that RSCDS has very clear standards. For me, as a teacher(and as a dancer), I waver between encouraging and yet needing to make you aware of standards.On the subject of touching people to show them what to do:
Standards exist for many reasons:
Safety, safety on all levels. Injuries of all types can occur when the dancing is improperly done.
To make the dancing more enjoyable, for both the individual and the group.
RSCDS is done all over the world by peoples who do not even share a common spoken language. Therefore, the "language" of the dance must be very clearly understood. This is achieved by adhering to universal standards.
No one likes to be a "poster child". If the teacher does not make a student aware, many a student will not deal with his or her own tendency to practice a form that is not really acceptable.
I have to assume my students want to dance all over the world. Therefore, I must prepare you to dance in a way that will be acceptable to others. In fact, my ego aside, I want you to be able to dance with the most elegant of dancers. That, to me, implies awareness on your part.
Therefore, I leave it you each of you individually to ask for a private evaluation when you are ready. If you are comfortable with occasional open comments in class, let me know. I have no desire to embarrass anyone. On the other hand, when I see incorrect style being repeated, I feel an obligation to make you aware.
Usually I come to class after a very long, hard day at the office, usually starting my day extremely early in the morning. I teach this class as my gift to you and to RSCDS generally. I watch you learn to dance to music I yearn to dance to with outstanding dancers. If you appreciate the class, let me know that. If I am sometimes less than as diplomatic as I would like, understand it is not intentional.
If you would like an individual evaluation in September, please let me know soon.
As has been previously pointed out, seeing a problem and knowing how to correct it are two different things. Ever tried braiding your hair in a mirror? And while the video shows you what you're doing wrong, you need the immediate feedback of a mirror or another video to tell you when you've got it right. Mirrors and videos may help dancers see they're not perfect, but AS A DANCER I've rarely found anything more effective than having a teacher lay hands on me and put my foot / arm / whatever in the right position, or demonstrate the dynamics by moving my foot / arm / whatever. Once they've done that a few times, it's much easier to figure out how to replicate the FEELING of being in the correct position, then check in the mirror to see if it LOOKS right. It's also easier to extend the basics of the positions/movements to respond to verbal corrections.
Unfortunately, the RSCDS traditionally frowns on personal touching - and with good reason, since many people are sensitive about being touched. After establishing a level of trust with your class, you MAY find some individuals are comfortable with this technique to correct (but tread carefully trying to find out who). Otherwise, we are limited to the social contact as it exists within the dance, e.g. being someone's partner and allowing them to sense the strength in your arms, your posture, your rhythm.
This has been a really interesting discussion, and up to now I have been content to read the many excellent ideas and suggestions.
Mirrors and videos may help dancers see they're not perfect, but AS
A DANCER I've rarely found anything more effective than having a
teacher lay hands on me and put my foot / arm / whatever in the right
position, or demonstrate the dynamics by moving my foot / arm /
Bingo. While laying on of hands may seem very personal, it is an extremely effective way to show a dancer how to dance. There is also a counterpart to this as well--having the dancer touch/feel the teacher. This type of teaching is intense personal interaction, which if done well can quickly lift a dancer to new levels of skill. To absorb a new skill, the dancer must know what it feels like to do it correctly.
Intense personal coaching is time consuming and not recommended in a large group. I have on occasion conducted 1-on-1 coaching sessions with dancers to work on specific problems in their dancing. While such coaching includes touching the dancers and sometimes having the dancers touch me, touching is not the main event, just one of the tools.
Granted, I did not learn this type of teaching from my SCD training. It was from training in couple dance forms (e.g. Modern Ballroom) which incorporates a lot more forms of body contact than the hands-only version that occurs in SCD. It was there that I learned how to be professional and not self-conscious about being in physical contact with other dancers. It was there that Vanessa and I learned how to coach couples and how to identfy/solve individual problems and couple problems. In a few hours, we could coach a couple on movements and styling that took us several months to learn in group classes.
So what do couple dynamics in Ballroom have to do with SCD? To be sure, couple dynamics in SCD are a lot simpler, but they are important nonetheless. There are a few movements in SCD that are not gender-symmetric (e.g. Allemande and Knot) and are meant to be lead by the man and followed by the woman. Sometimes it is a struggle to get the men to lead and to make the women make/let the men lead.
When I was involved with a demo team, I would ask them to take partners for footwork practice. Then I would ask the ones on the right to turn, watch the ones on the left, and criticise them.
I gave the following instructions:
Then the lefties, the dancers, got their chance to be the watchers: they watched and criticised with the same rules.
Over the years, I started using this technique with less and less experienced dancers. These individuals would usually ask, How do i know what's right? And for a change, they would really listen and change their steps when I demonstrated and had them try to improve their steps. When the 'critique' started, they could see what was correct and what needed improvement. Of course, some couldn't. I went over to them and the three of us sorted out what to say to the one of them who was showing his/her footwork.
Try it cautiously -- with your better dancers first. Remember, it took me about ten years to work down to beginners with this technique.
This is not a technique for critiquing that I enjoy.
If I am in a class of a high level, I expect the teacher to attend to my inabilities, not another dancer in the class.
The last time I was in a class where this was used, there was one unfortunate pairing of a dancer who had her prelim cert, and was intending to go for her full cert., and who's partner was one of our resident examiners! To her credit she took the bull by the horns, but I'm sure it was awkward for them both.
I myself am embarrased at having to do this (despite being a teacher) and was fortunate enough to have a good friend as my partner for the occasion - we agreed to put our heads earestly togeather and discuss how the NZ cricket team was going (bad as usual) or whether it would rain.
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Last modified 8-10-02
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