Objective tests to determine dancing ability

Norah Link

Message 19024 · 25 Oct 1999 18:21:28 · Fixed-width font · Whole thread

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>>>> Marjorie McLaughlin <xxxxxxxxx@xxxx.xxx> 24/10/99 01:58 pm >>>
>> >...It gets very tiring for us always to be partnered with the
>> >beginners, or those easily lost in a reel, when, rather than keeping an eye
>> >out, you are shepherding them through. The enjoyment of the evening wears
>> >thin...
>>
>> "Why are you shepherding anyone through a dance?"
>
>Both of these concerns have been rambling through my brain in the past
>week or so. First of all, I'd like to thank Bruce Hamilton for his
>insightful comments (such as I've come to expect of this thoughtful
>teacher) which helped distill much of what had been troubling me.
>
>I freely confess that I do help beginners (including the loooong term
>"beginners") at social events. In a class I can stop and start, point
>out errors, offer suggestions, and allow them to try the movement again.
>But in a social setting there isn't time for that. I generally don't
>feel it is an imposition to help, or that I failed some standard that
>says - everyone must be responsible for his or her own dancing.
><<<

I've been concerned about the content of this conversation mostly because we get
away so quickly from the context of the original comment. Marjorie has made a
valid point, and I would hate to think that remarks about taking responsibility
for one's own dancing or learning to help people "the right way" would mean
someone would never sacrifice a bit (or a lot) of their own dancing to help
someone through. On the other hand, I have watched people get frustrated, and I
have watched individual dancing skills deteriorate and bad habits develop without
much success in really helping anyone, because dancers either don't know HOW to
help or don't know how to get the help they need. The place to teach these things
is in class.

I think the ORIGINAL comment - and Ron Wallace's response to it - were likely in
a workshop or class setting, where we sometimes get so enthusiastic helping
newcomers that we forget it is the teacher's job and training to do the same.
Sometimes if we help too much (or the wrong way), the dancer becomes dependent and
doesn't learn anything, and our own dancing suffers. Knowing Ron, I would guess
that he was responding to a complaint by saying "take responsibility for your own
dancing and enjoyment - if you're having problems helping this person, let me do
it, it's my job".

I have watched entire sets fall apart because someone was so determined to help
without knowing how to do it, and have had to pull a class up and say "well, since
you asked me to be here to teach you, maybe you'd like to regroup and listen to
what I have to say now". As long as you realize that sometimes getting befuddled
and trying to rescue things is half the fun for a class (and can be quite
instructive on its own), it's not usually a problem. But when people are getting
frustrated, you need to take a different tack.

I like Bruce's notion of teaching dancers how to deal with mistakes. I also
remember when I reached the stage of wanting to help dancers through myself but
not being sure how to do it. I asked Ruth Jappy, and she said "the easy answer:
1. know the dance cold yourself so you can do it and think about what your partner
needs to do at the same time without messing up yourself, and 2. once they're set
on their path for the current figure, give them a verbal cue for the next figure,
calmly and in enough time for them to respond to it - usually 2 bars ahead". More
or less. I think if we also teach some basic principles of dancing, such as
leading and following (with arms and with eyes, voice and ears) then dancers can
learn to help each other more effectively. Of course, some people take to it more
naturally than others. But I have found dancers quickly acquire bad habits if we
don't teach it and reinforce it.

Now, please take all of this with the appropriate grains of salt. As Marjorie has
said, we are all here to enjoy ourselves and to enjoy being together. (Aside:
the other week in a social class, one of the dancers asked their set if they could
please have a bit more togetherness. It was one of the best ways of asking for
covering that I've heard!)

best regards,
Norah

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