A couple days ago, I wrote an article about how teaching on the floor is almost always inappropriate.
Out of many conversations, there were a couple common threads that kept appearing:
- What if I feel I’m in danger, or something is hurting me?
- What if it’s a social after a class, and/or I’m practicing and figuring out a new movement with a friend?
- What if it’s someone where 5 seconds of advice could calm them down and make the whole dance better?
To me, ‘floor teaching’ does not apply to any of those scenarios. To me, they were completely different concepts from the idea of stopping a dance to correct your partner. So, let’s unpack why floor teaching as different from the above interactions.
If we go a bit more nuanced, we can divide on-floor interactions in the ‘teaching’ family into 5 categories:
- Floor Teaching
- Co-operative learning/practice
(Yes, I know I only put three in the title. All 5 just made it too long.)
Let’s define what each of these interactions are.
Floor teaching is deliberately stopping a dance to correct or teach a movement to your partner. It can involve anything from explaining a basic step to teaching them how to follow a complex pattern or dip. It is most often characterized by an advice-session lasting more than a few seconds, and is often unsolicited. Floor teaching disrupts or stops the flow of a dance. It is what was addressed in the last article.
Ex) A slightly more experienced dancer breaking a dance to teach a newer dancer exercises on connection, since they have ‘too floppy a frame’.
Asks are requests made by you to your partner for any sort of accommodation you require to dance. This can include requests to exclude certain movements, slow down, or use a little less strength. Very often, asks are voiced after body language cues are missed. Asks were addressed in-depth a few weeks ago here.
Ex) A partner requesting that you not squeeze their hands so tightly, or asking you to not dip.
Tips are short-and-sweet advice that needs no follow up explanation. It can be used safely with beginners, because it gives a straightforward direction that they can keep following without disrupting the flow of dance. It’s more of a verbal ‘lead’ or ‘cue’ than teaching. It does not require telling a partner that they have done something wrong, and is more an aid to help them understand your lead. Rather than disrupt the flow of a dance, it helps continue the momentum and keep the dance moving forward.
Ex) Telling a follow to just step towards you, and not to worry about trying to go around you
Help is when you see your partner is freaking out, so you do what is necessary to calm them down. Help is most often non-verbal, and has to do with making a partner comfortable – not teaching. It does not disrupt the flow of a dance that is already going. Instead, it helps in dances where there is no flow to speak of. Basically, it gets the ball rolling and gets the partner past their initial block.
Ex) Tapping a rhythm for a new lead who is trying to hear the music, or going back to a starter dance position with a follow who has lost their way.
Co-operative practice happens when you are working with another dancer to both improve a particular facet of your dance. It can happen in socials right after a class, or between classmates/friends who are focusing on improving a certain element. It is not the same as floor teaching because both people are treated as valuable contributors, and there is a voluntary agreement to practice with one another.
Ex) Two dance friends give each other pointers on a movement they are trying to hone.
Why is this differentiation important?
This differentiation is important for a few reasons:
- To keep us safe,
- To respect our fellow dancers, and
- To develop a healthy dynamic between social dancers.
The differentiation keeps us safe because it allows those that need to ‘ask’ for something from their partner to do so – without feeling like a ‘floor teacher’. It also curbs the idea of superiority in the ‘floor teacher’ situation, keeping dancers on a level playing field.
“But.. this stuff is obvious. People already know it!”
Well, if everybody already knew it, it wouldn’t be a problem. If people were good at self-regulating and understanding etiquette nuance, they wouldn’t do stuff like this. For each person who says “Isn’t this just OBVIOUS?” there is another who suddenly ‘gets it’ when it’s spelled out.
In a perfect world, we’d have the ability to all self-regulate our behavior – including ‘floor teaching’. But, the fact is that most ‘floor teachers’ don’t recognize that what they’re doing is harmful or irritating. It makes them feel good to be a ‘teacher’, and they don’t stop to consider what effect it could have on their partner.
If you have a situation where you’re not sure what to do, think about these categories. Think about whether you’re floor teaching, tipping, helping, asking, or co-operating. Then, decide what your next action should be.
Photo Credit: SV Photography
I was just thinking about this article this weekend at a dance, with two partners at higher levels than me. With one, my partner asked me (during the dance) if I knew a certain move, and I said I wasn’t sure. Turns out I didn’t, but he lead it well and I followed with little mishap. And it was a lot of fun. He said, “Yeah, you know it,” and I replied “No, I’ve never done that before. I want to do it again!” So he threw it in a few more times, and when the song was over, he hung onto me a bit longer to give me a slower walk through of it. For that, I was really excited to learn something knew, and grateful he took the time for me.
For the second, my partner stops the dance to fix my frame. I wasn’t annoyed because I knew they didn’t mean any harm, but it stressed me out, because instead of enjoying the dance, I was making sure my frame met approval.