Workshops and classes are one of the building blocks of the dance community. They’re what allow us to grow, learn, and be exposed to new concepts most effectively. They support new generations of dancers, and hone the tools of more experienced dancers.
But, it’s also important to make sure that we’re using workshops and classes effectively. This is both in terms of what *we* take out of the workshop – and what we can do to help others who are learning in the same class.
These are what I find to be the most effective and important things to remember and do in workshops and classes – but it’s by no means an exhaustive list. Some teachers may also have very different opinions on some of the items, so consider this a guideline and assess whether it works for your particular situation.
Best Practice #1: Re-take classes to understand more
Have you taken [Your Dance Genre] 101 with your local instructor? Take it again! What about ‘improver’ or ‘advanced beginner’ classes?
Take them again, too. It’s honestly an amazing thing to do for your dance skills.
The first benefit is that you get a chance to pay attention to more nuanced parts of the basics. For example, properly transferring weight during the basic and/or keeping good frame/connection can be greatly improved by retaking foundation courses.
The second is that it gives the teacher a chance to give specific feedback to more advanced students on fundamental items. The more experienced you are with a movement, the better pointed the advice can be on specific problem areas. If you’re still having trouble moving your feet, I’m not going to start advising you on very small details that can make a huge difference – but require the ability to simply *do* the step consistently first.
The third is that it is a great way to develop personal style. When you’re working on movements you are comfortable with, you can start thinking about arms, foot placement, and aesthetics without everything else getting thrown out quite as terribly. You’ll still lose some finesse, but at least you’ll know when something is going wrong.
The fourth is not only good for you; it’s good for other people in the class. You get to learn how to compensate for beginners, but you also give newer dancer the opportunity to see how it should feel with more experienced partners. Win-win!
Best Practice #2: Remember you’re not the teacher
The teacher is there to teach. The students are there to learn. This is the way it needs to be for an effective workshop that leaves participants with good feelings.
If you are attending a workshop, you should not tell your partner what they need to be doing. Instead, you should figure out what you need to be doing. This is the general rule.
Now, there is another aspect of in-class learning, which is collaborative and feedback-based. This is a great tool – as long as it doesn’t get confused with ‘teaching’.
Some phrases to usually avoid:
- “No. You need to step here.”
- “You need to push/pull/move me in that direction.”
- “You need to have a better frame for this”
- “You need to style your arm like this”
The common thread in these statements are that you are using authority to tell someone else how to do something. When you use authority to give feedback, you are teaching – not collaborating. We will cover collaboration in the next point.
Best Practice #3: Work *with* your partners
On the concept of feedback: it’s one of the best ways to learn. It shouldn’t be confused with teaching – although at times it can be eerily similar and confusing to tell the difference.
- Teaching: “You need to take a bigger step here for this to work.”
- Feedback: “Are you feeling my lead to step more there?/Do you think we can try it with a larger step here and see if it makes a difference?”
The first one uses authority to tell the person what to do. The second indicates that you have found an issue that you’re feeling, and that you’d like to work together to resolve it.
In addition to making your partner feel like you’re a team instead of like they’re a screw-up, it gives you the option to experiment to find a good answer. Instead of looking like an ass when the teacher tells your partner to do the exact opposite or finding out it was you all along when they come over to help, it gives you and your partner the license to make mistakes as you try to find a right answer.
Basically: collaborative feedback puts you both in the position of ‘students’ looking for a right answer.
Best Practice #4: Remember that your partners aren’t perfect
Just like you, your partners are there to learn. Remember this. Respect them. Be nice to them.
First of all, compliments never hurt anyone. If you see your partner is really trying, find something they are doing well and tell them that you like that thing. Even if the rest of what they’re doing is off, it can give a needed boost to someone whose self-esteem is currently in the toilet.
Second, don’t expect that your partner is going to get it perfectly in that class. Learning any skill takes time – and I’m sure they’re trying to do well, just as you are. It’s a lot more constructive to think about what you can add to the situation and work on in terms of your own technique.
For example, if you’re having issues keeping your balance, see what you can do to try to hold yourself – rather than blaming your partner for not centering you properly.
There is also a point where there’s little you can do to compensate. This is not what I’m talking about here. For example, a person who barely knows how to do a basic should not be in an advanced class where you’re learning complex drops, tricks, or high-level movements that assume an understanding of basics. This is dangerous for the newbie – and it can be dangerous for you too. With these partners, smile, nod, and wait until the next partner rotation.
That being, said, you can still be civil and kind to someone who really doesn’t have the skills. Being nice is always one of the best practices.
Best Practice #5: Level yourself appropriately
Go to workshops and classes at your level. Seriously – you’re going to get way more out of them.
For example, for most people, it is less useful to learn a big, complicated pattern in the ‘advanced’ class than it is to learn a simple and usable pattern in the intermediate or open class.
Think about it this way: if the material is at or below your skill level, you’ll be able to apply and absorb it after the hour or so of workshop time. If it is above your skill level, you’re going to have to work a lot more to make it second nature.
This means that unless you’re willing to set aside practice time to work on that specific concept, you’re not going to use it. Instead, it will just become a forgotten piece of information never to be used again.
If you’re going to a workshop or class, isn’t it better to learn something that you’ll be able to apply after the class?
Best Practice #6: Remember that it’s not a private
In many classes or workshops, there’s one person who asks a bunch of questions and wants attention from the teacher all the time. Be careful about becoming that person – it can make the rest of the class very resentful.
The smaller the class, the more questions you can safely ask and the more personal attention you will get. The larger the class, the more general the instruction will be.
If you have a question you believe is on topic and relevant to everyone (for example, “where do you step on the 5?”), it’s generally OK to ask in a group setting. If you have a question that is more theoretical or personal in nature (“What about this as a possibility/other application”?), it is better to ask the question after the class, during a break, or in a private.
The same goes for requesting personal help. If the teacher is circulating during a practice window, it’s a good time to ask for help. However, it is important to recognize that they may not be able to fully ‘fix’ your issue in that time – they still need to attend the rest of the class, after all.
The bottom line is that if you need or want highly specific, personalized attention, book a private. That is what they are for. Group classes are to teach dance skills and give strategies and hints that apply to as many people in the room as possible.
Best Practice #7: Use practice time to actually practice
It’s really easy to get bored of practicing a move when you are given a few minutes of time to work with your partner independently.
Fight the urge. Work on the movement instead. If you think you’ve got it, try speeding it up or slowing it down. Talk to your partner about any areas they may be feeling an inconsistency. See if you can figure out how to more effectively react to your partner’s body. Pinpoint issues with balance, footwork or body movement.
There’s so much to do with that time. Don’t waste it. If you want to retain the info to use later in social dancing, practice as much as you can in those self-practice windows!
Best Practice #8: Assume you know nothing
Come into every class with the attitude that this is a completely new concept for you. Wipe your brain of everything you have learned about that concept up until this point. Now, re-learn.
This includes listening to how the teacher explains the ‘new’ movement. Even if you’ve done this exact thing before, there’s a chance that the teacher will say something that clears up an issue that you were having. If you listen and are carefully alert to what they were saying, you can make minor tweaks that can have a huge impact on your dancing.
When you attend a workshop and mentally reset yourself to 0, you’re more able to absorb the information being thrown at you. Maybe you’ll re-wire a bad habit. Maybe you’ll find a more efficient way of doing something, even if your way worked.
In one hour, you won’t undo everything about how you were doing a movement. However, you can learn concepts that apply to what you already know. These are golden, and are some of the biggest game-changers around.
Is there a strategy that you use during workshops that works great? We want to hear about it! Leave your thoughts and comments below.