Movement Creates Connection

by Gregory Dyke

Jan 21, 2015

Qu'est-ce qu'il y a à savoir sur une danse (par exemple le Lindy Hop)

Deux ans et demi après avoir commencé le Lindy Hop, j'ai appris qu'il n'était pas nécessaire de créer un énorme stretch sur le 3 et 4 d'un swingout (ou plus précisément que la quantité de stretch et la quantité de contre-balance n'étaient pas forcément liés et qu'aucun des deux ne sont nécessaires). Ca m'a passablement bouleversé ma conception du Lindy Hop - mais surtout ça a contribué à une frustration grandissante : ne pas être capable de faire certaines choses, ok ; ne pas être à un point ou je peux comprendre certaines choses, va encore ; mais découvrir une idée complètement nouvelle - alors que ça faisait près de six mois que je n'avais plus rencontré d'idées nouvelles - pourquoi personne m'avait rien dit ? Comment peut-on faire des stages et cours pendant des mois sans rencontrer d'idées nouvelles ? Combien d'idées me reste-t-il à découvrir ?

Les idées c'est la vie. Voici un tour d'horizon de celles que j'ai rencontrées jusque maintenant (au sujet de la danse de couple en général avec quelques exemples spécifiques au Lindy et au Blues). Avec peu d'explications - c'est fait exprès, sinon c'est un livre qu'il faudrait écrire. Si vous en avez d'autres, faites-moi signe!

J'ai rajouté des † aux idées qui ont été importantes pour moi et qui sont relativement "rares".

Notre propre corps

Avant de bouger à deux il faut déjà savoir bouger tout seul.

  • Anatomie
    • Statique (connaître dans les grandes lignes les os et les muscles - notamment en ce qui concerne les pieds, les jambes, le bassin, la colonne vertébrale et la ceinture scapulaire)
    • Dynamique †
      • Mouvements du bassin et du sacrum
      • Mouvements et alignements de la colonne vertébrale
      • Mouvements de la ceinture scapulaire
      • Mouvements du genou et du fémur
      • (Respiration, bras)
    • Intégration †
      • Dynamique sur le plié
      • Distinction appui/axe (et mouvement venant du centre)
      • Dynamique sur les différentes formes de marche et mouvements de base (liées à la danse en question - Lindy Hop, Blues, etc.)
      • Dynamique sur les types de déplacement (alignement naturel, contre corps, déplacement en ligne ou en rotation)
      • Exploitation pour mener/suivre
      • Qu'est-ce que ça veut dire "se tenir droit" ?
      • Lien relachement de la tête, relachement du sacrum
      • Lien relachement de la machoire, relachement du centre
      • Lever la tête (et les yeux et le coeur - Justin)
  • Techniques de connaissance et développement du corps [à faire, mettre lien]
    • Alexander †
    • Franklin †
    • Feldenkrais
  • Mouvements
    • Marche et qualité des appuis (talon, demi-semelle avant, genou droit ou plié) †
    • Séparation marche/pivot
    • Pendules (avant-arrière, côté, torsion) †
    • Pulsations
    • Prise d'appui dans le sol
    • Isolations, shimmy, dissociation
    • Initiation du mouvement (lien avec musique et mener/suivre)
  • Mouvements solo de la danse en question
    • e.g. Tous les mouvements de Jazz et Blues solo (apple jacks, fall off the log, knee slap, tick tocks, swivels, etc. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbteWH-3QlY )

Mener (ou guider) et suivre

Quand on bouge à deux il se passe quoi ?

  • Connexion (les conditions matérielles de la danse à 2)
    • Non-physique (breakaway, danses trad' comme la bourrée)
    • Cadre
      • Rigide/Corde/Elastique †
      • Tonus (et rôle du tonus) †
      • Contre-balance (dans les 2 sens et différence d'avec stretch)
      • Distance (ouvert, fermé, abrazo)
      • Alignement des épaules et/ou des hanches
      • Cadre comme manipulation de l'espace †
      • Mener avec le corps vs avec les bras
      • **Lien hanches-coudes (garder ses coudes pour soi, connecter avec les omoplates) = elasticité (Ali & Katja) †
      • Points de connexion (dos, main, avant bras, torse)
      • Bras rotationnels (Ali & Katja) †
      • Bras "neutres" (Ali & Katja) (aussi lors de free spins) †
    • Danser honnêtement avec son corps = se traduit dans la connexion (ou peut se masquer de la connection) †
      • Mouvement "digital" ou "analogue" (Ali & Katja)
    • Pour mener quelquechose, le meilleur moyen est de le faire soi-même
    • Dire où on est vs. dire où l'autre doit aller
    • Présence du sacrum pour ne pas couper le haut et le bas †
    • Créer du mouvement avec de la connexion ou créer de la connexion avec du mouvement ? †
    • Danser honnetement = beaucoup d'information visuelle qui peut être exploitée pour diminuer la quantité de tonus nécessaire. (Ali & Katja) †
    • Répondre au mouvement en parallèle, en symmétrie axiale ou en symmétrie centrale
  • Ce qu'on mène
    • Déplacement (linéaire/rotationnel)
    • Changements d'axe
      • Changements d'axe distincts de ceux du meneur (changements de base croisée/parallèle de tango)
    • Changements d'appui
    • Pulsation
    • Isolations
    • Modifications du cadre
    • Préparations de déplacement
    • Stretch release (éventuellement en rajoutant de l'énergie sur le release)
  • Comment on suit
    • "Penser à rien"
    • Penser au mouvement du meneur plutôt que le sien
    • Garder son inertie (linéaire et/ou rotationnelle)
    • Répondre au cadre †
    • Attendre, avoir une confiance totale
    • Rester sur la musique
    • https://swungover.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/the-proactive-follower/
  • Ce que ça veut dire de mener et suivre
    • Le meneur impose
    • Le meneur propose, le suiveur dispose
    • Le meneur propose une partie du mouvement, le suiveur remplit le reste (que ce soit dans le temps, ou dans les détails d'exécution)
    • On peut alterner des phases ou on prépare et des phases ou on laisse danser
    • Il n'y a pas de meneur et suiveur mais deux personnes qui dansent ensemble
    • Appel/Réponse
    • Celui qui a le plus de tonus mène (Justin) †
    • Le suiveur n'est pas un pantin
    • "Cycle of rhythm" pour rester ensemble - et avoir du mouvement clair et lisible (Ali & Katja) †
    • Metaphores
      • https://jsalmonte.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/follow-this/
      • Le meneur est un GPS, le suiveur choisit d'exécuter ses instructions (ou non)
      • Le meneur dessine des formes, le suiveur les colorie
      • Le meneur choisit les sujets de conversation

Musicalité

Dans la danse, le troisième (ou premier) partenaire est la musique

  • Organisation de la musique
    • Pour beaucuop de jazz swing, AABA
    • Parties (souvent en swing): Question Réponse Question Conclusion
    • Mesures à 4 temps / phrases à 8 temps (comment trouver le 5,6 5678)
    • Groupes de temps impairs/pairs
    • Temps et découpe du temps (plus ou moins swingée)
    • Alignement de la mélodie (avec ou sans anacrouse/temps mort)
  • Styles de musique
    • Pour Lindy Hop
      • Hot Jazz
      • Trad Jazz/Jazz New Orleans
      • Swing Big Band
      • Jump Blues
      • Boogie
      • Smooth/tardif
      • Swing Manouche
      • etc.
    • Pour le Blues
      • Périodes/régions (Delta, Country, Chicago, Zydeco)
      • Styles (Slow blues, Shuffle, Boogie, Swing, Latin(s), Boogaloo, Rumba, Mambo) (Vaguement emprunté à Brenda)
  • Rythmes dansés trouvés la musique (et placement dans le corps)
    • Lindy
      • Step Step
      • Rock Step
      • Triple Step
      • Triple Step syncopé (et _ et 2)
      • Kick Step
      • Step Hold
      • Slide
      • Kick Ball Change
      • Kick Hold
      • Skip up
      • (pareil mais effectués sur 2-3 plutot que 1-2)
      • etc.
      • Combinaison en 4 temps, 6 temps ou 8 temps
    • Blues (placement dans le pas, dans le pendule, dans une isolation, dans une combinaison polyrythmique) (Vaguement piqué à Brenda et Barry)
      • 1 (2)
      • (1) 2
      • 1 et 2
      • et 1 2
      • 1 a2
      • a1 2
      • a1 a2
      • 1ea2
      • etc.
  • Lien avec la musique
    • Micromusicalité (attention au Mickey Mouse, où chaque détail d'une musique trop connue est "dansé")
    • Danser l'espace entre les temps
    • Instrument/percussion supplémentaire/complémentaire
    • Macromusicalité
      • Commencer sur 8 ou 1
      • Etre sur les phrases (ou exprès pas)
      • 3 fois quelquechose et une fois autre chose
      • Contrastes et transformations similaires

Déplacements/Figures spécifiques (au Lindy Hop)

Tous ces déplacements peuvent être combinés à différentes formules rythmiques pour former des "figures".

  • Sur 2 temps
    • Rock step symmétrique
    • Rock step parallèle
    • Rock step/avance avance
    • Rock step rotationel
    • Tourne tourne
    • Triple step latéral
    • Triple step avec stretch release (Ali & Katja)
    • Triple step pivotant
    • etc.
  • Sur 6 temps
    • Divers side pass, avec et sans tour
    • Minnie dip
    • Sugar push
    • Tuck turn
    • Pop turn
    • Send out
  • Sur 8 temps
    • Circle (fermé-fermé et ouvert-fermé)
    • Swingout
    • Sendout
    • Charleston années 30
    • Charleston années 20
    • Charleston hand to hand
    • Charleston tandem
    • Side by side
    • Leads in front/follows in front

Swingout

Le Swingout (ou Lindy Turn) est la figure emblématique du Lindy Hop - c'est donc tout naturel qu'il y ait plein d'idées spécialement liées au swingout

  • Initier le mouvement vers l'intérieur sur 1 2 ou 3
    • Timing du stretch
    • Timing du release
    • Inutilité d'un push ou autre tick pour initier le rockstep
  • Garder l'orientation du haut du corps sur le rockstep pour avoir moins à tourner sur 3 et 4
  • Déplacement et/ou rotation sur 3 et 4
  • Déplacement du follow sur une ligne (ou non)
  • Le swingout peut s'effectuer dans le slot (ou non)
  • Le 5 6 peut être step step ou rock step (rope ou elastique?)
  • Lacher le follow sur 4.5, 5, 6, etc.
  • Direction de la sortie du swingout pour le follow (avant, coté, arrière)
  • Planter sur 6 (pour donner au follow un ancrage pour initier les swivels
  • Swingout avec différentes quantités de contre-balance, et stretch †
  • Rotational arms sur 3et4.
  • Les bras reviennent à neutre à chaque stretch
  • Chercher la connexion tôt (vers 2 ou 2.5) pour créer un bon stretch

Divers

  • Raccourcir les bras pour prendre moins de place et éviter les collisions (Dan & Jenny)
  • Lignes (et en général lien entre beau extérieur et bon choix "techniques")
  • Danse de scène vs danse sociale
  • Histoire de la danse (et pertinence pour notre pratique)
  • Une danse ou une famille de danses? (notamment pour le Blues)
  • Pertinence de s'habiller/déguiser
  • Musique enregistrée vs live
  • Utiliser la fin du mouvement actuel pour préparer et/ou servir d'inspiration pour le mouvement suivant
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Jun 27, 2014

Less Teaching, More Learning - EBI Class Notes on Problem-Based Learning

At EBI last weekend, I gave a skillshare on Problem-Based Learning (PBL) - learning based on setting students problems to solve and then reflecting on the solutions they come up with (it does not mean, as the name might imply, that we start with the "problems" with our students' dancing). We didn't have enough time to get round to the main activity: actually coming up with good problems to use in dance classes, but we did quite well on experiencing some PBL, reflecting on what made a good problem and starting an overview of what research has found on the subject. In order to complete this overview, I promised to write up some notes. Because PBL isn't my specialty, but more something I thought was relevant to give the class focus, I'll also diverge into the broader field of the Learning Sciences. To give an idea of how I tried to use PBL in a class, and to reflect on the input from the participants, I'll write in chronological order of what we did.

NOTE: I have references and comments about these references for everything, but in the interest of actually getting something out of the door, I will make a first reference-less pass. If you check out "constructivism" on Wikipedia, there are some very specific complaints about how people are (mis-)using it for teaching, and that there is no evidence that it works - this is slightly misleading, especially when transferring to the world of dance - I will detail why at a later point.

Teaching and Learning (the extended version of how I introduced my skillshare during class demos)

There is a mindset we get into as a teacher: we need to break down the subject we want to teach into its right components, find language, movements and metaphors to convey this knowledge, and construct exercises to let students practice what we've taught them. In other words, as teachers, we have knowledge and skills, which it is our role to transmit to our students. We then let our students practice these skills and put the knowledge into use and this is how they learn. This view is often called instructionism (although strong proponents of instructionism may argue the details). The major challenge for this in a dance class is connecting the concrete instances of practice we give to our students with the concepts we want to convey. At most, we'll get through 4 or 5 "moves" that put the concept into practice. How do we get students to connect these moves with all the other times the concept comes into play? How do we get students to understand that these moves are not what they are actually learning (even that is what we spend most time on in class). How do we get over the fact that something students may find challenging about these moves may not be at all related to the concepts we are working on? How do we get students to integrate their knowledge about different dance concepts into an interconnected schema?

The Learning Sciences is an interdisciplinary field which is broadly interested in understanding the contexts in which people learn. Our (I am learning scientist, though I have contributed very little myself to this body of knowledge) research over the past 40 years has provided some powerful ideas on how to move beyond instructionism. Some of these ideas exploit constructivist theory - that learners do not "receive" knowledge from teachers, but must "(re-)construct" knowledge in their minds. Others exploit socio-cultural research - how do learners, teachers and experts fit in a culture of learning and doing? Others still explore the cognitive basis of expertise and knowledge representation - how do we acquire the skills and knowledge and how do we re-use them to deal with new problems?

Of course, as a learning scientist, I know about these things. And what do I do when I teach dance? Pure instructionism all the way down the line. I wanted help to brainstorm on how to improve on this.

One of the ways the ideas from the learning sciences are put into play as a framework for designing productive learning contexts is PBL, which I chose for the focus of class (alternative choices might have been related ideas of productive failure, delayed instruction or worked examples). My goal was to run a PBL class on PBL. We start with a problem, we break into groups and reflect on the problem, we share some of our results, we get more support on what a good solution to the problem might look like, and under what criteria we might consider it good and then we talk about some of the canonical solutions to the problem (i.e. we get round to the instruction part). In fact, it was a double PBL class, as we did a whole mini round of experiencing PBL in a dance setting as a setup to discussing PBL itself.

Experiencing PBL in a dance setting: here's a music, figure out some ways to dance to it.

Un Jour m'y Prend l'Envie, by Ciac Boum, on their album Vert

I broke the class (four people at that point) into two groups of two and let them work on it unassisted for the duration of the song (just under 5mn). I really liked the variety of ideas that they came up with, but was slightly concerned that none of them actually matched the fundamental rhythm of this song in an explicit way. So I then showed some ways that I would dance - one related to an idea from each group and a third that was different and set a new task in new groups (I think a 5th person had arrived at that point): try to figure out what I was doing - and specifically how it related to the rhythm of the music (for half a song duration). We then came back again and the approximations of what I was doing were of quite good quality - but not really any better than what they had come up with on their own in terms of matching the music rhythm. I then clapped out some rhythms and asked them to reflect on those options individually to tell me what the rhythm embedded in the music was. This was slightly inconclusive - they were able to match some of my clapping, but not to conceptualise the actual meter - I'll spoil it for you in the next paragraph.

We concluded this section by my explaining the meter of the song. It's 5 count, organised in 3+2, except with the phrasing placing the 2 as a pickup or anacrusis, giving a 2+3 feel. Suggestions for counting and dancing this: short looong, short looong, short looong, which can be step touch, touch step, step step; quick quick slooow, quick quick sloow (12 1&&, 12 1&&), which can be step step steeeeeep, or with a sideways pendulum, swing swing step, swing swing step. Or 12345, danced as step step step step step, with an axis change on the 1, or the 3. In an actual class, this would have led into discussions about meter and phrasing in music, and how they relates to dance. We could then have moved on to the different parts of our body that we can use to express rhythm, in particular how steps can involve an axis change (or not). I would probably have set some more problems specifically focussing on these topics.

PBL about PBL: discuss what makes a good problem in a dance class.

We then broke into two groups of three (yay, another person had arrived) and set the task of discussing how participants had felt about the 3 problems they were set ("in pairs, figure out ways to dance to this music", "in pairs, figure out the movements I just showed/danced and how they are related to the music", "on your own, try to figure out the rhythms I just clapped and how they are related to the music and the movements"), and then broadening out to what would make good problems in a dance class. We set a timer for 7 minutes and prolonged it for another 3 because everything was going so well.

These discussions were overwhelmingly amazing (another bonus point about "post-instructionism" is that though the teacher has to put in a lot of work to create and adapt their material, they then get to bask in how awesome their students are). Here are some of the highlights of what was mentioned when we came back together. (SIDENOTE: because of my lack experience in leading this kind of class, I'm not sure that I did a particularly good job, especially in terms of leading this discussion, which took a good 10-15 minutes - also apologies to the participants in terms of taking notes).

The first problem felt very open, producing very different answers depending on participants previous dance experience. Several people felt like they didn't have the musical tools to deal with this new music: "I'm not musically minded". In a similar way, they imagined how much more difficult the exercise would have been if they didn't already know how to dance, or if they weren't put into groups. It felt like a good exercise to open the brain to new possibilities.

The second problem had similar issues. Participants also touched on the question of learning styles - whether just showing wasn't too difficult or went to fast for "non-visual learners". They also felt that it was useful for them to see the movement connected to the music (moving to music being something that dancers can sometimes do easily, even when the rhythmic details are not obvious to them).

The third problem added in more possibilities to help identify the 5-countness, and opened up to other "learning styles".

More generally, participants discussed

  • whether this kind of open problem wasn't way too difficult for beginner dancers
  • how do we explain that we keep only a small fraction of the solutions that participants come up with? If all these solutions are "wrong", why let us battle through them, rather that helping us find the "right" ones.
  • that it was a good way to meet and learn to communicate about dance
  • that it seemed difficult for shy people and introverts
  • that it seemed great for children, who possibly have fewer barriers to being creative and daring to be "wrong".
  • the relationship between the problems and learning styles
  • whether the teacher has a goal in mind and how hidden this goal is from the students

Back to instructionism: a long lecture on PBL

We then moved to a phase I wasn't super happy with, where I discussed everything that was said and related it to known aspects of PBL and of the learning sciences in general. We were running short on time, it became apparent that we weren't going to get round to actually coming up with some PBL ideas for dance classes, and everyone's eyes started glazing over. On the other hand, I was super happy that I got to discuss everything - nothing was discarded, everything the participants said was relevant.

PBL, delayed instruction and productive failure

One of the core ideas of PBL is that the kinds of problems that we set up are not expected to be solved, either because there is no single "correct" solution, or because the problem is defined such that part of solving the problem is defining what a good solution should look like, or because the canonical solution is beyond the grasp of the participants. A large part of the experience is a "productive failure", which leads to better conceptualization of what the problem is, reflecting on what a good solution would look like, and evaluating the solutions that we come up with. This experience is then completed with instruction/teaching, identifying some of the canonical solutions and discussing how these solutions are related to the ones the students came up with.

Without the prior problem-solving, the instruction/teaching would make less sense: as it is, we can not only better understand the canonical solutions, but we have a better intuition for why they are "good" solutions, and how they are related to more general concepts. We also improve our problem solving skills, leading us to increasingly understand what a good dance solution looks like and how to find and evaluate candidate solutions.

We also decouple learning (productive and unproductive) from performance (success or failure). In particular we value finding the productivity of failure and avoid the misleading sense of accomplishment of unproductive success - i.e. when students succeed at a task but don't learn from it.

When we give the problem, we may mask our goal (what concept we are working on) if it would give away too much of the problem, or too much of the solution. But we set up a problem with a specific goal in mind and making sure that we're not setting up a game of "guess what concept I think you should be taking away from this class", leading to "what I actually wanted you to work on is stretch", and "GROAN, why didn't you say so to start off with".

Learning styles and reflection

We came back several times to learning styles. Learning styles are the pop psychology of theories of learning: men are from Mars, women are from Venus and learners have a preference for Auditory, Visual or Kinesthetic modalities. Nice ways of looking at the world and wouldn't it be neat and tidy if they were true? But the research has found very little evidence that they are.

We all learn in all modalities at once. But depending on what is being taught, just like multiple metaphors might convey different aspects of a solution, multiple modalities will convey different aspects. In that respect, teaching in all modalities caters to our learning in multiple modalities. However, there are other issues to consider. Deliberately not teaching in some modalities can be a strategy to set a problem: fill in the missing modalities. Deliberately teaching different aspects in different modalities creates a form of cognitive conflict (see next section) where we set a different problem: figure out how to reconcile the information in these modalities. Trying to show the same thing in all modalities (and more generally, any instruction that aims to help students too much) creates a kind of spoonfeeding - and then, much like a GPS spoonfeeds us directions and we realize that, without the GPS, we would get nowhere, spoonfeeding creates a prepackaged bundle that students will have difficulty learning and/or integrating with their existing knowledge.

The kinds of learning styles that do appear to exist involve the strategies that learners use to memorize information, acquire skills, etc. They exist in so far as we can directly observe that some people try to build deep conceptual knowledge and others are satisfied with more shallow knowledge (deep knowledge ideally has better transfer - we can apply it creatively in new situations - shallow knowledge is the kind most often "regurgitated" on tests and then promptly forgotten). The research I've seen seems to operate along the principle that we should encourage everyone to become deep conceptual learners - i.e. to change their learning style.

There may also be some value in the idea that some people have different preferences in terms of order, going either abstract to concrete or from concrete to abstract. Some people may also prefer direct experimentation and hands on experience, and not find value in using reflection to relate this experience to abstract concepts. We see this in many examples of expert behavior (dancing, driving a car, performing a hip replacement operation, speaking a language fluently): often experts do not frame their expertise in abstract, conceptual terms. For example, everybody who speaks English as a native language is capable of choosing the correct tense in this sentence (nobody would say "everybody who is speaking english"), but few people can accurately reflect on why they choose the one and not the other.

PBL is designed to encourage people to reflect on what makes a good solution to a problem, on how this solution is related to abstract concepts and on how to use their existing knowledge and problem-solving strategies to solve new problems. Some people may not find value in this - but this poses the wider problem that they not find value in any class (whether based on PBL or not) that tries to address conceptual issues. They might be better served by being given problems to solve and to let them solve them experientially, without using deeper reflection - which would be fairly similar to learning through immersion.

Cognitive load, cognitive conflict and prior knowledge

Cognitive load is the idea that the constraints on our working memory prevent us from dealing with too many new things at once. We need to form mental representations of knowledge in working memory that allows it to transfer into long term memory.

If this theory is correct, it imposes severe constraints on any "here, solve this problem" kind of teaching. The problem solving is too difficult because of the cognitive load involved. A potential solution to this (and a necessary element of any effective teaching) is to build on prior knowledge. By relating new problems to existing knowledge, we not only relieve the cognitive load, but encourage cognitive conflict - challenge between two different representations of knowledge that need to be resolved. Many researchers argue that we learn by working through cognitive conflict. Solving problems in groups is also a way of generating cognitive conflict - exposing people to conflicting prior knowledge.

A lot of instruction tends to give students "some new concept" that comes in a prepackaged bundle. If this concept is not presented in relationship to prior knowledge, there is not only a danger that it will not create cognitive conflict and will therefore not help "weed out" the incorrect existing knowledge we have, but also that it will not "mesh" well with the prior knowledge - so we will consider it unrelated to all the things we already know.

Another method we can use to reduce cognitive load is called scaffolding - creating various forms of aids which help orient the problem solving process or reduce the size of the problem to make it easier to handle. But in a long term progression, if those aids are constantly there, they become crutches that we cannot deal without. Or if badly chose, they can be like side-wheels for a bike - something that fundamentally changes what riding a bike is like and apart from giving confidence, could be argued to do as much harm as good. So we must be very careful in considering how we frame problems for our students - and how we frame them differently over time.

Identity and community

My current favorite part of thinking about teaching is how teaching relates to identity. Rather than thinking of what distinguishes a dancer from a non-dancer only in terms of knowlege, it's useful to think of this difference in terms of epistemic frames. An epistemic frame is a way of making sense of and doing things that combines knowledge, skills, identity and values. To become a dancer, we not only need the skills and knowledge of a dancer, but we need to acquire the identity and values of a dancer. The biggest problem we will ever face with new dancers (and even some much more experienced dancers) is that they identify as "non-dancers". Non dancers cannot do things that only dancers can do, because it fundamentally challenges their identity. Get people to take on a new identity - or even pretend to take on a new identity - and we open doors for them.

Challenge their identity or remind them too much of their identity and we prime them or produce stereotype threat. This is a rather difficult tightrope to tread and I'm not quite sure how to deal with it. For example, during the skillshare, one participant noted that they did not consider themselves a musician and could therefore not identify the rhythmic structures in the music. Although it's possible they "truly" couldn't, as soon as they identify as a non-musician there is a self-fulfilling prophecy that they won't be able to (this is also related to the concept of self-efficacy - someone who believes they cannot do a task are more likely to fail at that task). But how to actually change this identity without also threatening it?

One really powerful thing teachers can do is treat students like dancers, like equals of the teachers. I think this justifies delving into PBL more than anything else. By setting problems that are problems that dancers solve, by showing the value of the solutions students come up with (possibly building on them, or explaining the grounds on which we reject them), teachers signal to their students: "We are part of the same community, dancing is just expressing ourselves in movement, we all have things to express, we all have the same number of bones and muscles to create movement with, we might be further along the path than you but we are on the same path". By treating students as capable problem solvers (which many of them already are in real life), we allow them to express themselves as capable problem solvers and bring out the best in them.

The idea of giving "problems that dancers solve" is an important one. It's the idea of creating authentic problems - problems that have meaning to students, that motivate them because they are problems they face on the dance floor and that motivate them because they are problems that belong to the identity they are trying to acquire.

Last, giving students problems to solve as a group creates a community. People who know each other, people who hang out, people who have battled through problems together and emerged, triumphant. These are people who will come out dancing for each other and people who will be eager to join the vast community of like-minded dancers (unlike beginner classes that feel like they are going to go dancing and will be terrible at it and that nobody will want to dance with them).

Dance and the education system

Before writing this, I re-read some of the literature I wanted to refer to (and the related wikipedia articles). I was surprised at how negatively teaching strategies based on constructivist ideas of learning appeared to be treated. Apart from the debate being a bit of an empty one (just as no instructionist researchers think they can just "give" knowledge to students, no constructivist researchers think that students can just learn, without guidance), there are at least two specifics of social dance that I think argue for more constructivist ideas being integrated into dance teaching.

Part of the reason that constructivist ideas have been promoted is that they are intended to improve deep, conceptual learning. This kind of improvement is not the kind that can be measured by most tests within the education system - at best, they are expected to perform only just as well as instructionist ideas on such tests. The end goal is to improve education in the long term and our ability to measure that improvement is deeply impaired by the difficulty in defining "better education" and our fundamental inability to change all the forces at work within an education system. In social dance, however, there is no education system to deal with, there are no tests - the kind of teaching that is designed to produce factory workers who are good at taking tests serves no purpose.

The other aspect of social dance is that students are, hopefully, social dancing. They are putting in a lot of non-reflective practice, internalising a lot of bad habits and misconceptions. This has implications for what it means for a problem to be authentic (learning to lead 4 8-counts of choreography is not authentic - learning to steal 4 8-counts of choreography is slightly more authentic - learning to improvise 4 8-counts of choreography is an actual problem), and for the absolute necessity of drawing on prior knowledge and creating cognitive conflict for the teaching to have any impact. What is more, students need the tools to reflect on their social dance experiences, transforming them into learning opportunities rather than practice opportunities, where they can take the things they do or try to do and organise them as knowledge that is readily available for them, for problem solving in class and problem solving at the next social dance.

Note to myself: A lot of Keith Sawyer's introduction reflects on research into how *children learn. How are adults different? They have more prior knowledge, they have stronger identities, their misconceptions are less reliant on intuition and experience and more on declarative knowledge...*

So what does a good problem look like for a dance class?

Putting all these ideas together, a good problem:

  • Draws on participants' prior knowledge (so what do we do when we have differing levels of knowledge?)
  • Is careful about the way it primes for identity
  • Is authentic (it has meaning for the student, both in their current and future projected identities)
  • Positions learners as capable problem solvers and capable dancers
  • Creates cognitive conflict
  • Is scaffolded to reduce cognitive load (but not cognitive conflict, i.e. it does not spoonfeed new knowledge)
  • Fits in a curriculum where scaffolds are progressively reduced
  • Accepts many answers that can be built on to create canonical answers rather than be rejected
  • Is "wicked": the problem is defined such as clarifying what the problem is is as much part of the finding the solution as actually finding the solution
  • Allows students to understand how to evaluate candidate solutions
  • Prepares students to understand why the canonical solutions make sense (they evaluate "better" than other solutions)
  • Allows students to understand how the evaluation is related to abstract concepts (and thus prepares them to re-use similar evaluation methods to evaluate solutions to new problems)

Actually creating problems that evaluate well for all these criteria is a tough one that I'll save for another time. I'm convinced that we can use PBL just as well in beginner classes (where we draw on many years of being experts at walking and moving their own bodies, existing problem solving abilities, and attempt to address identity issues such as having two left feet) as in advanced classes (where we work on existing knowledge students have of dancing and try to amke it mesh it in new and wonderful ways, while confirming their identities as dancers). The most difficult are probably all the "intermediate" classes, where students have different levels of knowledge, do not understand that some of this knowledge needs weeding out, and have identity issues related to not wanting to give up the things they already know (because it would mean they don't know so much, or that they have to reject the absolute knowledge given to them by their favorite teacher).

As parting words, I have a researcher colleague who is a computer scientist. He believes strongly in "time on task", which is ultimately one of the most consistent predictors of learning: how much time do students spend actively engaged in a learning task? He likes all the learning theories, but ultimately, he likes to reduce every new flavor of the month teaching/learning theory to "do students spend more time on task"? The more we "teach" dance, the more we tend to stop and explain and the less our students are actually dancing. So if all the above has left you unconvinced, PBL can also be reduced to one of the many ways we can produce less teaching and more learning - which rather unelegantly brings me back to the title of this piece.

Thanks to Rory, Stefan, Lilith, Mike, Chloe, Tobias and Ruth, who participated in the skillshare and whose numerous reflections forced me to produce class notes that basically summarize most of the findings of the Learning Sciences.

Comments...
May 22, 2014

Les Frappés en Bourrée 3 Temps d'Auvergne

La meilleure façon d'apprendre à frapper en Bourrée d'Auvergne (et à danser en général), consiste à regarder les bons danseurs et leur piquer ce qui vous plait. Une autre est de décortiquer toutes les possibilités. Pour montrer la quantité gigantesque de frappés possibles et essayer de se les approprier, voici quelques dimensions de décorticage, pour accompagner une vidéo filmée un peu à l'arrache sur le sujet1

Préambule

Pour le reste de cet article, on va utiliser la notation qu'en bourrée, un frappé se décline sur 123456. Pour décrire la combinatoire des possibilités, on va découper le frappé en cellules "recombinables": (1)(2)(34)(56). Une amorce (1), une cellule faible (2), une cellule "frappe frappe" (34) et une cellule de sortie (56). Lorsque plusieurs frappés s'enchainent, on retrouve l'amorce, plusieurs cellules faible, frappe frappe et une cellule de sortie: (1)(2)(34)(2)(34)...(2)(34)(56). Ca ne dit rien sur la nature des frappés en eux même, c'est juste une convention pour faciliter l'écriture.

Chaque frappé peut se démarrer du pied gauche ou du pied droit, on ne va donc pas parler de gauche ou de droit, mais de changement (ou non) d'appui. A un temps donné, on peut changer d'appui (noté C), ne pas changer d'appui (noté _), ne pas changer d'appui, mais frapper de l'autre pied (noté =), ou marquer le temps en l'air, en préparation d'un attérissage sur le temps suivant avec le même pied (noté ') ou avec l'autre pied (noté ^).

En utilisant cette notation, un des frappés de base peut se noter: C_CC__, qui correspondrait à danser par example droite, gauche droite, sur 1, 34, puis à attendre la mesure suivante pour repartir (du pied gauche).

On peut maintenant décortiquer ce qui se passe à chaque cellule du frappé.

Le frappe frappe

On pourrait traiter ces deux temps séparément, mais je trouvé plus facile de travaiĺler ces variantes en un bloc.

  • 12CC56
  • 12C=56
  • 12==56
  • 12=C56

Sur cette cellule du frappe frappe, une absence de possibilité de faire une percussion serait rare, ou sortirait du cadre des frappés présentés ici. La notation induit un peu en erreur, puisque le pied qui frappe est celui auquel on "pense" en dansant. Or, ce sont CC et C= qui frappent d'un pied différent et =C et == qui frappent du même pied - ce qui n'est pas immédiatement apparent.

La cellule faible

Le plus commun sur cette cellule est de faire quelque chose sans bruit, éventuellement en ajoutant un saut:

  • 1_3456
  • 1'3456
  • 1^3456

J'ai choisi de noter le changement (ou non) d'appui pendant le temps 2 (plutôt que pendant le temps 3, lors du changement effectif) pour faciliter la description des différents atterrissages possibles (qui correspondent effectivement aux possibilités présentées a la section d'avant) et pour éviter un problème de recombinaison (le frappé que je note x´Cxxx, ou on saute pour atterrir sur le même pied, pourrait aussi se noter x´_xxxx, mais demande des cellules frappe frappe commençant par _, qui n'existent pas dans d'autres contextes - C peut donc être pensé plutôt comme une *prise* d'appui que comme un changement d'appui).

A la suite des sauts (' et ' ^), C et = correspondent donc à des atterrissages a 1 ou 2 pieds (l'atterrissage à 2 pieds peut aussi être vu comme un atterrissage à un pied accompagné d'un frappé de l'autre). On peut aussi noter que suivant l'intention déployée, il existe un grand flou entre _ et ' et entre C et ^, avec certaines prises d'appui qui tombent ou arrivent après une surrection et des sauts qui sont plus ou moins marqués avec la jambe sautante.

D'autres possibilités existent aussi sur cette cellule faible :

  • 1C3456
  • et plus rarement 1=3456

La sortie

La sortie est souvent relativement discrète:

  • 1234__
  • 1234CC

Rarement on pourra aussi trouver

  • 1234_C (qui va remplacer le difficile à exécuter 123=CC)
  • ou encore plus rarement 1234C_

Les percussions

Associé à ces formules d'appui, plusieurs formules percussives sont possibles - à chaque fois qu'il y a une prise d'appui ou un frappé, on peut faire du bruit ou non (on peut aussi frapper plus ou moins fort, mais on va rester simple et juste découper en frappe (marqué 1) ou pas frappe. Ce qui donne les possibilités les plus habituelles:

  • 123456 (un peu bourrin et pas disponible sur toutes les formules d'appui)
  • 123456
  • 123456

Et les mêmes avec un des "frappe frappe" moins marqué, particulièrement:

  • 123456
  • 123456
  • 123456
  • 123456

D'autres options plus rares sont aussi possibles.

Ça fait combien d'options?

En excluant l'amorce (qui peut néanmoins être du pied gauche ou du pied droit), et en excluant les formules rares on se retrouve avec. - 4 cellules faibles - 4 cellules frappe frappe - 2 cellules de sortie

Ce qui donne un total de 32 frappés possibles (192 avec les différentes formules percussives). Ces possibilités sont encore démultipliées si on prend les frappés multiples. Avec une cellule "faible frappe frappe" supplémentaire, on passe à 512 frappés possibles (près de 10000 avec les différentes formules percussives).

Bref, le nombre est peu important, mais la richesse potentielle est remarquable. D'autant plus qu'on est bien loin d'avoir fait le tour.

Pourquoi les décomposer ?

L'intérêt de cette décomposition n'est pas de compter les possibilités, mais de les interroger, de regarder quelles sont celles qu'on exploite pas et de voir les axes de travail pour "faire des kilomètres" et s'approprier les différents frappés.

A ce sujet, certains frappés font repartir du même pied et d'autres du pied différent. En fonction de ça, dans une situation de répétition en boucle, ça peut être intéressant de mettre un nombre pair ou impair de pas de bourrée entre les frappés en fonction de si on veut varier ou non le pied d'amorce (ou encore, faire "3 pas de bourrée, frappé, 4 pas de bourrée, frappé" en boucle permet d'alterner 2 amorces d'un pied, puis 2 amorces de l'autre.

Et la suite ?

Le frappés ne sont qu'une partie de toutes les possibilités d'ornementation et démarcation des déplacements de bourrée. On peut réfléchir à où on les place dans la trajectoire (début, milieu, fin), où on les place sur la phrase musicale. On peut aussi regarder les différentes possibilités de décoration du pied - croiser devant l'autre, faire un "talon" ou un "pointe", frapper devant ou derrière le pied d'appui, etc. Un exemple hyper commun est de faire 1_=CCC en croisant le pied frappant "extérieur" au déplacement devant l'autre pied sur la cellule "frappe frappe" (cf. 7mn25 de la vidéo).

On peut aussi essayer d'autres formules percussives et les changements d'appui qui permettent de le faire. En particulier, plein de possibilités (dont il est un peu trop facile d'abuser) s'ouvrent en frappant sur les cellules faibles. Par exemple le 5e temps les appuis 1_CCC_, ou encore d'accentuer l'hémiole avec 1'=^=_, ou de façon plus élégante avec 1CCCCC.

D'autres possibilités viennent en considérant que les trois temps de bourrée vont souvent DAdouDAdouDAdou en en marquant ces "sous temps" avec des appuis ou des frappés passagers (il me semble avoir vu en bal Jacques Puech et Basile Brémaud faire cette battue du pied en jouant des bourrées).

Bref, les possibilités sont infinies et permettent une subtilité, une précision et une richesse à l'image de la bourrée elle-même. Profitez-en! Essayez-les en bal - au début, seul un frappés sur 100 sera "parfait", puissant, subtil, en phase avec la musique, avec le partenaire - puis ça sera un frappé sur 50, puis un frappé sur 10, etc. Il m'arrive aujourd'hui occasionnellement de faire des bourrées avec presque aucun frappé "mauvais". Mais il faut en faire beaucoup de mauvais, sans complexes, pour pouvoir n'en faire que des bons. Lancez-vous!


  1. Les frappés dans la vidéo, à partir de 7mn00:
    1'=CCC
    1_C=__
    1'=C'=CCC
    1_=C_=C_=C_==_C
    1^CC=C
    1'=CCC
    Une ornementation un peu mal executée avec des croisés: 1__C__CCC
    1_CC_C
    1'=C'=CCC
    1'CC_C=_C 

Comments...
May 14, 2014

Trad examples for bal folk dancers

[Skip to the end of the long winded text for a bunch of great videos that exemplify some of the best of French traditional music and dance revival
Vous pouvez sauter le texte en anglais pour voir un résumé en français et un tas de super videos qui montrent des exemples du meilleur du revivalisme des musiques et danses traditionnelles de France]

The French bal folk scene is strange. To the outside observer there seems to be - like in many trad music communities - a conservative/pure drop contingent and a progressive/evolving tradition/jazz it up contingent. But it is actually more complicated, with a number of different esthetics and values being upheld by different participants in the scene. First there are questions of relationship to "the tradition": how much do musicians (or dancers) actually know about the tradition, to what extent are they able to embody what they know when playing (or dancing), and to what extent do they allow themselves to deviate (consciously or sub-consciously) from this tradition. Then there are the various purposes: keeping a culture alive, creating good music, enjoying the shared aspect of traditional music and dance. And on top of this will come the use of "outside influences" (which have probably always existed, but play a different role now): how to use harmony, percussion, ornamentation, timbre, different instruments, etc.

Because France has such a diversity of regional cultures and because of the tardiness in collecting music and dance styles, we actually know relatively little about "the tradition" and such information can be conflicting and hard to come by. Because a large contingent of the bal folk community places a value on diversity of dances and on a culture of being open to everyone, this results in a lot of playing and dancing that is of poor stylistic quality (i.e. having very little rooting in the many different traditions - or even the little we know about them) and poor overall quality (i.e. the desire to be accepting does not foster a culture of improvement). This encourages a popular misconception of traditional music and dance: it's simple and jolly (and so long as people are dancing and having fun, they're doing it right - though this latter statement I would mostly agree with).

We are also blessed with a large number of really good musicians, in terms of technique, understanding of music in general, creativity and expressiveness. Many of these musicians (even the good ones), however, play with what could be considered poor stylistic quality. This happens for many reasons: lack of awareness, lack of culture, lack of time to study the many different cultures, lack of desire to study these cultures, having felt limited in their ability to produce expressive or interesting music while sticking to the traditional "styles". One of the most interesting of these reasons is that there is very little pressure from the dancers (the most common audience, since concerts are rare) for stylistic excellence - exciting, energetic, interesting music that a dance can be shoehorned into is enough for most - for many dancers, having never learnt, heard or felt the particular adequacy of certain musics for certain dances, no shoehorning is even necessary and the more stylistically "accurate" musics would actually suit their "astylistic" dance less. On top of this, many criticisms from dancers (often regarding tempos, the obviousness of the beats, and whether a music matches the dance that it is supposed to) also stem from a position of cultural ignorance, making their incoherence easy to dismiss.

Another contingent of musicians (and dancers) espouse a more style/culture/tradition-based esthetic, often because rather than finding them "simple", they find them particularly rich and appealing. They tend to play dances from only one (usually their native) area, and to be so immersed in that tradition that whatever they create based on this tradition, some aspect of this "native accent" tends to remain, without it needing to be a conscious choice. While a certain amount of groupthink is involved in this (a few influential musicians' or dancers' interpretation of "the tradition" could easily start a current where no other interpretation would be appreciated), the ultimate test lies in the relationship to source recordings, the ability of anybody to create their own interpretation from these materials (assuming they are available), and the perfect suitability of stylistically "good" music to stylistically "good" dance. The excellent musicians in the "trad" esthetic tend to be appreciated by "trad" and "folk" dancers alike - with "folk" dancers sometimes regretting the lack of variety in the dances they play, and sometimes regretting the austerity of their playing, which their ears and bodies are often not attuned to - and at the same time, not necessarily having the stylistic dance ability to appreciate the difference between a "trad" band and a "folk" band.

There are a lot of scare quotes in the previous paragraphs because this "folk"/"trad" distinction corresponds to stereotypes in the myriad esthetics I describe in the first paragraph. For example, it is quite common for people who are deeply immersed in the tradition to produce things that cannot be easily classified (or that could be easily dismissed by some as "definitely not trad"). It is also common for people to believe they know something about "the tradition" and to be entirely mistaken when claiming that something is "not trad". And then there are people like me. I am interested in many traditions, appreciate that certain dance and music styles do go particularly well together, and have found that immersing myself if these styles is a good way to heighten my experience of them - this usually then diminishes my appreciation of "astylistic" versions of these dances and musics. However, I try to not let my music and dance be censured too much by what I "believe" to be the tradition, in particular letting various crossover influences from tango, swing and blues happen (and then see whether I liked them).

Because the "trad" communities are numerous and difficult to find out about (there is more "bal folk", especially in cities and foreign countries, and the music tends to be more austere, and bal folk is the esthetic that wants to be open to everyone), people tend to start with "bal folk" by default. So for people who might be wondering what the bal trad people are so excited about, here is a list of videos that, to me, represent some of the best that a given music and dance can be, when produced by people who are immersed in the music. For each dance type, I'm posting a more "austere trad" video in terms of the music and a more "progressive trad" (whatever those terms might mean) video. I also tried to find videos with some nice dancing in them (more inconsistent as it's rare to have a whole dancefloor of experienced dancers).

(I made my own artificial judgement call as to where to draw the line when saying that something is "progressive trad" vs "not trad". I'm also biased in that I prefer singing and bands with only two or three musicians - I also don't much like Breton bagpipes, be they biniou kozh or great highland pipes, because I find a lot of their playing is tainted by the technical perfectness esthetic of pipebands - if you have some great examples that fall outside of my preferences, send them my way and I'll post them).

(This playlist is similar, but from an astylistic perspective. Note that it includes many similar videos to those below.)

Résumé français

Il y a de nombreuses esthétiques en revivalisme des musiques et danses traditionnelles de France, suivant la connaissance stylistique des terroirs, la capacité et la volonté d'incarner ces styles, le désir de faire vivre une culture, faire danser des gens, créer un lieu communautaire, les aspects de la musique mis en avant, l'instrumentation, etc.

A cause de la diversité et quantité des terroirs et de la tardivité des collectages, nous savons relativement peu sur ce qu'était "la tradition" - et ces informations sont parfois contradictoires et difficiles à obtenir. Cette non-connaissance (et difficulté d'avoir des connaissances sur tous les terroirs), combinée à un fort désir d'ouverture et d'anti-snobisme fait que beaucoup de danseurs et de musiciens ont une pratique avec peu de qualité stylistique et peu de qualité globale.

Cela dit, il y a aussi d'excellents danseurs et musiciens (dans la qualité globale), avec plus ou moins d'ancrage stylistique dans leur pratique. Ceux qui s'expriment (ou essaient de s'exprimer) avec un accent lié à terroir sont dans un stéréotype d'esthétique souvent qualifié de "trad" - ceux qui mettent moins l'accent sur cet aspect (pour une grande diversité de raisons) sont dans un stéréotype d'esthétique souvent qualifié de "folk".

Par défaut, les nouveaux arrivants dans le milieu du bal folk voient des groupes "progressifs" d'esthétique folk et ont moins connaissance de ce qui plait aux personnes s'identifiant plutôt à une esthétique trad. Ces vidéos sont des exemples, selon mon jugement personnel, du meilleur qui se fait en esthétique "trad", c'est à dire pratiqué par des musiciens ayant une culture du terroir et accepté par un grand nombre de pratiquants (et surtout par moi, puisque c'est ma liste) comme étant toujours stylistiquement ancré dans ce terroir. Pour chaque danse, j'essayé de poster une vidéo plus "austère" et une plus "progressive" - pour autant que ces termes aient un sens.

Britanny/Bretagne

(Many of these videos were posted by youtube user Avelenn, who has great taste and likes good music from the whole spectrum)

Gavotte

Annie Ebrel/Nolúen Le Buhé

Le Bour/Bodros

Plinn

(I really like Plinn and couldn't choose only 2)

Guillou/Menneteau

Kan ha Diskan & Human Beatbox

Darhaou (bal & ton double)

Spontus

Kost Ar C'hoad

Ebrel/Le Buhé

Skolvan

Rond de Saint-Vincent

David et Huguel

Manglo (not particularly progressive)

Tour

Tchikidi

Alambig Elektrik Sextet

Andro

Betzi-Raly/Gautier

Startijenn

Kazh a barh

Wipidoup

Moisson/Landat

Hanter dro

Teir

Les Traine Meuriennes (not particularly "progressive")

Ridée 6 temps

Trimaud-Béliard

Hamon Martin

Laridé 8 temps

Le Bot/Chevrolier

BivOAc

Laridé-Gavotte

Kejaj

Gavotte de l'Aven

Moisson/Syz

Avant-Deux

(from the Gallo part of Britanny)

Rajalu/Bouthillier

Esquisse

Auvergne

Bourrée 3 temps

(Auvergne/Limousin)

Delaunay/Champeval/Brémaud

Komred

And some nice dancing

More nice dancing

Roda of bourrées (not a traditional practice, but a great idea borrowed from various jam traditions such as Capoeira)

Poitou

Maraichine

Ciac Boum

Avant-Deux

Berry/Bourbonnais

Bourrée 2 temps

Bougnat Sound

Sud-Ouest/Gascony

Branle Béarnais/Branle d'Ossau

Dani Detammaecker

Ad'arrOn

Rondeau

Dani Detammaecker

Faburden

Corbefin/Marsac(Rondeau de Samatan)

Feiz Noz Moc'h (no dancing)

Ronde du Quercy

Brotto/Lopez

Demos of various dances from Gascony (unchoreographed)

Couples dances

Couples dances are from all over and tend to allow a great degree of liberty in their interpretation, making the boundary between "trad" and "not trad" even more elusive. Here are a few nice examples.

Polka

Julien Cartonnet & co (Tania Buisse, Colin Delzant, Antoine Cognet) (dancing is very folk-y)

Scottish

Mister Klof

Mazurka

Landat/Moisson

Comments...
Aug 28, 2013

Movement creates connection

I first encountered the idea that movement creates connection at a workshop with Brooks and Joanna . They started off asking how leads got their follows to move, and most of us said that first we had to connect or create a connection. They then suggested that rather than thinking of connection as creating movement, we should think of movement as creating connection. They then stopped blathering on about it (a really impressive skill in dance teachers) and taught us a series of moves with a lot of flow: the movement of one move transferring naturally into the connection to prepare the next. I think they barely referred to this idea again for the whole class, but it really stuck with me. It felt a lot like energy in physics: connection and movement transforming into each other, much like a pendulum's potential and kinetic energy.

This convinced me that connection and energy were kind of chicken and egg, with it not making sense to figure out which comes first : since once they exist, they flow into each other it shouldn't really matter, right? But a few months later in a class with Barry and Brenda, Barry said something like "You think connection creates movement? That's crazy!". That also really stuck with me.

If you think of a connection as unrealized movement and consider the beginning of a dance, where neither movement nor connection exists, it makes sense that to create connection, you need to add movement (e.g. move away from your partner). The same applies if you want to add to or subtract from the current amount of movement (or connection) in the dance: change your movement and the connection will follow.

Thinking of connection and movement as two sides of the same coin, and more specifically, of connection as being created by movement has a bunch of nice consequences (in particular, the answer to "how do I lead this?" and "why is this not working?" is almost always: "movement creates connection"):1

  • Lead from your whole body. Want to create connection? Move!
  • As a lead, don't dance your follow, dance yourself. This will create connection and the follow will respond creating movement. Which will create more connection for you to respond to.
  • Connection is not something that needs input on the lead or follows part to be maintained. Just let all your movement convert into connection and all your connection convert into movement.
  • Movement, connection, movement. Their is no "communicate what you intend to the follow" or "comprehend what the lead intended" in this cycle.2
  • The follow is not a puppet. The cycle does not go: "create connection, move the follow" but "move yourself, create connection, the follow moves in response to the connection".3
  • There is quite a lot of freedom to be found in the move-connect-move-connect cycle, particularly for the follow. Any initial move and connection release is typically the lead's, but subsequently, the follow has a margin of choice in the creation of connection, and particularly in the movement that derives from that connection.
  • Freeing up the cycle even more (thinking blues here), and making connection just the manifestation of movement, the movement that results will be related to the previous connection, but will offer an even wider range of choices to both lead and follow. In this paradigm, movement does create connection, but connection no longer results in an easily predictable movement.

In other words, movement creates connection empowers both leads and follows to have more fun. Which is why it's the title of my blog.


  1. These are presented mainly from the lead's point of vie, but the same applies to the follow. If you don't respond to the release of connection with movement and do not transform your movement into connection, expect to be manhandled by leads who believe in leading everything and or being confused by leads who aren't planning on doing your dancing for you. 

  2. This is related to a post by Nathan Bugh which explains how there are no signals in lead and follow 

  3. There is also something happening in the manner of release from the connection which can add some extra movement to the system, and in the amount of connection which gets generated out of a given movement, and the relationship with stretch. 

Comments...
Apr 8, 2013

The things we let beginners believe

When I first started dancing, I thought dancing was about putting my feet on the ground in the right place at the right time. This difficulty was compounded by having to think about my partners and where their feet went. It took quite a while before someone told me (or I figured out) that I was almost totally wrong (I started with Breton dancing, where putting your feet and arms in the right place at the right time misleadingly appears to be the name of the game).

Different people come in with different assumptions about what dancing is about, some of which are based on ignorance of dance or on beliefs that do not transpose well from other forms of dance. Classes tend to make matters worse because you need to learn one thing at a time, so they introduce their own misconceptions and frequently don't address existing misconceptions (as in my case). Probably quite rightly - the last thing most beginner classes need is more talking. But if not then, when are they addressed? Randomly at workshop weekends, informal conversations, ...? How does what is said (and not said), done (and not done) in classes affect what beginners believe?

Anyway, here are some of the things (mostly about Lindy, but some of them also apply to Blues, Tango and Folk dancing) that beginners might believe which are, at the very least, contrary to how I think about social dancing. Obviously, all of these are also partly true, given the right caveats. For most of them, I wouldn't want to "fix" them altogether, but at least make beginners aware early on that things may not be as they seem.

Dancing is about stepping on the right foot in the right direction at the right time

This is a commonly held belief about all dancing: you have to know the "steps" or "the basic". We reinforce this belief because typically, the first thing we teach is to count out the music and to step on the left or right foot on a given count.

However, dancing is about moving your whole body to music. The feet are a huge component, helping to mark rhythms, and of course being attached to the legs and the rest of the body, not to mention being a major focus of what lead and follow should achieve (i.e. stepping together1), but what you do with your feet is only part of the story. The main thing is to move your whole body and let your feet follow, which in turn will also help with leading and following.

Where the foot falls also tends to be part of the description of movement: e.g., "step left on 1". In order for this to happen, the whole body needs to start moving some time before that (8 or 8.5). Thinking of where and when to step will get in the way of this.

And the "right direction and right time" suggests there's a wrong direction or wrong time. There is wrong for what you're trying to achieve (including dancing to the music) and wrong because it's not honest movement but otherwise there is no wrong.

Lindy either goes step step triplestep step step triplestep or step step triplestep triplestep

The general idea that dance has a basic step pattern which you should adhere to is related to the point above. It's what most people believe, and it is frequently what is taught in the first lesson, since getting this in muscle memory will free the brain to think of other things in future lessons.

The teaching of a basic step pattern also alleviates one of the problems inherent to leading and following: both partners stepping on the "same" foot at the same time. Although perhaps a necessary evil, following a pattern gets in the way of creativity and of learning to lead and follow weight changes,

However, Lindy can be danced in any number of step patterns, which can be led or left to the discretion of the follow. If there is a pattern, the most discernible one is that you come together with a "rock step" or "step step" and end apart with a triple step (or whatever sets you up for the next rock step).

The lead should micromanage the follow's footwork

Following the realization that footwork does not have to follow a pattern but can still be led, leads tend to then focus on leading every. Single. Step (and expect follows to follow them to the letter - or risk being labeled an incompetent or "misbehaving" follow). In certain circumstances, footwork can definitely be strictly led or followed, but there are other options:

  • When in open position, the follow can mirror the lead exactly or can insert any number of substitutions - or even hit a break the lead didn't hit.
  • When in closed position, the follow can insert transparent (or translucent, in that they can be felt but do not disrupt) substitutions in many cases, particularly if the lead leaves some freedom.

More generally, the lead should not constantly micromanage the follow's anything. You don't need to hit the same variations at the same time when in open position. Dance is a conversation and the follow is not a puppet, or someone to be harangued.

Social dancing is about creating an on-the-fly choreography of moves

If you learn moves instead of movement, dancing appears to become lining moves up, one after the other. This is kind of true. If you look at two people dancing, they look like they are doing a sequence of moves. You could even rattle them off: swingout to open, swingout, j-turn, into tandem charleston, into hand-to-hand charleston, side pass, lindy circle... – but there is so much more happening. The countless subtle ways each move can differ in executed movement: footwork, energy, groundedness, dynamics, trajectory, start and end positions, etc. And then there is the matchup with the music, the phrasing to hit stretches, breaks, hesitations, and so on.

There is also the question of when you choose the next "move" and how ready you are to abort it. Sometimes it's planned ahead of time, allowing you to finish the previous move in a position which best prepares for the next. Most often, I select movements which flow into each other, by seeing where I am at the end of one pattern and instinctively moving onto something from that position. I personally find it unnatural and unmusical when I think "I want to go into that variation I learnt last week" several counts ahead of time.

The follow needs to know a move before they can follow it

This is one of the problems of move-centric classes that don't give enough to the follows. If the teaching isn't clear, follows may think they are learning the same thing the leads are: where they should go at what time. Not only does this create follows who are baffled when something new happens, it also creates follows who follow through with the move they think was led, regardless of the actual lead.

Moves must be signaled or communicated

This is related to the two points above. As Nathan Bugh explains, you don't actually communicate moves. There is no collection of hand signals that say "this is about to come up" any more than you have to use your voice to say "here comes an inside turn with a double spin".

There is body movement, which creates connection, which in turn suggests new movement.

There is a correct way to dance OR There are no wrong moves, only variations

Any claim that "you must" or "you must never" is a prime candidate for critical thinking. Even the best teachers and dancers are sometimes misguided in their claims (though they are also often right, at least considering these claims as a rule of thumb). The claims then tend to get amplified by students eager for clear answers. "For this class, don't do this" becomes "never do this".

The opposite proposition, "There are no wrong moves, only variations", has some merit, but some movements physically hurt, do not respond in a reliable way to a given led movement or do not reliably distinguish between led movements that are intended as different. While (to borrow a phrase from a friend) nobody should tell you how to have fun, if you are taking classes, you are to some extent allowing that teachers will have ways they will try to get you to move which they consider better than others.

In Lindy, the follow comes in on 1 (or 2, 2.5, 3, etc.)

See above. The follow should come in when they are led. And the lead should lead in at a time that matches the desire of the follow. All counts have merit.

In Lindy, the lead should let go on 5 (or 4.5, 6, 7 etc.)

See above.

How we look is important

Although dance is a visual medium, social dance is much more kinaesthetic - how your partner feels, how your own body feels.

Competitions and performances overemphasize the visual aspect (seen from a perspective of social dancing). This leads many teachers and critics to talk about creating strong lines or interesting shapes (those with a modern dance background might add the notion of the spaces and volumes that are created).

For a long time, I tried to completely deny this aspect. But then I realised the other side of the coin: natural, comfortable, simple movement will look elegant and beautiful. So I strive for simple movement with the assumption that looking good will follow.

There is a strong idea that we should be wary of only optimizing a signal of the thing we want to improve rather than the thing itself. Artificially fixing the signal (does it look good, could it look even better by creating a nice line?) may not fix the underlying cause: the dancing is not natural and efficient.

You have to master the basics before tackling more complex stuff

This is a very persistent myth, along with its cousin, "You have to know the rules before you start breaking them". These beliefs seem to come from Western middle-class culture. We are obsessed with the idea that there are rules to everything; that these rules can be expressed, studied, taught and learnt; and that mastery of a subject requires declarative knowledge of these rules. Music, photography, language, dance, etiquette, writing, running, skiing… no domain is safe. For some reason, we believe this despite such obvious evidence as even 6 year-olds being able to form complex feats of syntax, semantics and pragmatics whose rules the vast majority of adults are unable to describe.

I'm not saying there aren't rules2, but a) they tend to be very hard to describe with words and b) even when they can be, they might help us learn faster, but I'm not sure they help us do better. It is also by placing rules in context and seeing what works that we learn. So I find it unlikely that it is possible to learn the rules without breaking them (both unintentionally, through not knowing better, and intentionally, to experiment with the boundaries). (Note that this is different from being disinterested in learning the rules in the first place.)

But even if these rules were expressible, and even if they did help us learn faster and better, the idea that we should learn basics before moving on to other things assumes that it is possible to learn some curricularised subset of the rules (i.e., basics) independently of a wider context. Whether this is true depends on what it means to "have learnt". As I argue in a post asking what basics we should teach, even advanced dancers are still working on their basics, so in that sense, if you wait until you feel you "have", some basic before trying to do all the other fun things dance has to offer, you may be waiting a long time. But in order to know whether you have a basic down "well enough for now", you have to put it into practice in the wider context, to know what your goals are and whether you're meeting them3.

By not waiting to try out more than just "the basics", you will realize that it will still take some time before you are able to do some of the more complex moves or movements, which in turn will motivate you to work on what is necessary for you to achieve those moves or movements.

Most dancers do things that are beyond their ability or outside the basics they are learning. Rather than feeling guilty or letting other people judge them for it, we should accept that it not only happens, but is practically unavoidable and is most likely beneficial to learning.

You are a beginner and dance is hard

Being labeled a beginner is reassuring. Often, people ask "How long have you been dancing?". When you reach the 2 or 3 year mark it's an uncomfortable question: you think to yourself "I've been dancing for this long and I'm still this bad at it?". So it's rather nice to have "oh, I'm a beginner" or "yeah, we'll he's a pro" to fall back on as a justification.

But most new dancers truly do bring a bunch of relevant knowledge to their first lesson. Knowing how to walk, some intuitive or explicit knowledge of music, a life of experience and things to say. Teachers who make students believe that they don't even know how to walk are not empowering them to have confidence in yourself, or drawing effectively on their existing knowledge and placing them in the zone of proximal

Conclusion

Dance is many things to many people. Figuring things out may seem a bit like counting angels on the head of a pin, but it also helps us realise to what extent our assumptions are not universally held as true. For some, it may be liberating to learn in the safe certainty that our teachers have a plan that will end up beneficially for us. For me, finding out the myriad of different ways to approach dance, refining my own thinking and ignoring the aspects of dance that don't appeal to me or that I think are downright misguided is the liberation to pursue my own inner dancer.


  1. This is probably not true in some dances, where footwork is not led. It's also not true in Tango, where the lead dissociates their own footwork from the footwork they are leading. 

  2. Said another way, these would be described as declarative knowledge, which can be contrasted to procedural or tacit knowledge. It is a well known result that even experts (in possession of procedural knowledge) have great difficulty restituting declarative knowledge from their practice. 

  3. For example in Lindy, you would work differently on triple steps (and be satisfied to different degrees) depending on whether you were just trying to internalize footwork so as to think about other things, trying to have a "Lindy" triple step (swung, with bounce, etc), trying to do travelling or turning triple steps, or trying to adapt the swing of your triple steps to the swing of the music. 

Comments...
Mar 14, 2013

Expression (in dance and music)

This post was written in part as a reaction to a post by Nick Williams. In his post, if I understand correctly, he criticizes the "feeling it" crowd for being afraid of accepting good technique as a pre-requisite for good dance, and for being afraid of defining a dance (e.g. Lindy Hop - or Balboa, since Nick is the author) for fear of being limited in their expressive ability (or somehow giving judgmental power to third parties)1.

This ties into a wider sense of uneasiness and annoyance I have with regard to the way modern culture confuses style, technique, vocabulary and expression. It not only hampers getting at what is important (to my eyes) but also taints the way people talk about dance and music. Of course these aren't the only words for these concepts and the way I define them is probably not the only way. But I'm fairly certain that, whatever words we put on them, the following concepts should not be confused.

Technique

This has two aspects. The first is that technique is the foundation of vocabulary: there are things that you cannot say or do if you don't have the technique down. The second is structural (good posture, doing a given movement "correctly") and ranges from something that all can agree on (your technique should not cause or increase the likelyhood of permanent injury) to things that are often arbitrary and taken as ground truths ("you should hold your violin and bow in this way") despite many examples of people "overcoming" a supposed lack of technique (Liz Carrol's left hand hold on fiddle and Michael McGoldrick's shoulder hold on flute being prime examples). There is no harm in encouraging beginners to seek out "perfect" technique, but I feel uncomfortable when, in art, technique becomes a stylistic element, admired for its own sake (check out the comments of any amateur youtube violin video to see people comment on bow holds, wrists, vibratos, posture, tone, intonation and all that rubbish which is absolutely meaningless in the grand scheme of things - is it good music?).

Vocabulary2

This is what you do with your technique. In dance it's the "moves" (although I would argue that while dance can be analysed as a sequence of moves, it should not be thought of as constructed in that way. In music it's the arpeggios, the phrases, the ways of ornamenting, the ways of varying. When performance art3 is prepared (composed or choreographed) what is often decided on is vocabulary. When improvising, elements of vocabulary are put together (again, this is post-hoc decomposition into elements of vocabulary, which does not necessarily imply intentional combination). Vocabulary is a construct we use to talk about reusable discrete units. In actual practice, the realization of one of these units belongs on a continuum with infinite possibilities.

Style

Style is both the individualisation of art and the collection of individualisations which define genres. Lindy hop, classical music, waltz, tango, bourrée, etc. It is in some way akin to dialect in language, except that, instead of serving the purpose of mutual intelligibility, it serves the dual purpose of "shortcut to creativity" and signal of belonging to a group. While vocabulary and technique sometimes incorporate or become part of stylistic elements, I believe it is fundamentally style which creates the boundaries from one genre to another, and a sufficient body of individuals pushing in a new direction which creates new stylistic schools and, eventually, new genres. Style is problematic - because it's usually hard to put into words - and hard to teach. And often confusion between technique and style causes uniformity where there is no need for it. Style can also be mere "passing" fashion when it doesn't go into a new genre or is not considered essential to a genre (like the "rolling triple step" of many early 2000 "groove" lindy hop videos).

Expression

Expression (which some people often call "emotion", a whole 'nother discussion I won't go into here) is the statement you are making. It is what is fundamentally important in art. It's what distinguishes art from sport. In sport, perfect technique can be admired both for its own sake and for the better performance it enables (though "rogue" skiers such as Bode Miller have shown how finding the best movement for one's own body can be better than technical perfection). In art, what you say is where it's at.

So what kinds of things do performance artists say? They can express a choreography/composition. Or they can improvise, be creating on the fly. The two are different but can be looked at in a similar way.

  • "Look how awesome I am - because I have the technique to do this element of vocabulary which no-one else can do". Nothing wrong with showcases, but they don't express very much and must be masterfully inserted into the statement the artist is making (if there is one beyond "look how awesome I am").
  • "Here is where I would like to take the genre - while preserving its major stylistic elements". These statements explore the boundaries of genre. What can I do in this medium? They are slightly more powerful statements. I feel they are also the riskiest kind of statement. They can fall flat, particularly in cases where the genre has already been there (usually 20 years ago): playing bagpipe tunes on guitar; playing guitar tunes on bagpipes... how boring! Expressing something else than joy and exuberance in Lindy? That's considerably better (Jerry Almonte argues that this first happened/became pervasive about 10-15 years ago in modern Lindy). These statements are about choosing a set of artistic constraints which work well together. When a particular set of constraints fit well together, a new genre may emerge. On the other hand, they are very "meta" statements which can only be understood by someone familiar with the genre.
  • An extreme version of these statements can lead to reconsidering what the whole art (dance, or music) is about. I believe we are powerfully in the need of new such statements, to get away from the pop culture "performance art is about showmanship" which is currently so pervasive. The whole "beautiful lines" thing which seems to be the norm these days in Lindy says something very strong about what performance dance should be and where Lindy fits into the rest of the dance world.
  • "Here is how I see the world". These statements are hard to make in non-figurative performance art and are more often to be found in painting or literature. They can nevertheless exist, particularly in retelling a classic story (e.g. lovers meeting). These statements are important to connect a genre with a wider audience.
  • "Here is who I am". The quintessential statement. It can be about who one is in the absolute, or who one is right now (or who one is acting as being). I like the honesty, the "in the moment"ness, the ephemerity of these statements, particularly when they are made in the context of social partner dancing. We are not waxing philosophical, we're saying "here is how it feels to be me, dancing with you, to this music, at this time, in this place". This is the kind of statement that anyone can make, even with limited vocabulary and technique. I also believe it is the fundamental power of music and dance to allow anyone, regardless of their ability, to communicate, to express themselves and, often, to get off their chest things that words cannot express.
  • "I'm going to be entertaining". A relative of "look how awesome I can be", which is possibly orthogonal to the rest of artistic expression, but it specifically focuses on audience entertainment - something which some consider to be a cheap trick and which others consider the primary role of artists.

Where is the problem?

The main problem, as I see it, is that we (human pop culture as a whole) currently overemphasize beauty (and showmanship) and technique. Beauty is only one of the ways to make a statement about what performance art should be, but it isn't even the only way to make such a statement, let alone the only kind of artistic statement that can be made. Showmanship is kind of orthogonal to expression but seems to best suit a race to the bottom (in that most of the expression I describe above cannot be perceived without a certain cultural background, but anyone can be impressed if they feel entertained).

But the worst is technique. My current pet theory is that with the increased need to be able to judge art (competitions, hiring decisions and teaching/assessment being the major culprits), we have needed to curricularise art. By focusing on technique, we turn the subjectivity of art evaluation into something more objective; we also sidestep the difficulty in teaching people to be artists, to be expressive, to be creative, because there are so many technical things to teach instead. The loop is now complete and hard to escape, because people who have themselves worked so hard on technique have a vested interest in admiring it for its own sake rather than for the expressivity it allows.

(This focus on technique also makes it easier for the general public to appreciate "art" - because then the only reason they don't do art is that they think they need massive amounts of technique - rather than the simple desire to take a risk. It also simplifies art understanding - you can listen to a judge claim that the singing wasn't in tune - and nod your head in agreement, as if in-tuneness even matters all that much - or can be objectively evaluated).

Back to defining a dance

So... what does this mean for the post that sparked all of this. From my descriptions above it will come as no surprise that I think that what defines a dance is its style - not its vocabulary, its technique or what it expresses. And for a post about defining the dance, Nick talks surprisingly little about style (except where he confounds it with the decried free for all of "feeling it") and rather too much about expression and technique.

The assumption of defining a dance is that it involves telling the dancers where they have to be on every count and how they have to execute the movement. This builds into the argument that the best dancer is merely the one who is able to master the technique laid out before them. What this has brought about in the Lindy Hop community is a celebration of style over technique. “Feeling it” is higher on the food chain than beautiful movement.

The first place where I feel Nick is wrong is in mapping "style" and "technique" onto "feeling it" and "beautiful movement". I think he is right that Ballroom is a worrying direction because they have melded "technique" and "style" to the point of dogmatism, severely limiting expression (there is something happening with vocabulary as well, but I don't know enough about Ballroom to talk about it more). Beautiful movement isn't (to my mind) in the domain of "technique". Technique is a pre-requisite (you need the technique to let your body create the beautiful movement you intend for it), but style (swivels are beautiful in lindy - though when I first saw them, danced by Frida no less, I remember thinking they looked silly - reassuringly, I no longer think that) and especially expression are where beautiful movement is at. "Feeling it" is also an expressive element (and a particularly interesting one because technique isn't necessarily a pre-requisite). So the "feeling it" vs "beautiful movement" distinction is not, to my mind, a concern of style, but of kinds of artistic expression and the statements they make.

Dance, like any other art form, is a skill-set. Mastering an art form takes mental and physical effort as well as time. There is a process most people follow in learning. The first step is to learn the trade and techniques that encompass the art form. Next is copying great works of those before you. Followed by the phase where one picks and chooses styles and techniques from different sources to construct your own style. The last phase is to include your own self expression, creativity and ingenuity to the art. There are exceptions, of course, but the majority of people follow this course.

This! This is exactly what is wrong with art education. We expect people to follow this path. Why should expression be the province only of the technical masters? How much technique is needed before you can find your own things to say? What about the vast majority of people who will never be technical masters - and who will take years and years to acquire the stylistic elements of a dance form (if they ever do). Of course, I am not arguing for expression as a replacement for technique, or suggesting that it is possible to make profound artistic statements without bags of technique, but expression should be developed in parallel to technique, from the get-go. (Isn't that the goal for music and dance, to express stuff?)

Nick goes on to explain that in partner dancing, lack of (good) technique is even more detrimental because it spreads. This is true, but the flip of this is that lots of good technique is not necessary to set up a meaningful dance conversation with your partner.

There is an advantage for some to avoid defining, or loosely defining, a dance. It gives them the freedom to do whatever they want with no consequences in the name of self expression. The mentality “you can’t tell me what I’m doing is bad because I’m feeling it”. That in a street dance there are no rules.

Technical rules can be argued for or against, usually with no more argument in defense that "all the good dancers do this" (in lead-follow dance, these rules have a practical embodiment - if the lead isn't successful, the technique behind it can be argued to be poor).

Stylistic rules are hard to verbalise (maybe even impossible - but that doesn't meant the rules don't exist). So you can probably say that someone is or is not doing Lindy, but it may be hard to say exactly why. But unless they thought they were doing Lindy and what they are doing loses all meaning if it's not Lindy, I can hardly see why it would matter4.

The goal of every dance is to combine great technique with the emotional aspect.

Expression (?emotion) has nothing to do with either technique or style. There is either great expression (and the technical chops needed to express it) or there isn't. The only reason to put great technique in is if it serves the artistic expression (or to pander to the rules of a contest or the expectations of an audience).

Nick then gives a video example of someone who is "feeling it", but can't dance. He says it sucks because the balance between emotion and technique is not there and so he doesn't get pleasure out of it because it's not "good dancing". I say it sucks because it doesn't know what it's expressing - there are aspects of fitting (very badly - e.g. because of lack of basic musicality) into a genre, aspects of (very poor) showmanship and some pretty nice aspects of "this is who I am". There is definitely an aspect of technical limitation, but with a more appropriately chosen discourse, the expression could be really touching and personal - even if not that profound (statements about who we are are rarely all that profound - but that's the beauty of social dancing - you express fleeting, ephemeral things which disappear as soon as the moment is over, which do not need to be profound).

Conclusion: more expression, less technique; what does that have to do with style?

So there you have it. Rather than place judgement of good dancing on expression and technique, I would rather judge artistic expression based on what it is trying to say and the means that it uses to say it, thereby sidestepping the question of technique altogether. This is one part of my response to Nick's post.

The other part of my response, is that these aspects of technique and expression have very little to do with actual style, genre or dance definition. Nick claims that the root behind not wanting to define style (e.g. putting a definition on Lindy Hop) is the fear (of the "feeling it" crowd) that it would open doors to judging dance on its technical merits. It think it is not necessary (maybe not possible) to verbalise style - but that even if we do, it is important not to confuse "good technique" and "style". That is exactly what I would accuse Ballroom of having done. And is my reading of Nick's post; I hope I misunderstood it.

So, if we want to get all geeky about defining dances and styles, that's fine by me. But let's not confuse this kind of discussion with the one about whether good dancing has to have good technique. And when we come to that discussion, I will definitely be arguing that good technique is only the means to an end and that we already focus on it way too much.


  1. I find this interesting in light of a more recent post by Nathan Bugh where he seems to think that we are self-imposing over restrictive limitations on what is and isn't Lindy. There is also a post by Jason Meller about Lindy aesthetic. 

  2. This whole paragraph about vocabulary is rather weak. But as I don't rely on it much for the rest of the post I'll let it stand for now. 

  3. By "performance art" I mean art that is transient, ephemeral, not creating a persistent product, and where timing is important. I don't mean that it necessarily involves an audience in front of which or for whom one "performs". 

  4. Though I can see why it might be a big deal if you were claiming to teach Lindy. 

Comments...
Feb 21, 2013

Teach movement, not moves

I had the benefit of coming to Lindy Hop with a background of different dances and a feeling that I would be successful since I was already "a dancer". But I was in for a number of reality checks. I often got (and still get) into trouble for dancing above my level (trying to pull off random things I have no chance of pulling off, experimenting, coming off as the opposite of the ideal-to-some "person who has few basics but does them well"). At the same time, I found Lindy (and later Balboa, and to a lesser extent Blues and Tango) to be very frustrating because although I had basics that I was doing as well as I could, I wasn't doing them particularly well. I knew what I thought dancing was about (moving in partnership to music) and I wasn't "dancing". What's more, anything I did that was outside these basics felt increasingly wrong as I became entrenched in trying to stick to them.

I attribute this to the fact that many beginner classes are about "moves"1. The idea is that these are the basics of the dance and that a) mastering those basics sets up a good foundation, b) you have to start somewhere, building up vocabulary piece by piece and c) starting with being creative and good technique is too intimidating for beginners. I would disagree on several counts and argue that instead of basics of moves, basics of movement should be taught to new dancers2.

You can't master the basics

It took a year for my swingout to have any quality. My tango walk is still iffy. My blues pulse needs rebuilding from the ground up. If you ask any "advanced" dancer, what are they working on? Their basics (both of moves, and movement). Because the rest of dance is just what you do with basics.

So basically (groan), it will take a long time to even begin to master any basics. And even then, the more you know, the more you will realise you don't know, so you will continue working on them. And the rest of dance is what will help you understand what the basics are, what they enable you to do and in what way yours are lacking.

At the core, what you will be doing is movement and musicality. That's what we should start with, so that dancers are working on this from day one, while working in parallel on their other basics, not waiting for some far-off time where they have "solid basics".

But we still need to start somewhere, right?

Of course I'm not advocating a "let's teach everything at the same time" style of teaching. Movement still needs breaking down into its component pieces; you still need to set up a curriculum. I liked what Brenda Russell once said (of Blues, paraphrased): "We don't teach a different dance to the advanced dancers and the beginners, we teach them the same dance so everyone can dance together". I think she added something about not teaching patterns to beginners when advanced dancers don't believe that's what dancing is about. This means that they teach layers of dance (e.g. in blues, axis changes without pulse - and initially without stepping), with freedom to do many things, rather than teaching a pattern which requires many movement basics (pulse, stepping, connection, isolations/polycentric rhythms).

So the question, for any dance, then becomes what the movement layers are, what basics/elements belong to each layer and how hard they are for beginners to get right.

Triple steps in Lindy are a great example. They belong to the footwork layer and are treacherous to get right. Because they are easier once you know what they ought to look like, and once you are familiar with the music, they are prime candidates for keeping for later -probably until stretch has started to be understood. In the meantime, slows, slows with a bounce, and kick steps are fine.

But you need to give moves to beginners. Asking them to be creative is frightening!

Of course. Moves incorporate movement that can be recycled and that is core to the dance. So you need them anyway if you're going to explore the variety of a dance genre and be part of a community. But if you teach a tuck turn or a swingout to beginners, it will take a good 2 hours and all they have for all that effort are two things that they can barely do. Hardly enough to get through a whole song.

If instead you teach movement, continuing with the example of Lindy, you can teach pulsing in place, slow steps and rock steps, along with counter body pendulum (all things which everyone has prior experience with). You can then show various ways to put them together (including "step as many times as you like then do a rock step" type instructions), maybe throwing in rotational rock step to go from jockey to closed position and back. You can then demonstrate that you can totally get through a song by combining this to the music. By the time you actually get to a swingout (maybe 10 hours of classes in), learners will have footwork, movement, lead/follow chops and musicality to make it all work.

Of course, for this, you need a scene where beginners go out dancing. But maybe giving them the feeling that they have enough material to get through a dance can help with that.

But if leads are going to improvise you need to teach connection!

Not necessarily. I think we focus too much on leads "leading the follow to do something". This thinking makes us do steps with our feet, disconnect at our core and lead with our arms (or torso if lucky). By focusing on movement, if we can get the leads to move with their whole body (already done by non-dancers when walking down the street), the connection will be there and the lead will be there too. Again, one of the reasons for not doing swingouts (or even pass bys) right away: the move is not symmetrical and the lead isn't just dancing, they are dancing a movement that will create a different (non-symmetric) movement in the follow. This approach also gives something more interesting to do for the follow than knowing what move is expected of them in class and muddling through it side by side with the lead. Early on they will have to listen to how their body is being moved and learn to react to that3. Walks in jockey position, for example, don't need any specific thinking to be led, or followed. You just do them.

These ideas apply to several dances I know (Blues, Lindy Hop, most partnered Bal Folk dancing, Tango to some extent, maybe even West Coast). I'm less sure about dances I'm not familiar with and which appear to lead geography, but not stepping, such as Boogie Woogie and Salsa (and maybe it's precisely because of this that I don't feel attracted to these dances). On the other hand, doing things this way is outside the typical beginner experience4 (and might lead to rather unfortunate interactions on the social dance floor). How do you think it would go down?


  1. A move being some named kind of choreography which involves geography, orientation in space and steps (a very loose definition, I know). 

  2. Now, of course, I need to define better what movement is. And why it's what dancing is about. I guess that's for another post, but a short version would be that movement is the infinity of ways that a given "move" can be executed. 

  3. This is pretty much teaching connection to follows. But without actually talking about it. Instead, scaffolding it by setting up opportunities for them to acquire the skill. 

  4. Except where teachers already do this or something similar. But I don't have first hand experience of any. Ali and Katja seem to have come to some similar conclusions to mine. 

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Feb 11, 2013

Gender differences and their importance

A lot of conversations about dance get side tracked into conversations about gender differences. In Tango, some people take it as a given that there is male energy and female energy, and that men are good at expressing male energy and get to lead and women are good at expressing female energy and get to follow. In the Lindy world, Lloyd explains why men lead and women follow. In a followup article, he says that if he were to write all over again, he would order his arguments differently.

First he would argue, lead and follow isn't command and obey (agreed). Next, someone has to do it (more or less agreed, depending on the dance) and each sex can specialise (while it makes sense to some extent, specialisation is for insects, and I think there are crossover benefits from one role to the other, but that's a subject for another post). Then, sex is part of the fun (again, that's a whole 'nother post1, related to sensuality, sexuality and their role in social dance). Finally, there is a reason convention is the way round that it is: men are taller, stronger, like to lead, and women like to follow.

While I agree the argument from convention is a reasonably strong one (more in Tango, perhaps than in Lindy), I want to concentrate on the question of gender differences. Are men really taller and stronger? Do men really like showing off more? Do women really like being in the arms of a strong man to satisfy some genetic compulsion to find a good mate?

I'm going to side-track into gender differences. Seeing as I don't believe that dance roles need be gendered in any way, I don't really care in what way specific gender stereotypes match certain ideals of dance roles. But I do care about gender differences, whether they exist, and if so, how big they are. We often hear that "men are from Mars and women are from Venus". Counter arguments to this tell us that differences within sexes are far greater than differences between sexes. But what does that mean?

The magnitude of the difference between two groups is the effect sizes, expressed either as Cohen's D (number of standard deviations between the means) or an r^2 (amount of variance explained by group membership). This doesn't translate very well into understandable numbers, which is why I'm very happy to have stumbled on the Common Language Effect Size (CLES), which translates very well into dance. Men are taller than women with an effect size of 2sd (about 6 inches). Taking a random dance couple, this translates into a 92% likelyhood that the man is taller than the woman2.

If this has consequences for dance in general (1 in every 10 pairings not having the "ideal" height role assignment), it is even more important for me. At 5'7'', I'm actually shorter than about 30% of american women (this number is down to 10% considered worldwide).

But what about other traits? Janet Hyde has a great meta-analysis article on gender differences. She argues that while there are indubitably differences, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the genders are more similar than dissimilar. Some are clear, such as strength. In 9 out of 10 dance couples (1.98sd), the guy can throw a ball further than the girl. But psychological traits paint less of an obvious story. Taking physical agression, the strongest finding is a 0.84sd effect size, translating to just under 75% of pairs having the guy as most agressive. However Most measures, for example spatial visualisation, are around the 0.2sd effect size, translating into 56%, 6% more than random.

So according to this study3, even if there were psychological differences between the sexes which were related to leading and following, at most 7/10 dance pairs would have the "correct" roles. Even more likely this number is smaller than 6/10 couples, arriving very close to 50%.

As it happens, I'm pretty convinced that we are good at whatever dance role we practice and, as far as I'm concerned I love following as much as leading, so I try to practice it when I can. I've never been all "social dance is bad because gender roles". But I have struggled with the whole different but equal thing, not to mention the difficulty of understanding statistics. This whole post was mostly just because I'm excited at having found a table to translate effect sizes into the probability of a random pairing conforming to the difference.


  1. Partially alluded to in this post I wrote 

  2. Of course, this assumes that dancer populations are similar to the real population in their gender differences. And that dance partners select each other disregarding height, or whatever other measure. 

  3. Another study, looking at multivariate effect size based on latent variables, claims that on certain sets of personality traits, gender differences are much bigger, at up to 2.7sd. (Without the latent variable magic trick, it's still at 1.7sd). Even so, at 2.7sd, assuming all these traits were a necessity for a good follow/lead, out of 100 people who had these traits, 9 of them would be the "wrong" gender. 

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Jan 10, 2013

Dance is a conversation

(La danse est une conversation: version résumée française ci-dessous1)

Dance2 is a conversation. It really is. Most metaphorical analogies you can only do so much with, you very quickly reach their limits. Sometimes the whole value of a metaphor is where it breaks down. But many questions about dance are easy to answer if you ask "what would happen if this were a real conversation?"

An easy one: is dance seduction?

Yeah it can be. But is seduction the sole reason we talk to people? Do you only ever engage young, thin, good looking people in conversation? With regard to gender roles, do you only ever talk to people of your preferred gender/sex/orientation? Should dancing be all that different?

Another one: what is leading and following about?

Here the metaphor gets more abstract and stretched. There are also many other ways of thinking of lead and follow. If there were a lead in a conversation, I think they would be the one who picks and changes or suggests the topic. No more. A good conversation will look for mutually agreeable topics and let the rest flow from there. Sometimes when one person drones on and on about the same subject it's boring. Or when they tell the same story to everyone. If I'm talking about how dance is a conversation and you're all "yep, uh-huh, nod", that can be cool too. But in conversation as in dance, I really would rather learn more about the other person and feel less responsible for "bringing the fun".

The music can fit in various ways into this metaphor. You can think of it as a theme within which to pick topics:

Music: Horses!
Lead: ok, um horse-racing?
Follow: uh sure...
Lead: betting and all that stuff.
Follow: um...
Lead: there was that film: The Sting. That was about gambling and horses.
Follow: didn't that have Robert Redford in it?
Lead: yeah! And you know what other movie had Robert Redford in? The Horse Whisperer!
Follow: that was a good movie. I cried so hard.
Music: Parrots!
Lead: I'm... not sure how that's related to the Horse Whisperer.
Follow: I can tell you exactly how they're related!

I have a friend, whenever some unexpected segue happens and I'm all "how's that related to the price of tea in China?" she answers "you really want to know, ok, I'll tell you [long improvised story about how the price of tea in china is literally related to our topic of conversation]". It will come as no surprise for you to learn that she is also a great dance partner. Just like in conversation, the brilliant wittiness of a good partner is to take an idea and roll with it. Which brings me to my last point.

Is social dancing Art?

Yes! Just like a good conversation is a wonderful piece of art. It's not something that will go down in history, its topic might just be the weather or gossip or sport. But it is delightful, it is in the moment, and is a small slice of what it means to be human. "That's what she said" can easily be overdone, but just like a good stomp off, done just at the right moment, it's perfect. Coming in 30 seconds later with "and another thing..." is not an option. The conversation has moved on. The sheer ephemerality of these conversations is what renders them so precious.

So dance is like a conversation?

It's worth noting how dance conversations are different from conversations in a pub. They are limited in time (so If someone is droning on and on about their work, you can just enjoy it, safe in the knowledge that it's time limited), limited in space and participants (so it's easier to differentiate "on" and "off" the dance floor, e.g. by putting on an act, or not being consistent between interactions). And last, the music sets the topic in a very strong way, making it seem more like a party game.

But otherwise, solving three of the big questions3 about dancing in one easy metaphor and a couple of quick paragraphs, not bad eh? Dance is totally a conversation4. What do you think?


  1. Beaucoup de réponses utiles sur la danse sociale peuvent êtres trouvées en se demandant "Qu'est ce qui se passerait si on était dans une vraie conversation?"

    Premièrement, on verrait qu'on peut danser avec n'importe qui (peu importe leur sexe, genre, corpulence, âge, orientation sexuelle, beauté, origine, etc.) sans forcement chercher à séduire ou y voir une attirance sexuelle (même s'il y a aussi des conversations où ces aspects sont présents).

    Deuxièmement, dans une conversation il n'y a pas de meneur. À la limite, il y a une prise d'initiative du choix ou du changement de sujet de conversation. Même s'il peut y avoir des situations où une personne parle et l'autre écoute en hochant de la tête, à la longue c'est plus intéressant pour tout le monde si les deux sont actifs.

    Enfin, une conversation c'est en général pas du grand Art. Mais il y a quand meme quelquechose de fantastique dans l'art de bien participer à une conversation, de dire la bonne chose au bon moment, de savoir écouter, de pas débarquer avec l'anecdote qu'on voulait absolument raconter alors que le sujet de conversation à changé. Bref, apporter du plaisir, dans l'instant contingent, c'est quand même de l'art. 

  2. partnered, social dance 

  3. The question of the roles of lead and follow has notably been addressed in a conversation unintentionally launched by Bobby White and summarized by Jerry Almonte.

    The question of gender, sexuality, leading and following is complex and is adressed in a number of posts linked to by Sarah Carney and probably many other places. Also one of my least favorite articles ever, Queer Tango is described with a refusal to admit that partner choice dancing can be free from considerations of sexuality. This post modulated to the idea that if the intimacy is non-sexual, we might be willing to seek it outside of our sexual preference (just as when we dance we don't only dance with people we are sexually attracted to, even if they are of the "correct" sex) pretty much reflects my feeling about partner dance in general - rather surprising in a blog which otherwise believes that "women bear children and raise them, men protect and provide".

    For art and dancing, I'm reminded of a post by Tango dancer Melina Sedo, in which I comment under the name TatianaSoftware. 

  4. To be fair, I pretty much beg the question in this post and any "but in dance, shouldn't we also have this happen" criticisms will be answered "yeah, but I've already decided dance is a conversation, so... no". In related news, playing music together is also a conversation. 

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