Maximising Your Dance Lessons

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Maximising Your Dance Lessons

When I first started learning dancing, I took an inordinate amount of time to figure out what my teachers were trying to teach me. My first teacher once told me in 1980 that of his twenty years of teaching experience he had never come across someone as bad as me to begin with.


Upon reflection, I think this is partly due to my lack of a bigger view of things and the knowledge of how to maximise my dance lessons.

One of the biggest problems most of us have is insufficient practice (if any at all). While most people associate practice with just going through what was taught in class; this is insufficient. Actual practice on a real dance floor is essential and preferably with a variety of partners (at least in the early stages).

I remember distinctly, how I as a Gold Bar holder in Latin American dancing was at a total lost of how to dance on an actual dance floor with an unfamiliar partner with unorthodox styles (though rhythmically correct). I was used to dancing slick choreographed routines with my instructor. I suppose I was like a good driver on the driving circuit, but a total loss on the crowded real life roads.

The other very distinct memory I have in my mind was that of a elderly man and and young lady dancing in D'Cockpit. They were just dancing very simple basic rumba but with a style and grace I had not thought possible with just basics. I was bowled out! Prior to that, I was used to watching fancy latin exam routines danced with what I thought was style. This changed my perspective of dancing and I resolved to look beyond fancy exam routines which I could not use in real life. I later found out that the young lady was actually a former Amateur Latin Champion.

The other changing point in my dancing experience was when I realised that rock & roll and disco rock were not the only dances that could be danced with lead and without routines.

Over the years, I've noticed teaching styles come under two categories: teach the basic techniques first and then work the variations in later or teach the variations first and work the technique in later.

I think dance teachers really have tough decisions to make. In a pragmatic society like ours, comparisons between teachers are inevitable. To the new dancers, the easiest way to compare teachers is by the number of variations they teach. Technique is a bit difficult to quantify and thus difficult for new dancers to compare. Somehow, new dancers seem happier to be taught a great number of variations which they may not be able to do well rather than be taught the finer points of dancing like footwork, floor craft, leading and following, rhythm, lines etc.

So most teachers give the students what they want. We can't blame the teachers, if they did otherwise, most students would think they're being cheated and go else where.

If one learns dancing long enough, he may eventually realise that there is more to dancing than fancy variations. However, this is a very pain stage as many things that they have been doing happily over the years have to be relearnt from scratch. The early one realises this, the less painful it is. For those who realise it at a very late stage, it may be too painful and thus they remain resigned to their standard of dancing.

This article was published on Monday 12 May, 1997.
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