Tuesday, February 12, 2008
We started up Scottish Country Dance classes last Monday, the 4th. Last night I taught the whole evening, as my co-teacher had another commitment. It was great to have two full sets in class, and we had three new beginners return! We seem to be hanging on to more of our beginners lately. I'm really excited about that. Brand new beginners see slightly more advanced beginners sticking with it and feel they can do it too. And the likelihood that new people will find friends in class increases as the amount of people in class grows. The social aspect of a SCD class is very important in holding onto dancers. There are so many other things people could be doing. A weekly commitment to SCD class is a big chunk of free time. It needs to be worthwhile in some way, or folks will quit coming.
Six of us are going to a workshop and ball in Portland, OR, early in March. I think a few others are planning to go to a workshop and ball in New York later in Spring. So my co-teacher and I are using dances from those two programs as our dances for the first half of the year. When the Asilomar program comes out we'll start using those as well. Workshops and Balls are great social occasions. You meet new people who become friends, you experience new teachers, and you have lots of fun learning about SCD dancing. All of this helps with retention of dancers back in their home classes.
I really want to help my dancers improve their dance technique. As always, most people can do a reasonable version of the steps when we're doing step practice. But as soon as some of them get into a dance, much of their step accuracy goes out the window. I see all kinds of things - skipping, walking, hopping on the wrong beat, running, pushing, scrambling even - instead of the steps. And then there are all the other aspects of good dance technique, such as posture, musical phrasing, giving hands, and eye contact, that aren't always there either.
All of these things can add a lot of enjoyment to dancing by increasing the positive social contact during a dance. The least obvious thing is the dance steps, and yet they really are a basic building block. The ability to do the steps in even a basic way ensures you are moving rhythmically with other dancers, instead of at odds with them. It makes it easier to get through the more difficult partnered figures. It increases your efficiency of movement, so you can travel the distances needed without scrambling, or worse, getting there too early.
There are various things a teacher can do to help dancers work on all of these parts of good technique, and for some people it works pretty well. But what it really takes, and I've seen this in myself and all of our more experienced dancers, is the personal realization that doing the steps well helps you cooperate better with other dancers, you get more relaxed because you're in the right place at the right time, and then other people start to treat you as if you're truly a dancer, rather then just a beginner.
That last bit is probably the most important. People don't enjoy feeling like a burden to their partners. The social acceptance factor (peer pressure) becomes important to the individual dancer, and the positive social feedback as they improve their dancing feels good. People start asking you to dance more often. Once that happens, most SCD dancers are on the road to improving their steps and other technique because they want to, not because their teachers are always nagging them.
The difficult part is reaching that point! Giving new dancers the opportunity to find out they DO want to be a good dancer that lots of people (strangers even!) enjoy dancing with really helps. Once the social acceptance becomes important to them, they're hooked.
Workshops and balls are a good way to do this. At a ball you see people dancing in a purely social atmosphere, rather than class. You can compare the better dancers with those who are obviously new. Some of these social lessons aren't so fun, because newer dancers sometimes find it more difficult to ask others to dance, and more experienced dancers aren't always good about asking beginners. But beginners soon start to notice how much fun it is to dance in a set with truly good dancers. And by that I mean the ones who make an effort to be helpful and work as a team in the set, without being condescending, or even rude, to less experienced dancers. Those people are the ones I want my new dancers to get exposure to. The rude ones are another kind of object lesson, unfortunately.
The hard part for a teacher is getting dancers ready to attend a workshop. There is a certain amount of basic competency required to attend one, and that's where a teacher and a class with friendly, experienced dancers comes in.
So I have a lot of work to do. There's only next week to teach before the Portland workshop. But other things are coming up that my dancers may want to attend. So I need to keep that in mind - maybe I can get a few more new dancers hooked!