Friday, April 8, 2011

Teaching on the Dance Floor: Helpful or Hurtful?

So another issue was brought to my attention after this last dance - and that is around not teaching on the dance floor and practicing kindness and patience with more novice/beginner dancers.

I think that part of the issue is that we have to remember each of us comes to the dance with different "issues" - things that can trigger us to feel insecure, incompetent, frustrated, or whatever. The newer the dancer, the more likely that these things might get triggered. And teaching on the dance floor often unwittingly sets those triggers off.

I had one of our up-and-coming dancers came to me during our dance upset and frustrated because they had been dancing with someone who said "You could be a much more desirable dancer if you did "x"". Now I am sure that the person who said that *thought* they were being kind and helpful, but it had the quite opposite effect. Fortunately I have built a good relationship with the affected dancer and I was able to talk to them about it and helped them to calm down.

I know what it is like to be on both sides

I remember when I first started and many-a-leader tried to tell me what I was doing "wrong" (and I hate to tell you guys - but I still dance with many of you and to be honest, looking back with what I know now, it wasn't just me who needed to "fix" something!). Fortunately I have a somewhat tough skin and I would just avoid dancing with anyone who was unkind or who constantly tried to teach me. I didn't mind a pointer here or there, and actually appreciated it if a leader re-did a move that I missed so I could "get" it. But there are many, especially followers, who will not speak up or who have not learned to deflect this kind of "help". Whether it is well-meaning or ego driven doesn't matter - in the end, if the person feels degraded or upset after, you have done a huge disservice to the community.

I also know what it is to be in the situation where I know something that could help a dancer to "fix" something. Note to our Newbies: It is a tough spot for us more experienced dancers to be in....we all want to see our fellow dancers get better - both to make the dance easier for us to partner with them AND to make the dance more effortless and enjoyable for them. However, there is a time and place and even a way to help.
First, you have to remember that not everybody WANTS to fix things (I know, I know, to those of us junkies, we just can't imagine why anyone would not want to keep getting better). Many are just happy where they are at. If you are dancing with that person, just remember it is 4 minutes of your time - and I find those people are great partners for me to work on some aspect of MY dance.

Second, you might be able to approach it by saying "That "x" move feels off to me and I'm not sure if I am leading/following it right. Do you mind if we ask {x instructor} to watch and see what *I* am doing wrong?" Note: If you try this approach, be fully ready to learn that it actually is YOU that needs to fix something!!!!

The last point here is if you are dancing with someone who needs so much correction that you feel that you might get hurt, the best thing you can do is to gracefully find a way to stop that dance - perhaps you tweaked something in your shoulder and need to let it rest. Or ride that dance out but let go at any point that you feel endangered. There will ALWAYS be those dancers who just don't want to learn the techniques that could make their dance better - THEY are having fun just exactly where they are. It is your responsibility to look out for yourself, and no more.

Finally - just remember that we are all here to have FUN! Again, it is only 4 minutes of your time - give it graciously (as someone did for you when YOU were a beginner!) and find some aspect of that dance that you can make into a positive experience for you both - perhaps they laugh and smile a lot....or that piece of music is your favorite right now.

And if you are that new person who got your feelings hurt by someone's "helpful" comment, remember 2 things: 1) Most of us really, REALLY just want to help, and 2) Those who "help" because of their inflated egos are not worth getting upset over.

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