I just had a great conversation this morning about the content of classes....what constitutes a good class, what will attract people to take the class, what our responsibility is to the class. I thought I would share my thoughts here to open up a dialog with both students and, hopefully, instructors.
It is my firm belief that classes (especially those that follow the 6-move based Beginner tracks) should be technique based FIRST, with a simple move or two to help illustrate and execute that technique. This is the theory in my "Beyond the Basics" classes on Thursdays. Personally, I HATE the use of the word "Intermediate" in regular classes. Anyone who has gone to competitions knows that in that world, Intermediate is a whole 'nuther kettle of fish....so in that respect, we are doing a disservice to our dancers in having them believe that they are Intermediate level only to find themselves in over their heads when they attend their first workshops at a dance weekend.
In addition, I believe that the word "Intermediate" fosters a feeling of entitlement to go from "Basics" to "Goat-Roping Move-fest" in some. I remember all too well my early days of dancing. If the class was asked "What do you want today - move or technique" - the leads all chimed "Move" while the follows all chimed "Technique"! Thus I was thrown into the deep end when I entered Intermediate class (as the guys usually won the call), learning all kinds of moves that were well over my level of ability. Actually, learning the PATTERNS is a better way to put it... it was YEARS before I learned to FOLLOW the move correctly, because I had not mastered following. And this is where I see the fault in the current system.
The bug here is that if you tell a new dancer just how much technique is involved in WCS, you will scare the pants off them, and often you will lose them. Yet, to not insist on creating good habits from the start is doing a HUGE dis-service to them (take it from someone who is STILL un-doing bad habits that were not addressed years ago!).
Thankfully, I have seen a nice shift at dance weekends to more technique-based workshops, but the difficulty there is that when the instructor has 75 people in the room, it is not likely that you can really, truly get anywhere near all of those people to get it all. But it's a start, and I applaud the trend in this direction.
I believe that the place that this should be happening is at home - at our local clubs and groups. I would like to suggest that anyone who teaches has a look at how they can teach more technique while letting people feel that they are getting more variety of moves and styling for their dance. My personal approach is to watch the group warm up, and see if I can find a detail that the majority need to work on - and THEN create a move to illustrate it. So if the follows are anticipating I have the leads learn 3 very simple variations on a basic move that all start the same. This teaches the leads to be CLEAR in their lead, and the follows to LISTEN. What a concept, eh? Another sticky spot for dancers is spinning - but I believe that in this instance, you have to first see if the majority of the issue in the room at the time is in the leading or the following. A follow will never learn to spin if the leads are not leading it right....self preservation will win every time. So what/how I will teach, and what move I will use, will depend on which part of the techniques needed to spin are most needing to be worked on by the majority in the room.
Finally, I feel it is VERY important for those of us who are teaching to take regular privates so that we stay on top of the latest techniques for both dancing and teaching. I learn sooo much about how to teach when I take a private. It is very easy for someone who has reached their level of comfort with their dance ability to want to pass on what they know, but in my opinion, we do a disservice to our students if WE don't continue to learn. I believe that EVERY dancer, no matter how good, has more to learn, and as teachers, we can always learn a better way to pass on what we know. I have had several Pros say to me that the problem with the system of teaching as it stands is that there are many, many people out here teaching what/how they were taught even tho the way they dance now is nothing like that style or technique. I couldn't agree more!
Without a firm foundation, a house will fall down. Without a well designed chassis, a car will not drive smoothly nor be safe. Yes - one can dance without good basic techniques, just as you can initially build that house or car...yet, in the end, the lack of good technique will eventually become evident, and the ride becomes less stable. So why not make sure that our students get it right to start with???