Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Workshops, Visiting Pros, and YOU!

Using Workshops as an Adjunct to Local Instructors in Your Dance Journey

A recent statement regarding the usefulness (or not) of participating in local workshops with visiting Pros has been brought to my attention by a number of people. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I would like to put mine out there. Please do keep in mind that this is MY opinion and that I am in no way saying that this is the right, or only answer. Please read on, and come to your own conclusions.

HVWCS was created with the intention of improving and growing our WCS community through various means, one of which is our monthly workshops with visiting regional and national Pros. This is NOT intended to be a stand-alone way for people to learn, but as an adjunct to the weekly classes and monthly dances run by other organizers and teachers. A large majority of our dancers never or rarely go to dance weekends and are thus not exposed to the wealth of knowledge shared by the regional and national Pros in the many workshops that are held during those events.  By bringing these professionals in, we introduce fresh ideas and concepts, differing points of view, and cutting edge techniques and moves to the area. In addition, these Pros attract dancers from all over to come and learn and dance with us. This in turn builds and grows our dances so that we have more and better dancers to play with. Personally, I think that this is a win-win for us all!

Retaining the Information
I will be the first to admit that I have been told by people that they have taken class after class (or workshop) and have not retained what they learned. This is not just in reference to workshops (stand-alone or at dance weekends) but also regarding weekly classes. This is certainly not something that is exclusive to people who have taken a workshop! I see that there are several reasons and solutions to this issue.

Repetition is the Mother of All Learning
( Or to quote one of our Visiting Pros, Mr Robert Royston, “Amateurs practice until they get it right, Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong!”)
The first and foremost is that I rarely see the people who make these statements ever try the move on the social floor at all…even at the dance right after the lesson. You just plain cannot retain something that you have been exposed to once…especially when it is a new concept for you…without practicing and drilling the new material. The best time to do this is right after the lesson, in your own time and at your own pace with a practice partner. If you have an extended “Dance” after the lesson(s), (which is preferable IMO to facilitate the learning process) be sure to return frequently to the new material throughout the night…especially if you are dancing with someone who took the class who can tell you if it “feels right”. If you are having problems, find the instructor and ask if they can watch you dance and give you pointers to help you clarify what you are struggling with.  Even in a setting where the instructor reviews the move the following week, a student will likely forget most of the material unless they make the effort to work on the material outside of the class.

I heard somewhere that research has shown that you need to repeat a new movement 400 times to put it into muscle memory. While I cannot find the reference, I would venture to guess that this is pretty accurate, especially for the new dancer. As you get more comfortable with the basics and common moves/patterns, this number will likely go down as you can reference what you already know and “find the familiar” (as I like to put it) in the material you are learning. This is why a professional dancer can rehearse choreography for a few hours or days and go out and perform it as though they have been working on it for months…they are simply stringing what they have mastered together in a different order and that mastery has come through countless hours of repetition.
Save it for another day!
Notebooks and Videos as a learning tool.

Now, of course, you won’t likely be able to do the new move, or technique drill, 400 times that night, but you CAN make a video of the move. Many visiting pros/instructors will allow you to video tape the move after the lesson/workshop. If they will not do a review for you, there is nothing to stop you going out in a hall with a friend and taping yourselves going over the move so you at least have some reference for the future.  (Our group has been known to video tape a move in the parking lot where we meet up on the way home if we didn’t get to do it at the dance!) This is one of the best things you can do for your dance, because you WILL forget moves! (even ones that you become comfortable with and are your current favorites!). Frequent visits to your “workshops” folder will keep your dance fresh and will help you expand your repertoire immensely as you bring back moves that you mastered and then forgot!

I also know people who keep notes about what they have learned. While I think this is an excellent tool (as people learn in different ways) I would still encourage you to take a video of the move in case you have to ask for help from your instructor…which leads me to……

Your “Local Instructor” and Workshops….
Or, How to Get the Most Bang for Your Workshop Buck!

The other issue is that you may just “not get it”. You learned a totally new concept or perhaps your abilities are just not up to that move. Certainly, if a workshop is advertised as being “Intermediate or Advanced” you may want to ask the organizer or visiting pro if they think you will be ok with the material before you register.  Then there are the times that, for whatever reason, even though you ARE accomplished enough for the class, you just get stuck and can’t figure out what you are doing wrong. This is where your local instructors are an invaluable resource for you.

Depending on their personal styles and teaching preferences, you may be able to bring the video to your local class and ask your local instructor to help you with the move or technique. This can be very useful if a whole bunch of your fellow dancers took the workshop and would like to solidify their understanding and ability to do the material. I for one encourage people to take my “Beyond the Basics” class for exactly this purpose! Every week we explore something that just isn’t working for someone…and everyone learns from it! Other instructors have set lesson plans for their classes. In this case you may have to take a private or ask for their help outside the class. Your local instructor knows your strengths and weaknesses and (hopefully!)  your learning style and should be able to help you clarify the issues that you are struggling with. THAT IS WHAT WE ARE HERE FOR!

Hearing Something 6 Different Ways
Going from “Huh???” to “I got It!”

I can’t tell you how many times I have someone come up to me after one of our workshops to tell me that they finally “got” a concept that their home-instructors have been teaching, because it was explained in different way.  OR, that they learned something at a workshop 6 months ago and couldn’t “get it” and their home-instructor said something and it clicked. Sometimes we just have to hear/see things in several different ways for our minds and bodies to be able to grasp the concept. 

We all learn differently and we have to explore different teaching/learning methods and find what works for each of us as individuals.  I encourage people to explore different instructors and teaching methods to find which style of teaching works best for them. Some people are visual learners, some are “by rote” learners, and others need to hear the whys and wherefores of what makes up a move. Different instructors bring different teaching styles and ideas and you can pretty much learn SOMETHING from every one that you are exposed to!

Doing What is Right for YOU!
Only You Can Know What Works for You!

It is not for me (or anyone, IMHO) to tell you whether or not you *should* take workshops with visiting professionals – only YOU can determine if this is a useful tool for YOU! The bottom line is to have fun and enjoy the ride.  Whatever your conclusion, I wish you the best on your journey through the learning process of WCS.

See YOU on the dance floor!!!


  1. Great blog Pam. You've said it all. I recall many (too many) years ago when learning square dancing that we would do a pattern one week, totally forget it (you can't practice in the week unless there are eight in your family) when turning up for the class a week later, do it again and start to get it, and then do it the third week and really get it. Of course there were seven other people in the square and the fast learners helped the slower ones. Eventually the move got stored in muscle memory and then we could just relax and just enjoy moving to the music. I might add that square dancing is a heck of a lot easier to learn than west coast swing!!! The other thing is that there was a set pattern of learning for the basics that everybody (perhaps in the States) stuck to for a whole year. Then one would just move to the next level and the same thing would happen all over again. What really helped was being an "angel" for the first-year students. It's a shame that more westies don't realize what a valuable learning tool this is. Sorry for the long speil but I can only share what I know about and I think it applies to WCS also.

  2. Another great BLOG Pam, but I thought I share a few experiences that I have had with workshops and classes for your readers.

    Sometime one needs to realize if a move is right for them. Being short, I found that there are a few moves I can't do, or are difficult for me to do, that other leaders can easily do, because of my size. Doing any class (be it a workshop, or regular weekly class) it may not be apparent that a new move is good for you for many reasons, since I may have gotten it right in the classroom, but only trial and error and experience will show if I can really lead a move on the dance floor due to my size.

    Note, that one's own size is not the only factor, but one's flexibility, range of motion, and partner size are few other factors that one might encounter. Sadly I've seen so many people who try new move, and try to do it exactly like the instructor, but sadly one of these factors make it difficult for them, but a slight adjustment would allow them to do it.

    Also One needs to realize when they are out of their depth. I've been to Intermediate/Advanced workshops that I thought I was at the appropriate level for, but some of the material I was not ready for yet (or there was too much new material). One needs to realize if they are in too deep, and either walk out of the workshop, or try to find some element that you are ready for. IMHO, I would suggest trying to figure out the underlying concepts and technique, vs. the move.

    Just a few more things to think about...

    1. Your comments Jun are very wise. Sometimes it is the underlying technique that is preventing me from getting 'the move' so you are right on. I've been dancing for, let's see, 11 years at this point and when I go the weekends at times some of the advanced moves are too difficult for me, especially when the timing changes So I need a breakdown to help me get it. Let's not forget that most moves are based on the basics but the elements that change can be many.

    2. Oh yes connection, connection, connection. Barbara