Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Too Much To Teach: Or How To Pick A Goal

Most instructors have experienced a time while preparing for a class that they just had so much to teach.  So much that it became too much. Among the things to focus on were technique, and execution, and fun, and and and ...

So, this week's blog post addresses goals and focus. Assuming you want your material to stick and your students to leave without a cognitive overload, there is no way around picking a focus for your class.

So, how do you pick a focus?  The answer depends totally on you.  Ask yourself - What is important to you?  Do you want your students to understand a concept, a technique, a feeling or an idea?  Do you feel like they are missing something?  Do you think it'd be nice if they could do x or y?  Or something completely different?

One good example would be jazz moves:

You could easily put jazz moves into the following contexts and probably several more:
  • jazz moves (e.g. with their particular history)
  • body awareness
  • frame matching (just do it / mirror me)
  • personal movement / stylings
  • creativity
  • isolation                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
What you would teach about the jazz move could completely differ from context to context, without necessarily contradicting your other messages.  You can see that if you want to talk about all the different aspects, you are going to need more than one class. So, instead of talking about all of them, pick a  focus.

You can have multiple goals for each class, of course. I usually try to keep it down to one, so students don't get mixed up and so that they have an easier time remembering what to take from that class.  One place where having multiple goals does fit very well, though, is if you have a series of classes with the same group, regardless of whether it's a workshop or a class series from a local class.  

A nice side effect of picking a focus for your classes, is that it's much easier to evaluate if your teaching was successful or not. (Since you're reading this blog, I'll assume you do want to improve your teaching skills.)  Have you reached your goal?  Or only partly?  

Yet another side effect is that narrowing your focus can help you determining what kind of exercises you need or what kind of moves to teach.   

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Music in Class, Vol I: Or Why It Should Swing

Playing swing music in a Lindy hop class is very natural and important, since music and dance are so strongly connected.  Yet despite what might seem like an obvious choice, it is not always the case that swing music is chosen for Lindy classes.

This post looks at the arguments some people offer for using non-swing music in class and provides counter-arguments. 

The reasons that teachers use non-swing music are usually one or a combination of the following:

  1. There is no (good) slow swing music
  2. It's difficult for a beginner to hear the beat (in comparison to pop music)
  3. Real swing music might not attract people

Let's start at the end and move up.  Regarding Argument Number 3, in my experience patronizing people has almost never been a good idea.  Even more importantly, I've had many students in my classes who first appreciated the music and then started dancing.  Also, if someone doesn't like swing music, maybe Ð just maybe Ð Lindy hop is just not for him or her. 
Moving on to Argument Number 2.  First of all, it's true that hearing the beat is not always easy.  Hearing the beat tends to be more tricky on late 20s Jazz and New Orleans Jazz.  But with a good music selection, you'll find swing music, that has a nice and easy-to-hear walking bass.  Secondly, avoiding swing music ignores the main problem.  We don't avoid teaching swing outs just because they are tricky.  If students have trouble hearing the beat, come up with exercises to help them develop that skill.
And arriving at the Number 1 Argument against using swing music in class, good, slow swing music absolutely _does_ exist.  It's just about getting up and doing some research and finding it. It's not as easy as finding good fast swing music, but definitely still doable :)

In conclusion, it is my firm belief that it is crucial to play swing music in swing dance classes.  I do it, advocate it, and enjoy it! :)

Now read Music In Class Vol. II

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hello and welcome to Veit Talks!

This blog is about teaching, dancing and dj-ing. Three things I've been doing and loving for quite some time now.

The blog posts are mainly catered to those who want to start djing swing music, teaching lindy hop, or are already doing one or both. This blog might also be interesting to organizers or fellow dancers who are interested in all that makes up the world of teaching, dj-ing and dancing.

Yes, yet another Lindy blog. So why read my blog? What makes it different from all the others? The goal is not to hand out my course materials and music sources and playlists, but rather talk about *how* I gather teaching material and *how* I teach and then show you how to get there, too. I believe my ideas are pretty open, generally applicable, capable of yielding various desired results, and thus more valuable to my readers than plain, dry materials/music.

I've personally always shied away from blogs with too lengthy or ranty articles. The former I'm not fond of, since I agree with the saying "Those who have something to say, don't need many words." Also it's a good motivator to write well and concise. Ranty blogs never give me the impression that they could contribute to anything I'd want.
So, that said, I'll try my best to write blog articles that are:

- informative
- educational
- short and easily readable
- "one article, one message"

Since each post is supposed to be short and should contain only one message, there will be multiple topics that will be spread out over several different posts. So I'll ask you to hold your horses when it comes to "incompleteness" please. :) The plan is to release an article each week.
One note about the teaching/learning posts: since humans are very complicated and I want to keep the blog simple, I will simplify the matters a bit, not covering every exception. The fact that my choice of language might be a bit more careful does not at all mean that what I write isn't backed by either strong evidence, scientific proof, or both.

Who is "I"?
I'm a Lindy hop/swing/dance enthusiast based in Zürich. I've studied psychology at the University of Freiburg, where I grew up as Lindy hopper and helped to grow a major part of the active scene.
I'll be sharing hands-on advice on teaching based on my psychology studies. I've written two articles in the past, "Stealing" and "A dance is like a conversation". Currently, I teach Lindy hop workshops and private lessons around Europe. When I'm not dancing, I'm likely to be dj-ing under the name of Dr. Jazz. If you want to know more about me as teacher or DJ, check out the bio pages or invite me for a beer.