Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Reverse Lindy: Find Beginners Material As Beginner

Everyone who teaches will eventually run into the curse of knowledge and be faced with a full class of beginners who are totally lost. When developing beginners material there are a few factors that have to be considered. The material is supposed to be fun, easy to learn, but at the same time very basic. These manifold goals naturally open up many different ways of teaching beginners.
This article talks about how I got to what I do nowadays when teaching beginners.

Reverse lindy hop is everything in lindy hop done in reverse. Ta-Da! :) A small example: If you start as leader in a swingout with your right foot back, hold the left hand of the follower instead of right, with your right, instead of your left, and you turn to your left instead of to your right, then you are doing what I call reverse lindy hop. Max & Annie are doing this here.

Starting Out

When I first learned lindy hop we didn't use any technique really, in the next school I learned a lot of technique. Technique was usually taught as a "boring" necessity you had to go through. When I taught my first beginners class, I did the same and taught lots of dull technique. Hence my beginner classes were hard and tedious. For a short period of time I tried to do "fun" classes with very limited focus on technique. This way I lost less students in comparison, but the classes were very unsatisfying to me, since I saw that my students would eventually have to re-learn everything. 

Something Is Wrong

At some point I realized two important things, that have completely shifted the way I teach lindy hop: First I realized - I had done so much technique that technique had become the goal itself. Second I noticed I couldn't do my beginners material out of the box with beginners, with the technique I wanted them to use. Out of the box meaning, without telling them how to react. This felt inherently wrong. So I decided that my lesson plan had to be completely changed.

Be A Beginner

I had been teaching reverse lindy hop for ages already, but I hadn't seen the true value in it. Until then reverse lindy had been more of a game. Reverse lindy hop had one funny property - it was surprisingly difficult. Even as a good dancer I couldn't just switch everything to the other side. This proved extremely useful. Reverse lindy hop enabled me to put myself into beginner's shoes. I recommend everyone to dance reverse lindy for a while. 

Reverse Lindy Results

Everything arm-leading related and in open position turned out difficult. What proved easiest were close position and body leading. 
From close position with body leading you can easily develop everything. Keeping rhythm (as opposed to speed) is something that proved to be easier in close position as well. 

Putting Technique Back Where It Belongs

Starting with basic movements in close position and adding technique when needed has one more advantage it becomes a neccessity- it starts like math in school. First you have the positive whole numbers, at some point you subtract a bigger number from a smaller number and then you need and hence introduce the negative numbers. 
For that necessity to arise, you will have to let them try first and also let them fail. If you anticipate their failure and introduce the new technique beforehand, it easily turns again into "just" technique.
What I experienced is that technique when only taught right in the moment when needed, no one finds technique boring and no one minds. My classes end up to be way more successful than the "pure" fun and no technique classes. Technique has become what it was originally designed for: not a goal itself, but a support for dancing better with your partner.

The Open Position

Now there was only one thing left. It takes forever to get into open position, which is actually quite a fun position to be in and good to know for social dancing. 
In the meantime I had found out, that I wasn't the only one working on this topic, but also quite a bunch of friends - including my favorite dance instructor, Dax Hock, who also provided the above math analogy - seem to have ended up with more or less the same conclusion. The trick I picked to solve the open position debacle ended up being from Birgit, a great teacher from Berlin who runs her own dance studio It's a send out. Open position there you are! From there you can do the underarm pass, which is a nice and easy move, and from there come back to close position. 

Share your thoughts on how you teach your beginners below!

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