Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Let's Put The Fun Back Into Funeral

There are three main reasons to work over the learning environment of your class. First, having a good atmosphere makes people happy and hence way more motivated and thus the learning easier. Next, as Marie and Hasse, a couple known for their good atmosphere in class, point out, they have experienced students to be more receptive and open to feedback in a positive learning environment. That simplifies the job for us teachers and increases the amount of content students can learn. Last but not least, studies show that if we learn something in one environment we recall that information best in that specific environment. Those environmental variables are called encoding specifiers. If you learn under water, you'll recall what you've learned better under water. If you learn in a bad mood, you will have a harder time to recall that information on the dancefloor than if you've learned it in a happy mood, because usually one enjoys parties :)

The question you must ask yourself before you talk about how to create that atmosphere, is what learning environment you actually want. Personally, this question answers itself quite easily with another question - If we have fun dancing it, why shouldn't the learning be fun? People are more likely to come and stay, if the atmosphere is good. For those who need to have full classes this is a nice side effect. But learning environment is not only atmosphere, but includes other variables. One other point I consider very important is to eliminate the fear of making mistakes. I'll elaborate on this in another article.
So how do you create a good learning environment? The following list of ways to create and enhance the learning atmosphere can be extended quite easily.
  • There are jokes you can pull, but just remember that it's not a stand-up gig but a dance class.
  • Demonstrating a wrong version as caricature can enhance the atmosphere.
  • Analogies can be used to improve the atmosphere as well. You can turn adults into giggly teenagers with sexual references and analogies where the two subjects compared are really contrary, work well too.
  • Changing partners also contributes to a good atmosphere. For example if students know each other, they more inclined to ask questions.
  • Not hiding mistakes when they happen, but rather acknowledging them, helps students to lose fear of making mistakes.

Whatever you want from your students, live it yourself. Enjoy the class, have fun with your material, by e.g. only teaching material you like, make mistakes, be human :)

I recommend you build "creating the learning environment that you want" into your class like the goals you define.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Don't Read This Article!

Have you ever been at a doctors and he told you "This is not going to hurt"? Let me guess - it did hurt. Have you ever heard a parent tell their child "Don't spill the drink"? You know yourself what happened. What if the doctor would have told you "You're going to feel better afterwards."? Throwing overboard an amputation gone wrong, - it would have probably actually felt better. What if the parent would have said "Please be careful with that glass"? The chances are higher that nothing happened.

As teachers a trap to fall easily into is thinking that if students wouldn't do one thing, they would do the correct version. The exclusion of one wrong possibility still leaves a lot of space for many more wrong possibilities. So in no case it's smart to instruct what not to do. But let's see what happens if you use negations. By the way, the terms wrong and right in this article only refer to what the teachers want of their students. Not actual wrong and right - we all know it's a myth.

Don't Pull On Your Partner!

A common situation is a teacher couple seeing a behavior that they dislike and their reaction is to put a lot of focus on that behavior, e.g. by demonstrating the bad example, by talking about why it's bad, etc. They do the same movement/exercise/whatever again and they see exactly the "wrong" thing happening again. How come?

The problem are not the students, but the instructions! Negations are tricky. What happens if you talk about the wrong movement/execution? (By the way, demonstrations of the incorrect versions are like negations) The problem lies in the fact that to know what not to do, we have to imagine the wrong version instead of the right one. Hence you make your students work the bad image and actions instead of the good one. Thus the wrong image is dominant in their minds when they try to execute it for the next time which explains them doing the opposite of what you want.
Another moment where the opposite of your instructions happen is when after you give the correct instructions you add just before they start for example "and don't pull on your partner!". When in this example your students pull on their partners, it's due to the recency effect.

So next time you are teaching, instead of talking about what not to do, tell them what to do! "Move your hip back" instead of "don't pull", replace "Stop talking" with "listen" and so on.

Now are Negations always bad? No. Demonstrating shortly a bad version might be good for comedic purposes or a quick realization what they are actually doing. Saying quickly what the situation is like can be good to get them where they are, before taking them where you want them to be. Just make sure, your focus is always on the correct version so it stays the dominant one. Also make sure to always finish with a positive formulated instruction or a good visual example so that the good version is the last thing they have on their minds.
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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How To Empty The Dancefloor

 There is a saying in Germany: "the dance floor proves the dj right" which implies that you can do anything as long as the dance floor stays crowded. At least in swing, I think there are good reasons to occasionally empty the dance floor. Of course the problem is always how to empty the dance floor while keeping the dancers happy. This article is not only about various ways of clearing the dance floor but also how you can use these handy tricks in different locations.

Get A Drink!

At least in Germany, there are a lot of social dancing events in pubs. The classic drama is that the dancers don't purchase beverages but rather refill their bottle in the bathroom with tap water so they can quickly get back onto the floor, making the owners unhappy because they don't earn any money.  This destructive behavior usually pays off quite quickly in the form of organizers' having to search for a new location for their dance event. I have seen this happening all over the place and most of the time I see it repeating itself, despite some local teachers' effort to explain _why_ the dancers need to buy the drinks at the bar, even if it's non-alcoholic.

DJs have the ability to influence this behavior. If you play music that makes people not want to dance all the time, there will be a higher chance that they will post themselves at the bar and order a drink.  However, simply DJ-ing badly will upset the dancers. This creates a dilemma - you want to keep the dancers happy at the same time that you want them to get off the dance floor.  One tactic I've been using to sort out this dilemma is using multiple styles. This is good anyway because of people's varying tastes. E.g. I will play five songs in Fats Waller style with a stride piano sound, then five big band songs, then five New Orleans jazz tunes and repeat. Changing styles will make the dancers more happy all around and it also encourages them to leave the dance floor and have a beer when the music style doesn't fit their taste anymore.  Of course this example picks only three different styles; you should feel free to change those and adapt as the floor requires.

Give Them Some Space To Swingout

Big events live off a large attendance and the crowds are usually workshop participants of a beginner to workshop-advanced level.  However, it is also necessary for these events to attract top dancers, who may not take part in the workshops, because they make for exciting Jack'n' Jills, Strictlies, and shows.  They also help to create an overall inspiring atmosphere - put another way: good advertisement. To attract the level of dancers between the workshop participants and the teachers, the parties will need to give them a chance to dance. A situation that arises quite frequently is that the dance floor is way too packed to dance freely. One way to solve this issue is to empty the dance floor by playing faster tempo songs. This usually clears the floor of the majority of beginners and some intermediates. The advantage is that you keep the advanced dancers happy, because they usually don't mind faster tempos and enjoy finally having room to swingout.  At the same time the beginners and intermediates, because they have someone to watch, return to the dance floor when the tempo drops again with a new inspiration to continue dancing and learning.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Lindy Hop Is Like Salsa

is a horrible analogy in many ways. Generally speaking, analogies are a great tool, though.  Analogies offer a way to turn abstract ideas into something tangible. Analogies make something familiar out of something completely unfamiliar. Analogies help us understand complicated thoughts and help with many aspects of learning, including the recollection of knowledge.  Analogies can also make for a fun atmosphere.  Basically, analogies are da shit!  So let's be a bit anal about them. 
While analogies are neither always good or always bad, there are 6 main points to consider. 

1. Known Source

You want your students to connect something new with something they already know. Video games and math might have parallels, but both domains are not something the average Joe will have a clue about. If the students don't know the other half, there is no way they can derive anything - hence knowing the other part of the analogy is crucial! That is what makes an abstract idea tangible. This way, they'll get a better idea of what you're trying to describe.
You can use generally known domains, like food or sex, or if you have a group of people that are from a specific domain, even deep water fishing analogies can be good.

2. Correspondences

Once you've stated your analogy, it's important to point out the correlations. For example, using the math analogy from my the section Putting Technique Where It Belongs, when comparing a new Lindy technique to the use of negative numbers in math, you need to explain the correlation between the two, like so: In math we start with positive numbers, at some point when a bigger number gets subtracted from a smaller one, there arises the need for negative numbers.  Likewise, in Lindy Hop, we sometimes find that we need a new technique in order to do a new move.  We start out leading forwards and backwards, and that's all you need if you only ever want to go forward and backward.  But when you want to turn yourself or the follower, you'll need something new, so you add a core twist.

3. Aspects of Difference

Not only the parallels are important to point out, but also the differences. So if there are derivations that could easily be made from an analogy that are wrong, you need to point them out! Else you'll end up again with wrong conclusions.
If you use the title analogy, which I really don't recommend, one difference to point out would be the different use of hip movement.

4. Distance

Distance is the main reason, why the title analogy is bad in most cases. Usually the further away the analogy domain is from the original one, the better the analogy. This is due to the fact, that you have to make the correlations visible, and you won't have "false" correlations by accident, e.g. having a firm hand hold around your follower but a relaxed arm, compared to hanging from a pull-up bar.

5. Multiple Analogies

For getting more aspects of your point across, it will help to use multiple analogies. Dancing like a drunk wedding couple will get the point of happiness and enjoyment of simplicity across. Having a connection like a rubber-band will hopefully get the idea of energy transfer across. If you describe more complex matters (as many things in dancing are), finding one analogy that hits all aspects will be tricky. Serving multiple ones will be helpful. 
Additionally, you will have the chance of wiping out misunderstandings that might have arisen due to one analogy or strengthen one that was only partially understood.
And last but not least, you will catch students, that didn't know source one, but source two.

6. Deep Analogies

The better the analogy, the more parallels can be drawn. The rubber-band has for example additionally the continuous build of energy as parallel and others.   See A Dance Is Like A Conversation for an example. 

Share your favourite analogy in the comment section below!