Monday, January 14, 2013

The Power Of Two

It is a truism that two can do more than one. Two pair of eyes see more than one, two brains can search for better solutions than one. If you are two teachers in class, you can split even split the existing tasks - taking care of music, counting in, explaining, rotating partners, etc and have a lot easier life. But there is more to having two teachers than it just being easier and more fun for us.

I often got and sometimes still get asked to teach alone some place. Some organizers tell me to "just take a good follow" to demonstrate the material. This often seems to happen due to financial reasons. 
To me lindy hop is a couple dance with two equal roles. While we like to talk about leaders and followers, first of all a dancing couple exists out of two dancers. Having only one role present implies that one role is less important than the other role. I have seen many leaders teach alone, but only very rarely followers. Maybe this is one of the reasons why so many people that dance the follow part stop earlier with classes than leaders. If you want both sides to learn and get better, you will need to teach both sides equally.

The funny thing is that having two people teach actually has learning implications. For one, there is a role model for each role. Both sides have someone to look at and be inspired by, it is a motivator.
The other less known fact about two teachers is about attention. Attention is necessary, else the information you try to get across will be lost. Studies have shown that attention is time limited. But if there is occasionally a change, the attention can stay longer. Switching who is talking back and forth in class makes listening easier and will keep your students attention longer.


  1. The point about attention is good, although I think that people's attention wandering in classes they have paid for and chosen to attend is rare, and more to do with fatigue.

    I find that teaching alone is good for beginners and intermediates. I can prove to everyone in the class that something is within their capabilities and that it is true lead and follow, when I take a beginner follow from the class and demonstrate the move with her. Also, all the follows get to dance with me, and feed back what they learned from that to the leads. It also makes the class more participatory and less of a spectator activity.

    At more advanced levels, the need for a demonstrator for the follow increases. My favourite teaching couples are those that do 50% of the talking each. Usually, one does 96% and the other 4% and sometimes it is 100%/0%, in which case the silent partner is adding very little to the class, except perhaps a demotivating element of uncopyability.

    Getting the perspective of a follow is useful for both leads and follows, and getting the perspective of an intermediate follow is useful for the skill of dancing with intermediates, and this can be overlooked by expert couple teachers. Most intermediates dance with intermediates, and so this is the skill most useful to them.

    Anyway, I'm not saying that you are wrong - just playing Devil's Advocate.

    The notion that many more follows stop taking classes is interesting. I wonder how true this is. Do you mean that they carry on social dancing but skip the classes, or that they stop swing dancing altogether? The statistics are skewed by the far greater number of follows who are willing to try dancing in the first place.

    1. Attention span various from person to person. Generally it's an accepted fact though, that change keeps attention spans longer. That's a result from psychology research.

      When children learn instruments many people think they can learn on crappy instruments, and once they are good they can get a good instrument. That's pretty much the same as you are saying. But one loses the fun easily when you never have a good sound, because that's not only you, but also your instrument. When you learn a partner dance, and you don't see partner interaction till you are advanced, how are you even supposed to learn it? The interaction that is happening between the teachers is essential for learning about the interaction that they will have with their partners.
      You talk about the follows getting to dance with you, - but what about the leads. If you have two teachers, both can dance with students, so both sides have the upside of feeling how it should be.

      I don't think that having two teachers will generate a less participatory class at all. How you implement that part of class is totally independent of how many teachers there are.

      I definitely advocate a 50-50 ratio.

      Question to think about - how come there are so many beginner follows, but when it comes to the top level, we actually have more good leads than follows? My opinion on this - teaching following is more difficult than leading, and the focus is often on the leader (not only, but also often resulting from only the leader teaching), while following is often reduced to "just follow".