Archive for the ‘Dance’ Category

Teaching a Group

Friday, December 7th, 2007

As a dance instructor, I regularly teach in two different ways: one on one in private instruction, or one with many for a group. In a lot of ways, the one on one instruction is much easier. It’s not hard to keep your focus, you get constant feedback from your audience, and it’s very easy to adjust the material, as you go, to make it work. The timeline is also quite flexible – if you get something started, and aren’t able to finish it, there’s always next time. With sufficient disclaimers and communication with the student, you can leave off in the middle of a concept and just pick it up again later.

On the other hand, teaching in front of a group brings up certain challenges. You have to have a plan that can address a group of people with varying interests and skill levels. Your plan has to be flexible enough to adjust to the struggles and questions that arise during the process. You have to address yourself clearly enough to be understood by people with a variety of interest levels, abilities to focus, delusions of grandeur and even different native languages or hearing difficulties. You have to be able to handle problems, questions and even challenges from students without sacrificing the quality of the instruction being given. You have to keep your focus on the group without getting distracted or getting sucked in to the issues of a particular student. And you have to be able to do it all in a finite period of time.


Through Ellie’s Eyes

Thursday, September 20th, 2007


Ellie is my 9 year old Arabian mare.  Arabians often enjoy a reputation for being flighty, spooky, unstable, unpredictable over-reactors.  Ellie can be all of these things.  However, she also shares the other reputation that Arabians have — for being kind, sweet, smart, brave, hard working, dedicated, strong, fast, loyal and kind spirited companions.

I went out to ride her today.  I was actually going to ride Cricket – that was my plan.  But when I got to the barn, as soon as I parked my car and opened the door, Ellie was at the gate, whinnying her welcome to me.  She totally warmed my heart, and I decided I’d ride her today instead (although I’m not sure that was the outcome she was hoping for).  I went to get her, and brought her up to the barn to groom her.  They’re building a couple of new stalls out at the barn, so there was a good deal of commotion  — nail guns, circular saws, trucks driving around — in addition to the normal commotion of an active barn — horses and riders going about their regular activities.

I can never be quite sure which Ellie I’m going to get at a given time.  I was prepared for the flighty one — I get nervous around nail guns and circular saws — but I was pleasantly surprised.  She was quiet and relaxed while I groomed her and tacked her up, even as an air compressor came on loudly not far away.  I brought her to the arena and she stood with me while I took care of the gates and arranged some poles on the ground.  Then I mounted up and started the ride.  Mostly, she was very well behaved, but she was very nervous about one side of the arena.  On the other side of the fence, there were some poles and jump standards arranged.  They have been there for some time, but they’ve been rearranged since the last time I rode her in the arena.  So this was scary.  Saws, nail guns, moving vehicles – those are fine, but don’t make a pile of lumber!  Certainly, I can think of some good evolutionary reasons for horses to be wary of a pile of wood that had changed since their last pass through the area (something could be hiding in or behind it, for example) but it really made me realize something about horses and people and our reaction to perceived threats.


On Leading

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

When people first learn to dance, the concept of leading and following is a tricky one.  Conceptually, it isn’t hard — the leader (typically the man) decides where he’s going to go, and what’s going to happen next and the follower (typically the lady) goes with him.  Not too bad, right?  Well, the trick is making that happen.


You don’t always get what you wanted . . .

Friday, August 10th, 2007

. . . but you always get what you asked for.

This is a principle I first learned when riding and interacting with horses.  I started riding as a small child (8 years old) and this rule about horses was one I learned to help me deal with my frustrations when I couldn’t get the horse to do what I wanted.  I don’t remember who first said it to me, but it made me realize that the problem wasn’t in the response, but the question. 

Horses don’t speak English (or French, Chinese, Farsi or Gaelic).  That’s not to say they can’t be conditioned to associate certain words with certain items or actions — they can be trained to come when called, to respond to voice commands — but they don’t come to the party with an a priori knowledge of the language.  They are being asked to respond to questions they don’t understand.  We do what we can to imbue certain words with meaning, and a wise horseperson will work with the horse’s own language (mainly physical and spatial) to hedge their bets.

There are still, however, many misunderstandings.  It is the very basis on which we learn to interact together. 


Things I Like

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

These are things I recommend without reservation. Enjoy!


Zen and the Art of Ballroom Dancing

Monday, June 11th, 2007

Dan and Em competing in Smooth

As often happens when teaching, the teacher ends up learning. In the years that I’ve been teaching dance, I’ve learned a lot myself. The most significant thing I’ve learned is that ballroom dance is a rather zen activity, meaning the philosophy that pervades dance is generally applicable to living life, as well.