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On dance breakthroughs.. (mine this weekend was gliding)

March 13th, 2011 2 comments

 

I had an excellent weekend.  After spending all of last weekend with a significant portion of the charter members of the OMC, I had all of this weekend with Bay.  I won’t go into the stuff that you didn’t come here to read, but I highly recommend meeting someone that makes you a better person and marrying their ass (and the rest of them too).  Your life continues to get better the more work you’re willing to put in to a relationship like this – win/win!

We hosted my parents on Saturday night to cook them dinner, play crokinole, and slice off a portion of my finger.  My finger didn’t ruin the night, and fortunately it didn’t affect my crokinole playing.  I also successfully managed to raise my Dad’s blood pressure by playing my shots before he had the time to tell me “aim for my finger Adam!”.  I’m pretty sure my Mum had the exact same look on her face that she did over 15 years ago in Majorca when he did the same thing at the pool table.  Ah.. fond memories.

Before that, however, I took the afternoon for myself to go down to Centenniel Square and dance.  I didn’t start with this intention, but no one else was available given the short notice I had provided, and it had been too long since I’d danced in my hometown.  I wasn’t going to let anyone else’s lack of availability affect my need to get some creative release.  I gathered up my stuff and headed down.

Centenniel Square is actually a pretty great spot to go and share some culture.  The main part of the square has been fixed and is much more open than it once way.  While there was an event happening (and I heard at least one deep house song that I like playing), there was plenty of room further back and closer to the road.  One of the great parts about this area is that there are a number of businesses along one side, and all of the glass there is one-way mirror.  Not only that – it’s covered.  No issues with weather.

For a good solo session, having a reflection can go a long way to making you more comfortable dancing in public.  And that’s the other great benefit about the Square – it’s got a steady stream of foot traffic, but enough open area that no one ever has to feel about having their space violated.

One of the biggest things I’ve been working on this term has been opening myself up more when I’m dancing.  Not just physically, but emotionally and, if you can handle this, spiritually (it probably doesn’t mean the same thing to you that it does to me).  Having a consistent flow of foot-traffic offers plenty of opportunities for an audience, and if you can’t be comfortable with an audience, you’re never going to be able to achieve what you’re fully capable of.  If you have trouble getting yourself to this point, check out my post about opening yourself up more – it’s a great starting point that will naturally lead you to what I’m describing.

I was practicing in front of the windows (after being told,  bemusedly, by two commissionaires that there were people that could see me on the other side and were watching me), and taking a break from really dancing (when the goes off, I have to too!) and sat there grooving.  I made a surprising discovery – I figured out how I could teach gliding.

The problem

Gliding has always been an elusive technique for me.  I’ve never really felt how it connects to the music.  When I first started trying to to learn, it was by watching Graham.  Graham’s an amazing dancer and a great glider, but he is highly intuitive.  Without anything technical to grab on to, I was never really able to pick up the foundation.  Graham picked the technique up so quickly and seamlessly that I couldn’t find a space in his movement to pick apart and build on my own understanding.

With a lot of time, practice and classes, I was able to slowly pick up the technique.  But I never really learned how it connected to the actually dancing that I was meant to do.  Without an ability to ground the technique in the dance, it was a very dead move that I had taught myself to do.  Don’t kid yourself – anyone that is actually listening to the music will notice straight away if you’re just doing technique without any dancing.  Without an ability to dance with the technique, I could never really figure it out.  The way I taught the class was the same way I felt about learning the technique myself: it was slow, arduous.. it was frustrating.

The seed

The seed for my own epiphany was initially planted by Jamieson – a good friend, dancer and teacher.  In Jamieson’s class, he had us performing the stationary front glide (almost a forced walk) to the beat of the music.  This was the first time that I had actually seen a glide properly connected to the music.  (Much to Jamieson’s credit, I have never seen him teach anything that wasn’t connected with the music).

Ready for the music to pick me back up, I stood in front of the mirror doing the following to the beat playing in my ears:

  • Simultaneously raise my left toe and my right heel (1st beat).
  • Simultaneously lower my left toe and right heel, and then raise my right toe and my left heel (2nd beat).
  • Repeat

This is a simple motion, but it’s rhythmic, and that means that it’s a way to keep time with the music.  You should always strive to have part of your body moving to the music – this is how you stay connected to your dance, the rhythm, and the feel.  It’s how you know you’re actually dancing.  Have you ever watched a great dancer and seen them move like they had already heard the song before?  They haven’t – they’re just feeling music to the extent that they know where it’s going to go next.

The epiphany

Standing in place, rocking my feet up and down to the beat, I let my mind wander and focused on the music.  Rather than trying to think of what to do next, I allowed myself to sit in the groove.  I let myself know that it was okay to not do something new – I could do this for as long as it felt good.  This might sound trite to those that don’t understand, but this is the most fundamental principle of dancing that I can conceive at the moment.  If you can do this, you can dance.  If you can give yourself permission to enjoy a groove you’re sitting in, you don’t have to worry about how you look to anyone.

Reaching this conclusion is part of the greater (and ongoing) epiphany I’ve been having this term, thanks in part to the talented influences of my friends and teachers Dennis, Kyle, Kim, Johnnii and Jamieson.  Sitting with the groove in this position, I suddenly felt the tumblers in my brain fall into place.  I had gotten inside the glide!

Moving my feet up and down rhythmically, I was able to do the same while floating (the first is a foundation for the second), and almost magically felt everything snap into place.  If I could float to the rhythm, I could glide to the rhythm.  If I could glide to the rhythm… I could dance.

At the moment, I can’t provide any greater a breakdown of the technique I’m describing.  I need to teach it in order to understand it better myself.  What’s that?  You shouldn’t teach something that you don’t understand completely?  Why not?  Shouldn’t the teacher be allowed to learn with the students as well?  Surely this is teaching at it’s finest.  This is part of my process, and it’s part of why teaching, for me, is never just a one-way – it’s a two-way interaction.  Articulating an idea for someone should be a learning experience for both of you.

The good news is that I can promise more articulation in the summer months, for those of you that will be taking classes with me.  I’m looking forward to sharing what have been some profound changes in me as a dancer, and mutually working through those discoveries together in classes.  I have not yet found the right space for what I want to do, but that is currently in the works and once settled, I will be posting more information right here.  Suffice to say for now that I’m really excited about what is in the works.

TLDR

 

While the audience for this post may be different than some of the others I have written, I still think summaries are a good practice.  If not for you, certainly for me.  Here we go:

  • If you want to excel as a dancer, you need to be open to your audience, whoever and wherever they may be (don’t be selective)
  • If you’re nervous about dancing in public, find a place with a reflection.  Make sure you spend time facing away from it, but it can act as a security blanket when you’re feeling intimidated by those around you.  If you insist on staring at the mirror, make eye contact with your audience through it (it’ll catch them off-guard, I guarantee!)
  • If you can give yourself permission to sit in a groove, you can dance (yup, step-touch and two-stepping counts – don’t move on until you’re ready to).
  • No matter what you’re doing, try to keep some part of your body connected to he music (if you’re not sure why, see the point above)

And of course – I’m going to be teaching this summer somewhere in town, and it’s going to be awesome.  (and you should be there too!).

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Workshops, Community, and Collaboration

June 28th, 2009 No comments

Last night, I took the second popping workshop I’ve been aware of ever being offered in Victoria.  While I know that there have been other workshops offered between this one and the last one I took (Jake Evans, from Nova Scotia, about three years ago), these are the only two that I have been aware of.  This is an indication (to me), that there is a real lack of means to get in touch with other dancers, and the Victoria hiphop community in general, and share this kind of thing.

After meeting and talking, last night, with other people that are passionate about popping in Victoria, I feel that I have at least one small purpose to contribute towards our small but growing hiphop community, and that is to help the network grow.  But enough about that, let’s talk about the workshop.

The Groovy G’s

The workshop was taught by two members of the Groovy G’s, a popping crew based out of Vancouver.  The first time I heard about the Groovy G’s was when I started searching the net for popping classes being taught in Vancouver.  I wanted popping lessons, but since we didn’t have any classes in Victoria at the time, my only option was to head over to Vancouver.  I talked briefly with Jamieson, one of the two guys that taught the classes, but aside from subscribing to their blog, things didn’t get much further (I really wanted to take classes, but that didn’t change the fact that the only thing in my wallet was a gaping hole – it’s not cheap to take repeated trips to Vancouver).

I actually heard about last night’s workshop in a very round-about manner.  The Groovy G’s posted a note about a funk theory workshop that they had just finished giving.  “Whoa”, I thought, “I could easily make it over for one day-long workshop, provided I budgeted for it”.  I wrote the G’s to ask them if they could give me some advance notice the next time they were planning something like this, and whether or not they would be having another one any time soon.  From there, things just exploded.  Hector (I believe), wrote me back to let me know that Jamieson and Trevor were apparently teaching a workshop in Victoria in a few weeks.  I added Trevor and Jamieson on Facebook, started talking to the people over here that were putting on the event, and couldn’t believe that I almost missed this.

Arrival

Brooke managed to drum up some good interest, and a number of familiar (and friendly) faces showed up at the workshop with us, including Jo, Guillaume, Vincent, Sean, Jack, and Max.  As soon as we entered the studio, I recognized one guy from VEMF last year that Graham and I had seen tutting, and a few people I’d seen on the ol’ Facebook.

It’s funny to see that a dance workshop is really no different from any other kind of culture.  As soon as we sat down,I commented to Brooke that there were three evident cliques: The Vibestreet Dance clique, the Boston Dance Company clique, and ..  one more (which I didn’t know enough about to provide a label).  It’s not that any of us are elitists or anything like that – it’s just human nature to be apprehensive when in new social settings.

Cody Campbell had put some music on so I practiced a little bit with the kids while we waited.  The mood was very much that of everyone sussing each other out.  “Who’s that over there?”, “Hmm, I wonder if that guy’s a good dancer”, “Hmm, don’t know them”, etc.  Brooke pointed out various people that were prominent in our small but growing dance community and then it was time to start.

Intros

After we paid and I met some of the people I’d been chatting with on Facebook, Liz came out and did a quick intro of the two guys that were teaching us: Jamieson de Guzman and Trevor Chung.  I had talked to Liz over e-mail a few weeks prior, and she was awesome.  Super passionate, and really keen to help hiphop grow here in Victoria.

Once we got past the intros, Jamieson talked a bit about what popping is, and how it relates to dancing.  I’ve heard this many times before, and always attempt to imbue the same thing in my own students, but it’s always good to have it repeated and internalized.  Time to start!

Popping

The first hour of the workshop, we spent on popping.  It’s always interesting to attend different workshops with different instructors, as they have different fundamentals that they are teaching, and different approaches.  Jamieson stressed that three things you should work to pop are your arms, your legs, and your neck (yup, your neck).  Personally, I think that popping your chest and tightening your abs is also important and will further the power of your hits.  It could be that Jamieson was just providing the basic building blocks, and those last two sets of muscles can be added in later.

We drilled the basics for a while, focusing on the fresno, and mixing it up between singles and doubles (shift your weight on every beat, or every second beat).  Some people get impatient revisiting their foundation like this, but I can never get enough, and I was content to take it as an opportunity to tighten things up.  I actually felt pretty good about my hits from these basic positions – the work I’ve been putting in has helped keep things clean and tight.

I noticed things started to fall apart when we started moving into positions that I haven’t trained at all.  Getting my legs to hit when I’m in poses that are new is quite difficult when I don’t yet have the muscle memory in place.  Jamieson let us know that the general rule to follow was that you pop whichever leg has the most weight on it, and whichever leg you can straighten most easily.  That’s a good general rule to have, but I still need to practice hits in various positions, like during walkouts.

As we went through the choreography, one move I had never seen before came up, called the popcorn.  You do the following:

  1. Raise up one leg and hit
  2. Lower your leg in front of you, place your weight on it, and raise your back leg (essentially taking half a step forward).  Hit.
  3. Reverse the motion you just did so that you are now in the same position as in 1, and hit.
  4. Put your feet back together, and hit.

Pretty simple really, but it creates a neat visual that I haven’t seen broken down before.  I quickly realized that I needed to work on hits when I’m balanced on one leg – these are especially challenging, and the illusion is instantly broken if you don’t maintain your balance throughout.

Likewise, while practicing walkouts, I realized that although I’ve drilled the movement, I haven’t touched on actually hitting throughout it.  Another thing to work on…

Tutting

After Jamieson finished, Trevor took over the class, and we started focusing on tutting and waving.  The segment related to tutting was actually quite short.  Trevor mentioned the basics of tutting, although he didn’t get as explicit as I would have (which is cool, all teachers are different) about what makes a tight angle, and things to watch out for.  He did only have so much time though, so it’s possible he was just trying to cram as much in as he could.

Trevor showed us a bit about how he practiced (come up with a set of angles and transitions, and then drill that set), and went over some basic poses (like prayer stance).  After that, Trevor went through two different routines with us, and included some footwork.  I’ve been feeling pretty good about my tuts lately, as I’ve been working a fair bit on developing the discipline and mus
cle memory to keep clean angles.  The footwork was brand new to me though, and I had to keep myself from falling right over a couple of times.

Waving

After tutting we moved on to waving.  I’ve been putting a lot of work into waves lately, and I’m pretty happy with the progress.  There’s infinitely more room for progress, but at least I’m seeing some changes that I’m happy with.  Trevor went over the details of what makes a good wave versus a bad wave, and what it is that leads towards an aesthetically-pleasing wave (the secret is that wherever the wave is not, remains stationary.  This is the real key to a good wave).

I noticed that the one thing Trevor did not teach was the isolations of a wave.  His approach was more intuitive than mine, using techniques like visualizing the path that your hands and arms are taking, imagining there is a bar that your hands are travelling over, and so forth.  I made a mental note to incorporate these kinds of visual metaphors in my teaching as well, so that both types of learners can benefit.

Trevor provided some names for a few types of waves that I’ve been working on lately, but haven’t had a name for them.  The main one was a track wave, wherein you move your hands and arms as though they are travelling along a rollercoaster track (or any kind of path really).  Once you’ve done this, you can reverse the wave and travel back in the opposite direction – the key is that you travel back along the same imaginary path.

One of the most helpful ideas that Trevor put in my head was the notion of setting up a specific geometry with your body, and then waving within that geometry.  Eg, put your arms up in some kind of shape.  Then, run a wave through that shape.  Think about the way a wave might travel through that geometry, and mimic this path.  The example Trevor provided in class was holding your arms out in front of you, with your right arm pointing straight up, and your left arm held out so that it is parallel to the ground, with its fingertips touching the elbow of your right arm.  In this position, a wave will travel:

  • Down from the fingertips of your right arm to your elbow
  • From your right arm’s elbow through to the fingertips of your left arm
  • From the fingertips of your left arm up to your left shoulder
  • From your left shoulder, through your head/chest, to your right shoulder
  • Out your right shoulder, to your elbow, then back up and out the fingertips of your right arm

It’s not necessarily complicated, but setting up various positions like these and then waving through them is part of how you turn waving from a simple technique into an actual dance that you can innovate and improvise using.

Putting it all together

The last hour of the class was devoted towards putting everything we’d learned together into a set of choreography that Jamieson and Trevor made up on the spot as we went along. Before we started this though, we drilled our hits a bit by doing something Jamieson called “copy cat”.

Copy cat is fairly easy – the leader starts by taking a pose and hitting on it for four beats.  Then the class does the same thing.  Then the leader takes a new pose, and the class then repeats that pose. It’s not complicated (but then, most of this stuff isn’t – it just requires dedication), but it’s a great way to work with the class.  Ironically, I’d been planning something very similar out in my head for when our classes start again in Fall, so it was really nice to see that this is a valid approach that works well.

Once we’d finished this, we got going on actual choreography.  I struggled a bit with this, as I have some difficulty remembering all of the parts of choreography when you’re putting it together quickly.  I was definitely getting frustrated by the end of the class.

The other thing that I would have liked a little more would have been to spend more time on some of the additional techniques that they were including in the choreography.  We ended up including some techniques like boogaloo that I would definitely have appreciated getting more time to work on.  But that’s the way things go when you only have three short hours to work with a group of people.

Boston Pizza

After the workshop was finished, I met up with the Jamieson, Liz, Trevor and a few other people that had taken the workshop.  I was a little bit hesitant to do this initially, as I generally don’t like just diving into a group of strangers, but I was glad I did.  It was a little weird because noone but me was drinking beer (I stopped after the first one once I noticed that), so things were slightly awkward (bunch of strangers, but no social lubricant).  However, I met some new people, got some e-mail, and got a chance to chat a little more with Trevor and Jamieson (interestingly enough, they started the same way I did – through raves).

Take-aways

So, what did I take away from the experience?  I learned a good deal about teaching and some exercises and techniques that can be used, and I definitely picked up some new moves to practice on.

One thing that was interesting was talking to the other people that were in the workshop, afterwards.  My friend Jo mentioned that she found Trevor’s more visual and intuitive approach easier to work with.  So rather than breaking up an arm wave into the various isolations, just visualize your hands travelling up, over, and around a metal bar.

Unlike some of the classes I’ve had, most of the knowledge that I gained from these three hours came from taking what we were shown during workshop and reflecting on it.  I’m cool with that – I love spending time reflecting about new knowledge, and figuring out where it fits into my existing understanding of the way things work.

All in all this was a really great workshop and I’m really glad to see these kind of things happening in Victoria.  I came away with a few new friends, some more ideas to work towards, and inspiration.

Vibestreet Dance end-of-year wrap-up

June 16th, 2009 2 comments

It’s been a little longer than normal since my last entry.  That’s mostly because I’ve been keeping myself fairly busy.  The stuff that is keeping me busy is stuff that I don’t really want to set down only to come home and spend even more time writing about (don’t get me wrong – I’m extremely passionate about dancing, I just haven’t felt inclined to write about it lately), and I haven’t really felt inspired to write beyond that.

However, this Saturday was the end-of-year wrap-up for Vibestreet Dance, and so it seems a good time to reflect a little bit on how things have gone.  When I look back to only two months ago, when I first started taking popping classes from Dillon, I can barely fathom how much things have changed.

The Show

Before I talk about my own thoughts, it’s probably worth talking about our end-of-year show.
  Three weeks before the show, Brooke mentioned that our breaking instructor would be putting together a routine for it, and it would be great if I could as well.  This would pretty much be the first time I’d ever done any choreography, so I was a little bit nervous – I spent about a week putting things together, and then went over it with the class.

In retrospect, I over-simplified certain parts, as I wasn’t sure how quickly the class would pick things up.  It turned out, really quickly!  All of the kids were great, but I was obviously especially proud of the kids that I had been working with, and was really happy to see how well things went.  I think that in the next year, they’re going to start to really take off.

Although it’s nice to pretend that the instructor gets a lot of the credit for the progression of the students, I think most of that credit belongs to Guillaume, Jack, Max and Vincent (along with Olivier and Sean, who weren’t able to come to the later classes, and thus participate in the portion I put together) for being such great students.  Kids like these guys don’t come easily, and their dedication and hard work make everything easier.

I also bumped in to two other guys that had been popping for about a year as well, got them out into one of our cyphers, and then got their information and told them to come out to the jam sessions I’m trying to get going.  All in all, the show was awesome.

Instruction

The biggest change that has occurred since starting at Vibestreet has obviously been that I’ve moved into the role of teaching, from that of a student.  Teaching is something that I’ve always wanted to do, and that I’ve always enjoyed.  My own experience has been that teaching people the art that I am interested in is one of the best ways for me to gain a better understanding of it myself.  Breaking techniques down requires thinking about each part of the technique and understanding it at a very fundamental level.  I’ve always felt this way, and indeed, studying calculus with friends in University, I always appreciated being asked for help with various questions.  My friends would apologize for bugging me with another question, but I was secretly being selfish and gaining from the questions they were asking me.

Back in the very early days of the world wide web, a friend and I ran a dance website called “Shaddup and Dance”.  It was a piece of garbage, and would make web browsers explode from having to render the sheer ugliness of colours that we jammed onto that page.  Not only that, but there was also negative feedback from the original gangsters that took exception to my tutorial videos (many of them were indeed quite poor), or our attitude that just because you’d been around for a while didn’t mean that you were above critique.  Still, there was an awful lot of positive feedback that accompanied the negative, and the opportunity to provide some advice and direction to other dancers that were attempting to learn the same techniques I had was one that I relished.

The first day that I started teaching was with the junior class.  I hadn’t met any of the kids before, and I had no idea what they had learned up to that point.  Brooke told me that they were passionate about popping, which was promising, but I didn’t realize how accurate she was.  These kids have been awesome, and really stuck it out with me.  They were patient with my fumbling starts, and have given me lots of inadvertent advice that I have taken to heart.  The opportunity to work with them (and hopefully to continue to do so), has been really great and has provided ample opportunities to learn myself.

Working with the adults has been slightly easier, though no less of a learning experience.  It’s been easier because adults are generally more willing to focus on the foundation, and because I had the benefit of being attending the four classes previous to my taking it over.

When Brooke asked if I wanted to keep teaching, I didn’t even have to think about the answer.

Choreography

Starting to think about choreography, and to actually apply that to the lessons I’m teaching, has been a completely new experience for me.  In the ten years that I have been dancing, I have always focused on building and practicing foundation movement.  No fancy moves, no fancy vocabulary of choreographed moves to draw from, just foundation.  Personally, I like this, as it means that I can very quickly adapt my dancing to work with whatever the music is asking of me, and when I focus on foundation, it is much easier to take in new influences and apply those to the existing foundation.

However, choreography is a very important aspect of dancing, and freestyle dancing is essentially coming up with choreography in real-time.  Taking on the role of teaching has required me to re-evaluate my relationship with choreography (a sentence that sounds exceptionally lame).  Seriously though, while working on foundation is essential for anyone that really wants to become a great dancer, not everyone is geared the way I am, and most people want to actually do something cool as they’re learning.

Choreography provides students with a direct relationship between the foundation that you have them working on and actually dancing (honestly, it’s difficult to understand how you are going to turn a chest hit until a dance until you’ve practiced it enough).  With a little bit of choreography, it is easy to take some basic foundation and put them together to make something that looks kind of cool, and provides a direction to train towards.  This should be one of the key goals of anyone attempting to teach – to instill in students not only the value of foundation, but also some ideas for the direction that they can take those foundations.

Friends

Finding Vibestreet Dance has been a lot like finding Victoria Squash Club – a whole new community of people to meet and interact with, and that share interests similar to mine.  Although finding people that shared my interest in squash was a bit of a challenge, I have literally been searching for ten years for people that are as passionate as I am about the styles of dance that I love.  It’s not that those people don’t exist, it’s just that the hiphop scene in Victoria is so dry, and it’s very difficult to find events that support maintaining that kind of culture.

In all of the people that I’ve trained with and taught, I’ve discovered new inspiration, and it really is extremely energizing.  Nothing inspires creativity like being exposed to more creative people.  In Brooke, especially, I’ve found a
new friend with which I can talk about new observations, epiphanies I’ve had while practicing, and complain about the things that have bothered me in dancing culture for as long as I’ve been a part of it. 

I can (and do) share many of these things with Bay on a more abstract level (as we can discuss dance with each other at a level above any particular style), but it is refreshing to be able to talk to someone else about things that have, up until now, existed solely in my own head for the last decade.

Dancing

Although I started to develop a love for popping from watching hiphop videos and tapes put out by Mr Wiggles, it was raving that actually really got the ball rolling.  For all of the negative stereotypes (many of them accurate to some extent) present at raves, good dancing is appreciated, and if that’s what you’re into, there’s space to do it.

Not only that, but every party, I would run into the same people that were there to dance.  We knew each other, and it presented a constant drive to keep improving.  I really wanted to rise to the top, and to bring something new to the table everytime that we met.  There were many days of the summers that Graham and I would spend alternating between playing Tekken and practicing dancing.

However, raving is not really a sustainable activity, and as time went on, going out to clubs stopped being one as well.  Without either of these options, there really wasn’t any outlet to fuel my desire to improve.  I would practice from time to time, but to what end?  My friend Michi can apparently derive his motivation out of thin air, but I’m not that way.

Teaching is exactly the factor that I have been missing for so long.  Having students that are thirsty for new knowledge presents an incredible amount of motivation.  With other people to be accountable to, my drive to continue progressing is stronger than ever before.  This doesn’t surprise me, but it is extremely rewarding to feel that way again.

With Brooke being gracious enough to let me use the studio for practice when it’s not in use, I find myself heading there at least twice weekly to work on new ideas.  Although I am still at the stage where I am planting a lot of seeds, I really feel that the coming year will mark a huge wave of progression on my part.

On top of that, I’m taking hiphop classes, a style of dance that I’ve never really had any exposure to aside from watching it being performed.  These classes have given me an opportunity to appreciate new ways of moving around the dance floor, new postures, and a greater appreciation for choreography in general.  Watching Brooke teach the class has given me a chance to glean as much knowledge as I can from her own wealth of experience.

Summer and the Future

It is difficult to know exactly what the future will hold, but now that I’ve found a dance culture that I can partake in, I will hang on to it like grim death.  The summer is already filling up with exciting opportunities, including dance camps and workshops that I am planning to take, which will really open my eyes up to new ways of moving and keep the ball rolling (I just hope I can keep pace!).

I’ll be posting updates as we move further into the Summer.  Until then, stay tuned!

Teaching better…

May 12th, 2009 No comments

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently took over teaching the popping classes put on at Vibestreet Dance.  The story behind this is that our existing instructor fell into a wormhole and is now selling potted meat at Zarglon-7.  Or something to this effect.  Whatever he ended up doing, he sent Brooke a text message saying “Sorry, I can’t teach any more.  Good luck”, and that was the last we heard of him.  Pretty flakey.

Taking over for Dillon is/was pretty intimidating.  Dillon is, by my standards, a pretty good dancer.  His technique is simply much cleaner and refined than my own.  Although I believe that I have a lot of innate dance talent, I’ve struggled to motivate myself to practice, because Victoria has never had a culture surrounding the styles (we’re working to change that).

While Dillon’s ability on the dance floor certainly surpasses my own, it’s my own belief that his teaching ability is severely lacking.  This isn’t a diss on Dillon or anything, as I’ve already stated that I have great respect for his ability to bust out; It’s simply an observation.  Some people are good at breaking things down and explaining them, and some people understand things on an intuitive level but are unable to share that knowledge with others.

The main thought I try to hold in my head each time I start to doubt my own ability to teach is to remind myself that while I may not be a super advanced dancer, I do spend a lot of time thinking about dancing, and I am naturally inclined to break things down and think about the fundamental units that make up each technique.

Yesterday marked the last of the six classes that I initially signed up for this term, and the last of two lessons that I was due to teach after taking over for Dillon.  This term, I’ve taught a total of four classes: two of them to teens, and two of them to adults.  The adult class is the one that I was previously taking, but both classes are roughly operating on the same skill level.

This post is simply an opportunity for me to reflect on the experience so far, talk about some of the things that I’ve learned, challenges I’ve had to overcome, mountains I’ve had to climb, and other clichés too numerous to mention.

Taking on the role of an instructor instead of an annoying student that asks too many questions has not been without challenges.  The least of which simply having the confidence in myself to accept the fact that I know enough to break down and teach the styles of dance I’ve been pursuing casually for all these years.

Fortunately, I’ve got some experience to draw upon, mostly from teaching friends tricks here and there.  Teaching Michi to pop when we first met has given me valuable experience to draw upon, and helped me appreciate the fact that everyone learn things at their own pace and in their own manner.  Incidentally, be sure to check out some of Michi’s videos – the student has truly become the master!

Lesson Plans

Putting together lesson plans has been another challenge to overcome.  Figuring out the right number of exercises to review with a class is something that I think will only come with experience.  The first class I completely underestimated how much time we would need to take to review the Fresno.  As an example, I started off with the assumption that we could go right into covering both leg and upper body hits.  However, as we started this, I realized that we would probably be better served breaking things down even further, focusing first only on leg hits, then on upper body hits, and then bringing them both together into the Fresno.

The second class, I had put together some more work for our Fresno, but this time overestimated the amount of time that we would end up spending working on this (based on my observations from the previous class).  After covering off the basics thoroughly the previous class, we blew through the other stuff I’d put together, and sticking to it for longer seemed like it would only frustrate students who wanted to progress and tackle something new.

What’s the lesson here?  I think basically the best approach is to underestimate how much time will be required to cover each technique, and plan more stuff than will likely be needed for each lesson.  I can then move anything in excess over into next week’s lesson, and will have ample material to iterate over if the class progresses faster than I anticipate.

Quantity over Quality

Another item that I’m still learning is how much should be covered in a class (quantity), versus how much time we should spend on drilling each technique (quality).  The longer we spend practicing each step, the better the class will grasp the concept and technique, and the easier it will be for them to practice that technique later on their own.  However, the longer we spend, the less new material the class are given to work on, and the more likely they are to become bored with the class and what we’re working on.

This too feels like something that will come with experience.  I have a reasonably good grasp of how the class is responding to what we are working on, but I would really like to tighten this up.  I suppose my desire is the same as most teachers – I want to see my students get stoked, really improve, and become great dancers.  Finding a balance between drilling good technique and keeping things fun is going to be one of my main goals throughout this summer.

Tediousness

One of the things that has always been challenging for me, and for people that I have attempted to teach, is the fact that some of the techniques in popping are difficult and take time to learn.  And when I mean they take time, I mean they require putting some effort into drilling basic movements that initially will not immediately be obvious as to how they connect with the end result.

The most prominent example of this occurred last night when I was teaching the class gliding.  Gliding is a very popular technique, and for a number of reasons.  First, it looks ridiculously cool when it’s done well.  Second, gliding is a technique that is easy to integrate into whatever other techniques you are doing.  You can Fresno for a while, glide over to a new space on the dance floor, and then start your Fresno up again.  Lastly, when done well, gliding appears effortless and graceful.  The dancer just stands there and moves gracefully around the room.

These three elements combine to make the perfect storm. The student sees how smooth and graceful the glide looks, and immediately wants these results.  Unfortunately, gliding is not a technique that comes easily, and it requires practicing some basic drills and honing your balance before you are able to see the results that you want.

The biggest problem I felt I was encountering was taking the class through the fundamentals and the basics while maintaining their interest and avoiding discouraging them.  Becoming discouraged means that the student gives up hope that they will be able to glide with practice, and that puts an end to their progression.  A discouraged student is always going to be a signal to myself that I have failed in some way and need to adapt my learning plan.

I have not yet figured out the best way to work with the class towards learning gliding, but this is something I will definitely be working towards.  It may be the case that it is better digested in small chunks, having the class learn only floating in one class, then moving on to the sliding transition the n
ext class, then the transfer of weight the following class, and so on.

Planning

For both classes, I’ve put a fair amount of preparation in beforehand.  When I am anxious about taking on something new, my experience has shown me that the best way to calm those nerves is to spend time preparing. The more I think about something, the better I can wrap my head around it and don’t have to worry about unknowns popping up and turning everything on its head.

However, preparation is an iterative art, and preparing to give lessons is something new that I haven’t done in the past. In the past two weeks, a couple of events have popped up and thrown me off. 

Last Saturday, our studio’s amp/stereo died on us, meaning that I had to play music out of my laptop’s speakers, or not at all.  Popping without music is akin to simply doing moves (thanks for the feedback Graham!).  If you’re not moving to the music, you’re not dancing.  Without music, it’s much more difficult for student’s to connect what they’re doing to form an actual dance, and doing drills starts to feel like only that – just doing drills, rather than building up a foundation from which you’ll drawn upon when it’s time to get out there and dance.

As a result of the faulty stereo, I didn’t put as much time as I should have into the music I’d pulled out for our class on Monday.  The first class was easier, as I simply searched through my playlist and found good hiphop with slow beats.  However, given that I couldn’t really roll with music on Saturday, I neglected to find new appropriate music for what we were going to work on this Monday. As a result, I had to forego the music and stick to counting out beats.  This is okay at first, but it rapidly gets old, and it’s not really dancing, it’s doing drills.

To accommodate for better planning, I’ve started booking time off each week to sit down and plan things out.  With the time slotted off in my calendar, I’ll make a point of doing the work and ensuring that everything is up to shape.

Next Term

So that’s it!  The end of our Spring term at VSD, and the end of the first series of classes that I’ve taught.  Unfortunately it doesn’t sound like we have enough students to keep a kid’s class going, but I’m hoping that we get enough together to maintain adult classes.  We’re working towards some other ideas as well, and those will get posted on the VSD website (here), as well as here.  If you’re interested in any kind of popping instruction, write me a comment, send me an e-mail, or sign up for a class!

Keep it locked, and get out and start dancing!