Category Archives: Learning Tips

The Essence of the Basics

Oftentimes, students get caught up in matching the teachers perfectly in basic patterns. As an instructor, I want to teach and demonstrate the “ideal basics” and also allow students and flexibility to A. stress less and B. succeed on the social floor. Where does that lead us? Well, here’s some distillation of basic patterns:

Swingout – you briefly connect in a close embrace, and send/are sent a new direction.
Circle – you connect in a close embrace and remain connected for the duration.
Tuck Turn – wind away, wind toward, turn.
Underarm Passby – the leader provides a directional path for the follower to go underneath an arm.

That’s really it. Those 4 basics will carry any level far on the social dance floor.

Learning and Self-Reflection

Last night, Jesse and I taught a role switch class. It’s where all our dancers danced their less dominant role. You can see what we taught below.

What was fascinating, and I only realized this when Jesse pointed it out at Birdcall, is that the new leaders were self-reflective and the new followers were rarely self-reflective. This meant that the new leaders were more likely to take responsibility and internalize things while the new followers were more likely to lay responsibility on their new leaders. Hmmmm…

One example is when the student pointed out there were 3 good leaders in the class and he would probably learn faster as a follower with them. We conceded that observation, but turned it around to emphasize their responsibility in their new role. Not to mention, there were 4 good followers in the class so everyone was on a level learning field. We know this person didn’t state this in a hurtful way, but we teachers could have handled it better.

Going forward, we’ll need to encourage greater self-reflection and perhaps coach our students how to do this. We covered it slightly through connection, spotting, and generating/following momentum, but we could do more. Overall, I’d say that the dominant-role followers made the largest adjustments during class.

Creativity Explosion

Watching my students struggle slightly with a creativity exercise, made me reflect on one of my more influential private lessons with Jeanne DeGeyter in Tulsa, Oklahoma. One part consisted of watching regional pros compete and she pointed out that’s a whip, that’s a side pass, that’s an underarm passby, that’s a tuck turn, and other basic patterns. I wasn’t quick to recognize them for what they were because the handholds were all different! So we played with this concept.

The private lesson dialogue may have gone like this: “Lead a normal underarm passby. Ok. Now do it in right to left handhold. See how it feels different? What might you do after this that feels good? Now do it in right to right. Ok. Try a whip with a two-hand open-position hold. Interesting interpretation, but it worked.”

Try it out! See what you create and learn.

Forming a Pearl

Recently, I had interactions with two different people that reminded me of how pearls are formed. This analogy only holds so far, but I read that natural pearls form when an irritant works its way into a mussel, oyster or clam. For these two people, the irritants were, and I paraphrase, “my dancing sucks” (it really doesn’t) and “there’s nothing in Denver that compares to the big city where I’m originally from.”

What’s impressive is what these two people have created from their personal irritants. One has tremendously grown in their dancing – pursuing private lessons, traveling to workshops, entering many competitions, and constantly pushing themselves. The other took an empty lot and built something amazing; in the end, sparking ingenuity in other Denverites.

I applaud these people for taking an irritant and building a pearl with it.

Facing Fear

Ever since I’ve started rehab, I’ve learned to better empathize with our beginner students. I’ve been learning new things that appear easily attainable, but my body occasionally betrays me. I occasionally sweat more and can feel my brain overloading with an intense feeling of heat when learning challenging movements. I occasionally extrapolate to the worst possible scenario.

Even yesterday, I faced something I was afraid of – jumping to one box, then to the ground, then explosively up to another box. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t trust myself to explode from the ground. If I took my time and set myself, I could do it, but that wasn’t what my physical therapist demanded.

What I’m learning or, perhaps just reinforcing for myself, is that it’s okay to struggle and fail. Sometimes you need to break up your goals into smaller, more manageable, chunks to succeed later. And, as a teacher, I need to be cognizant that some students may need more time and personal attention (oh, and aircon!).

I Nearly Was Scammed


I nearly was scammed the other day.  Swingin’ Denver was contacted by a Patrick Wolf asking if we did private dance lessons and if we accepted credit cards as payment. There was something off about his punctuation and sentence structure, but people have gotten lazier in this internet age, so I treated him as a potential student giving him information about our rates and asking about his specific needs.

Here’s one of the sections that should have raised my red flags and that you can easily Google: “I just had an ear surgery and I have been advised to stay off the phone till i’m fully recovered . That is why I am contacting you via email for now.” Again, we run across people with special needs that don’t quite know what they’re getting themselves into when they ask about private lessons. And him thinking we’d be a good fitness service for his three girls… well,  we get odd requests.

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How do you conceptualize a swing or solo jazz step? How do you create, break down, picture what you’re doing in the moment? How do you bring your imagined ideal into reality or where it matches reality?

groovie-movieI think about these ideas when trying to break down figures and even when I’m performing in the moment. How does this look if someone was videotaping me from above? What path would my legs, my arms, my moving partner trace on the floor? Continue reading

Spiderman Philosophy

uncle-benI recently had a more experienced student get visibly frustrated with a newer student that wasn’t doing what they wanted, namely connecting as well as they would have liked. The solution I suggested? Taking responsibility for creating the connection that you want.

Knowledge = Power. With great power comes great responsibility. QED – With great(er) knowledge comes great(er) responsibility. See what I did there?

If you’re a beginner+ or higher student rejoining our beginner classes, use your knowledge for good. You were once a beginner, so please be kind. If you’re frustrated, try to use your words and be collaborative rather than damaging. If you don’t want to use your words, then try to figure out on your own how to get what you want on your own. Pushing, pulling, or yanking on your partner can also be hurtful and confusing. If you’re having trouble thinking what you should be doing, ask the teacher. Just please be responsible.



Deliberate Practice

This is me attempting a stride to pre(cision) challenge with a left footed takeoff. My strong side is with a right footed takeoff. I’ve always been better reaching and picking up my left leg. Sometimes my right leg is slow to snap (weak adominals, psoas?), so I favor a side.

This isn’t great for real life situations or for efficient movement. I want to be equally strong, so I set up a deliberate practice. I backed up, I marked off my steps and envisioned what I needed to do and then I executed. The first attempts weren’t great. The video version is ok, but I need to work on jumping further away.

Why do I bring this up? Learning to dance is a different skill for most of us. It helps to set up a deliberate practice by yourself or with a partner. What might that look like? Continue reading