Category Archives: Teaching Tips

Ok. So. Alright

Filler words. They’ve been driving Jesse crazy our last two teaching days. They’re hard to eliminate. How do you start talking in teaching situations? How do you get people’s attention? Do you have words you constantly use or do you vary it up?

The Follower

In the car ride back from Dry Dock Brewing’s Ugly Sweater Swing Dance, Jesse suggested I change my teaching language in a specific area. I have a (recent?) habit of saying “your follower” rather than “the follower” or something similar.

One problem was that “your follower” implied some sort of possessiveness. Another problem was that we wanted followers to understand they were responsible for their response. The possessive adjective could imply someone else is responsible which we don’t want.

Hope you appreciate the insights from our teaching experiences.

Our Class Recap Values

With some questions being asked about recaps in a Facebook group, I thought I’d share some of our recap values learned from growing our YouTube channel.

-recaps strive to be under 1:50 due to viewership stats showing average viewer duration is 1:36
-1 person driving the recap with their awesome internal clock, pacing, and
awareness of what was taught and how to synthesize quickly, yet thoroughly

-The driver needs to be clear and enunciate well so the leader/follower knows
what is coming next and the viewer can watch easily

-There should be clear handoff moments so there is minimal bobbling. For example, when you and your partner will demonstrate your particular footwork or need to speak about your specific role

-1 person assigned with making sure multiple angles (at least 2) are provided

-acknowledgement that we have specific skills we’re best and who drives the recap isn’t always the person driving the class.

-fold the recap into the class or quickly after if scheduling allows

-if it’s an aerials recap, be thorough with down preps, up preps, spotting, and overs clearly demonstrated so you’ll have more successful students practicing afterward.

Sometimes we’re sneaky so we don’t interrupt class and can blend our Swing 1
students into the main dance.

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!).

The Limitation Game

We played some fun games with our Swing 2 students last week and I’d like to share what we did. There’s a demonstration of some options here:

Our plan was to limit them to 8-count patterns, then 6-count, X role can only use right hand or left hand, breaks on 7, no triple steps. In the past, I’ve found that limiting what I can do can expand my vocabulary if given creative tools, expose vocabulary and technique issues, and spark questions. You should give it a go!

Teacher Flow

So I was watching Ludacris rap Llama Llama Red Pajama last night. Coupled with a compliment for teaching flow, I thought these two things go together especially when I found my head bouncing to Ludacris’ freestyle.

In teaching life, flow can mean a couple different things. First, flow could mean the way you build upon what you’re teaching. X leads to Y leads to Z all the while encouraging students, playing music, bringing the along. You’re linking all the pieces together into one harmonious whole.

Second, flow can represent the pitter patter of teacher-speak. Just listen to Ludacris’ breath work, how he uses filler beats, and how his pauses are purposeful. I think it’s similar to how good teachers and dancers scat or count off a room – “uh5uh6, uh5uh6uh7 8 and rock step…” They can get you dancing while standing still. So good.

Emphasizing the 2&4

Have you ever seen this video before?

This is the breakdown of this video here where Harry Connick, Jr adjusted for the crowd’s offbeat 1, 3 clapping to bring them to the 2 & 4. If you look closely in the original video, you’ll also notice a brief moment where the drummer cheers him!

As The Andrew Sisters sing “If you want to keep the rhythm pumpin’, Bounce me brother with a solid four,” you’ll want that solid four as a dancer. Clapping on the 2 & 4, emphasizing the 2 & 4, etc.

Juan Villafane even went into further detail when teaching a Fast Charleston class at Stompology one year. He had working on dropping into the 2 & 4 more during our Charleston basics and then our Squat Charleston. He really wanted that emphasis to connect us into the music and our roots.

This also means that us teachers, bringing up the next generation of dancers, should also be emphasizing the 2 & 4. This could be through clapping out the rhythm. We can make sure we’re fully scatting the rhythm and emphasizing the 2 & 4 vocally. We also need to be picking appropriate swing tunes that swing hard and answer “yes” when you ask “would I dance to this on the social floor?”

SWING KIDS, Robert Sean Leonard, Tushka Bergen, 1993
SWING KIDS, Robert Sean Leonard, Tushka Bergen, 1993


talking-headsIt was recently emphasized to me and another teacher that we need to change how we address leaders and followers in class. Specifically, our teachers should state “leaders” or “followers,” so that it lessens confusion when making further statements like “leaders lead by rotating…” rather than “leads lead by rotating.” Address the role and then the action. Small change, big difference.

How To Be A Good Spotter

How To Be A Good Spotter by Chelsea Rothschild

At my team’s practice this week, I got a compliment from our coach for good spotting. I’ve also had the honor of being specifically requested as a spotter by teammates and friends, because they feel especially safe with me. I take a lot of pride in that ability to make people feel safe, and I thought it might benefit the community if I shared three foundational principles I’ve learned/developed over my 25+years as a spotter. (I started waaay back when I was just a little girl in gymnastics classes.)

 1) Know for sure how to spot the trick. It’s not enough to vaguely plan to grab someone’s shoulders if you see them taking a headfirst dive. Think about the trick, decide where you can provide the most help as a spotter (it usually involves contact around the hips and/or shoulders), and test your spotting technique on an experienced acrobat. Whenever possible, learn the proper spot technique from someone who’s successful at it, rather than coming up with your own.

Bad spotting can happen, even when everyone involved knows better.
2) Communicate with your acrobat. If it’s your first time spotting this person doing this trick, be explicit about how you’re going to spot them. Demonstrate the spot while they just stand there, eg, “I’ll have your right shoulder like this, and my other hand will be here, on the back of your hips.” If you’ve spotted this person doing this trick a thousand times, at the very least verbally confirm whether they want an aggressive spot, a passive spot, or just a reassuring presence. Here’s how I define those options:
  • Aggressive Spot: I will place my hands firmly on the acrobat, whether they appears to need help or not. I will base with my own body, expecting to take  a significant amount of the acrobat’s weight. I will expect to help them complete any necessary rotation, achieve necessary height, etc. If the trick goes wrong, I should be able to keep the acrobat from falling quickly to the ground. They may fall, but they’ll fall slowly and be at minimal risk for injury.

Fantastic Aggressive Spot: The two primary spotters have the acrobat’s shoulders, with one more spotter available to stop her from over-rotating and sitting the landing.

  • Passive Spot: I will place my hands lightly on the acrobat, whether they appears to need help or not. I will be prepared to take on some of their weight, but I won’t presume that will happen. I expect the acrobat will provide all the necessary height, speed, rotation, etc. If the trick goes wrong, I should be able to protect the acrobat’s head, neck and spine. If they fall, they may get bruised, twist an ankle, etc., but should be protected from serious injury.

Both Passive Spotters make brief contact with the acrobat; they’re prepared to intervene or let the trick succeed as necessary.

  • Reassuring Presence: I will not touch the acrobat unless I see they’re in danger. I will plan to have my hands and arms within their field of vision and within their reach, so that they may reach for me if they need a little stability. If the trick goes wrong, I’ll do what I can to protect the acrobat’s head an neck.  

Here the spotter keeps her hands available to the acrobat, without touching her unnecessarily.

3) Prioritize what you protect. Even after establishing proper technique and communicating with your acrobat, it’s challenging to make smart choices in the chaos of a failing trick. So remember, it doesn’t really help the person you’re spotting if you prevent a sprained ankle at the expense of a broken neck. Your top priorities should be the head, neck, and spine. It bears repeating that this is usually best accomplished by supporting shoulders and/or hips. Conversely, it’s almost never a good idea to grab someone’s arms, legs, feet, or hands, all of which they can instinctively use to break a fall or even pull off a weird-yet-safe landing.

Great spotting technique has almost as much nuance and difficulty as great acrobatics, so I could go on at length! But with these three principles, anyone should be able to contribute to a safer environment for their friends and teammates. Happy spotting, everyone!

No, But…

but-noOne trap that teachers need to watch out for is the “No, but…” response when asked if they have anything to add. Sometimes it even happens when I’m addressing class, giving the general “ok” to move on and then the “No, but…” strikes once more. Consider being more decisive and sticking with your initial response. If you have something, but you already said no, remember your point and mention it later.  Or, if you’re already flowing toward moving on, add your point later if you can make it relevant at that time.