We Don’t Need More Classes

I have a friend who picked up dancing and immediately jumped into taking as many classes as he could. He was at the studio five nights a week, taking 2-3 classes a night. He wanted to learn as much as he could in six months.

Six months later, despite taking many intermediate and advanced classes, he still could not execute the basic movements cleanly. He only had a few moves that he remembered and could lead. His posture and body organization was a mess. At the end of six months, he had a beginner skillset with an intermediate ego.

This guy didn’t need more classes. He needed feedback. He needed to practice what he had learned. He needed feedback from his partners and perhaps guidance from professionals hosting practice sessions. He needed active discussion with honest practice partners.*

This is exactly what I crave in my dance community because I need all those things too. I don’t want more classes and workshops. I need time to work on what I already know. I need to work on the things I learned in my private lessons but haven’t integrated or refined in my social dancing.

We don’t need more classes. We need more practicas with active discussion and feedback between partners. 

People can only absorb so much information at a time. Information overload is fatal to effective learning. If you can’t retain it or execute it, it’s useless. In some cases, we create delusions of learning where people only retain information on a very shallow level. They can recite what they learned, but can’t execute it smoothly for 10 minutes on the dance floor with a variety of partners.

I fully believe that the true learning doesn’t happen in a class; it happens on the social floor. It happens when you are practicing with a partner. It happens during your experimentation and exploration.

We don’t learn by listening to a lecture. We learn by taking things into our own hands and practicing… and discovering what feels best to us… and adjusting based on the result we get from that experimentation. And with a partner, you get the benefit of direct feedback.

The best practices of learning apply whether you are learning how to tackle an opponent, design a logo or do the mambo. Learn new information. Then dedicate time to playing with it, experimenting with it and integrating it. Seek out feedback, make adjustments and experiment some more.

And as any learning professional can tell you, that is where the true magic, the big epiphanies, and the real learning happens.


* Feedback and discussion isn’t one-way teaching. Regardless of skill level, both people should seek feedback from others in any learning environment. Make no assumptions! 


About Epiphany

epiphanies on life and spiritual living as I chase wisdom - one insight at a time.

Posted on May 24, 2016, in Dance and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Two major points here that I am interested in. I’m a hip hop / urban choreography instructor and I have met several dancers who are able to execute intricate bits of choreography from practicing the process of learning choreography by taking class – but still don’t have an understanding of a basic groove, or just how to move your body to the beat.

    And to your point about learning happening on the floor, not in class – I agree partially. In hip hop and urban choreography, the “moves” learned in class can be thought of as building blocks which get put together during freestyles. Without ever practicing how to combine the parts, a person ends up with a handful of Legos: lacking the ability to create a spaceship / castle / car. So class is useful to give you a repertoire of moves, but shouldn’t be the end all be all of dance.


  2. How nice to read this! I believe this is true of dancing tango socially. I think it is about learning first by watching and listening in a real milonga, then dancing with someone who can, then for guys in the guiding role, listening to the music and the partner, sensing what is possible and good for them within the available space and with awareness of the ronda, the other people on the floor. Then we connect with the music, ourselves, our partner, and others. You only need to be able to walk to dance tango. That’s what I found. And good partners to show you the way.

    For sure, if I was to learn hip hop I would need help! But I don’t think it would be so different.


  3. Good observation Karen as usual. I would even say that Tango’s freedom to express as an anti-pattern during the learning phase, because it excuses too many lousy execution as just a choice or style.

    In fact, in the first three years of tango learners need to have clear and measurable yardsticks of progress. It is not enough to say someone is dancing well, it needs to be deeply critiqued as dancing without enough phrasing, too much tension in the arm, lack of use of space etc.

    This type of critique comes from the third eye of the teacher, so it is not just doing more practicas, but actually more private lessons. If money is not object, I strongly recommend it. The third eye need not be a famous maestro either, just a good experienced teacher who is willing to speak honestly.

    What I see instead is the widespread use of Practicas and Milongas as the way to improve. “Just dance enough and things will be fixed over time; if they are not fixed then it is not your style.” The biggest lies in Tango.

    Practicas are usually a waste of time unless you are dancing with a more experienced partner. You also need a plan of attack. And a video camera. And measure yourself against specific qualities you want to achieve, e.g. smooth, rhythmic, dancing on a tile


    • Nice article, Karen. Though I do think it somewhat underplays the extent to which classes undermine the learning of dance.

      “Six months later, despite taking many intermediate and advanced classes … he had a beginner skillset with an intermediate ego.”

      He got off lightly. More frequently this turns a beginner into a sub-beginner.

      “If you can’t retain it or execute it, it’s useless.”

      If you can’t retain it, it’s useless.

      If you retain it and can’t execute it, it’s much worse than useless. Obviously it degrades one’s dancing, but more insidiously it sabotages the opportunities to learn naturally — not least by making one less attractive to potential partners who dance well.


    • mamborambo wrote: “It is not enough to say someone is dancing well” it needs to be deeply critiqued …”

      Certainly it is enough to say someone is dancing well (where it is true) if his/her goal is social tango dance.

      That “deep critique” is needed only by those who goal is tango work – class teaching, show performing.

      “This type of critique comes from the third eye of the teacher, so it is not just doing more practicas, but actually more private lessons.”

      This reminds me of my favourite Emo Philips joke.

      “I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realised who was telling me this.”


      Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent point… Nothing is more humbling than a video camera! I am a huge fan of practicas but I feel they are most valuable when you have skilled partners to work with AND you have a professional providing guidance and feedback. It seems that some people attend practicas and never actually TALK about their dancing, or ask for feedback or work with higher skilled partners on anything. They just use it as “floor time” – which may create the delusion of skill development in tango… I can’t get over how much detail happens in tango within the body to have the real level of connection and clean execution needed. And it seems that level of information only gets shared in private lessons. People who are sticking only to the group classes, practicas and milongas aren’t getting the details that they really need – and may be oblivious to where they realistically fall skill level wise.

    I love the idea that in the first 3 years, there needs to be some fundamental hurdles that get cleared… what a difference it would make it everyone got their walk down solidly and learned the tango rhythms in year one (instead of learning adornos and patterns!).


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