Thursday, September 25, 2008

Movement Swing Student Teacher

I spent the weekend of September 20-21 in Berkeley, CA helping Jofflyn and Amber teach a workshop for thw swing subgroup of "The [M]ovement".  Berkeley has an active on-campus swing scene, which [M]ovement Swing is a part of.  So, Trisha flew up while I rode with Charles on Friday night.

The three of us acted as fill-ins and roving coaches for the closed session.  It was a bit of a change from my experience acting as a "peer" coach, suggesting a change to a fellow troupe or team member as I've done as a member of the Atomic Jitterbombs or Bobbysox Brigade.  I've had quite a bit of experience in the more informal mentoring role, using a critical eye on a fellow dancer's dancing.  It's quite different to be in this mode in a more permanent basis, constantly scanning a group, constantly looking for flaws to correct.  The three of us know what Jofflyn and Amber are looking for when they're teaching basic technique and the group was pretty large, around 15 couples.  I think having a few extra people keeping eyes on the students to correct basic technique helped to accellerate the learning process.

In discussing the experience aftwards with Amber and Jofflyn, I came away with a couple things: 
  1. I have a good ability to see what fundamental problems a dancer is having
  2. It's a different skill to see the problems of a group as opposed to a specific couple or dancer
  3. It's a skill to be able to say the same thing in multiple ways until you figure out the way that the student understands
  4. I really enjoy teaching and mentoring swing dancing.
During the open-to-the-public class, Charles and I essentially spent our time giving a private lesson to a guy who was brand new to swing dancing.  We took him from knowing nothing to have a solid basic swing-out.  Getting him up to speed on a rotating East-Coast basic helped the beginning of his swing-out from closed.  Then we really blew his mind by giving him "changing places," and a six count circle.  But the vast majority of the time was spent on the swing-out.

As a result, Charles and I missed most of the "moves" class.  But that was O.K.  It was interesting to teach him, and he'd have been lost in the other class.

On day two, Charles, Trish, and I led the review of basic technique.  I got to be the booming voice, Trish had lots of cool follow insight, and Charles got to expound on the importance of frame.  We'd gone over the lesson plan with Jofflyn the night before, but it helped to have all of us there to remember it:
  1. assessment (warm-up)
  2. visual leading, visual contact (no touching exercise)
  3. frame
  4. connection notes (C grip, gun grip)
  5. momentum (center-to-center motion, stepping beneath oneself, consistent rotation speed, lead's choice exercise)
I totally forgot the frame exercise, and Charles brought us back to it.  He also had great additional frame exercises (starting from two hands and rotating, then lead-and-follow directional walking), and emphasized that good frame on the catch of the swing-out made the follow feel comfortable.  I countered that it was easier, which spoke to my lazy side.  That got a chuckle.

All in all, it was an incredibly positive experience for me.

Feedback from Amber:  Don't talk too much between repetitions of the exercise, or they tune out no matter how critical the advice you're giving.  Give a nugget, do a rep.  Give another, do another rep.  "It's a lesson I learned the hard way."

To a certain degree, I think we need reps in leading that kind of class to get fully comfortable, but we're very close.  "Apprenticing" under Amber and Jofflyn's guidance was a heady experience.

On the drive back, Charles and I talked dancing inspiration, musicality, and especially about the subtleties of connection and frame.  From the lead's perspective, we need strong left side connection to begin the swing-out but essentially nothing after that.  There's something there about a totally relaxed arm, as Laura Keat taught me, but not as relaxed initially.  Firm when it needs to be (1, or 1-2), relaxed when it's not needed, then firm when it needs to slow/stop the follow.  Have to talk that over with Jofflyn.

Still buzzing, days later.  The group was amazing to work with, and I'm looking forward to seeing their showcase and performing for them.


  1. Jofflyn and Amber sub'd for Shesha this past weekend. They were funny, they were technical, they were stylish, they were practical..they were awesome.

  2. Jae, I'm glad you had a positive experience with them. Have we ever taken classes at Atomic or with Shesha before? I was in the Sunday series regularly from April 2007 to summer 2007. And you can actually read my excessive blogging from that time period and get a sense for my dancing arc. :-) I was planning on hanging out during the series tomorrow, so maybe I'll see you there.