Dance Teacher Controversy: Teaching Styles vs. Learning Styles

One of my former students posted this on her facebook page about her jazz class:
So, today jazz teacher decided that all of us dancers who are insecure with bad dance memory, who hang out in the back of the class and mimic all the dancers who have good dance memory, had to come up to the front of the class and be the leaders.
It was bad. . . .
Then she said, “Well now you guys know what you need to work on. . . . ”
I am still feeling sick from that.”

Not knowing anything about this particular class or the agreements between the students and teacher, I was nevertheless moved to make this comment:

kinesthetic learners often have poor memory and need to use muscle memory instead, using repetition (like following people who know the routine.) You shouldn’t be punished for that. At least you know the other kinesthetic learners are in the same boat!

She made the following reply:  “How insightful. Thankyou Laurie. I do however think she has a point about ‘pickup’ ability because the material has to be presented a certain way and executed with speed. Its important to keep this in mind as well as one’s own learning style. Part of learning, is learning HOW to learn.”

I thought this interesting question would be a great idea for a blog post.  If it is a professional troupe and the materiel is presented in a certain way, it is then the responsibility of the dancers to conform to the teaching style of the choreographer.  It’s not the job of a choreographer to cater to the individual learning styles of the performers.  In my opinion, however, that IS the job of a good dance teacher.  If it’s a routine you are learning for yourself, if you are paying to learn it as opposed to being paid to learn it, there is no point in making everyone learn the same way.  The kinesthetic learners can pick it up just as quickly by dancing behind someone who knows the routine.  It saves no time to make them stand in front to demonstrate the fact that they haven’t learned it yet.  If it’s a time issue, all dancers are responsible for learning it in a timely fashion on their own.  For kinesthetic learners, that might mean making a video to take home and practice to until their muscle memory kicks in.

I remember taking an advanced class in Sweden about ten years ago.  The teacher felt that since it was an advanced class, she should be able to teach 3 separate steps in a row without letting the class dance them until she had demonstrated all three.  Advanced dancers, she felt, should be able to remember all three steps and execute them later.  It would not have taken any longer to teach them one at a time, which would have accommodated the kinesthetic as well as the visual learners.  Our learning styles do not change as we get more experienced.  I pick up new moves more quickly because the basics components that make up a dance move are more familiar, but that does not improve my ability to retain a visual I was exposed to three moves ago.  That part of my memory in fact seems to be getting worse the more “experienced” I become!  My muscle memory, on the other hand, is still just as sharp as ever.  The bottom line to me is still, are you paying me to learn this or am I paying you to teach it to me?

By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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3 replies
  1. Rob
    Rob says:

    So I completely agree – it is the role of the teacher to find a way to communicate the needed information to the student.

    I teach solar facility design and installation to everyone from High School dropouts to CEOs, and as you might expect, the tools I use are just as widely varied. For some students I find myself bringing in physical objects for them to see (& one of those was a CFO). Another class of guys and gals who did not graduate High School – I taught the cube/square law using a big yellow ball and a small blue one so they could see it.

    One of the reasons that Laurieann is so great is that she can observe how well the teaching is going as she is doing it, and if she needs to, change to a different approach to help her student. She is a really great teacher as well as a heck of a great dancer.

    Reply
  2. Thuan
    Thuan says:

    Thank you so much for this. I found this article when Googling “kinesthetic learning” and “hip hop dancing.”

    I started taking a hip hop dance class a few months ago – my first dance class ever – and I struggled with memorizing steps as fast as everyone else. The instructor seemed to move through steps too quickly. Yet, to me, most everyone else seemed to memorize the moves fine. And, if I was on the side of the room, had an obstructed view of the instructor, and had to rely on his voice – forget about it! Anyway, this became a pattern, which greatly discouraged me.

    I decided to request a video recording from the instructor. He obliged. And I practiced by myself, replaying the video over and over alone. And I got it – and felt confident with my moves. The next class, I performed the steps with confidence and emotion, even closing my eyes.

    But then, we moved on to the next steps. And the next. And once again, I felt as if I was falling behind rapidly, and the instructor didn’t seem to want to slow down.

    Your post revealed to me I’m not alone. Thank you for that. Now, I know for certain my learning style!

    Would you have any recommendations for setting myself up for success as a kinesthetic learner? Besides extra practice?

    Reply
    • laurieann
      laurieann says:

      My apologies for this late reply. My server did not notify me that this was here and I just noticed it. My advice is to shop around before choosing a teacher. Very few teachers have the skill to teach to different learning styles, but since most teachers teach the way they learn, if you find one who learns the way you do, it will be a better match. That said, I highly recommend taking private lessons as soon as possible. While group classes can teach steps, you can’t really learn to dance in group lessons. Take enough privates to get the basics down, nail down your leading/following skills, and then group classes will be much easier. However, even in private lessons, finding the right teacher is crucial. You didn’t say where you are, so I don’t know how many choices you have, but if there are several possibilites, interview the teacher before signing on and tell them how you learn. Ask if you can take a sample lesson. 10 minutes is enough for you to know if this teacher is a good fit for you. Good luck!

      Reply

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