atl practica: a learning experience

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I was nervous. Head up a practica? Of swing dancing? Somehow both learn what I want to learn while simultaneously inspiring and leading others to learn what they want to learn?

Okay, that’s a little dramatic. But that’s what I had in my head, and it was stuck there, making me vaguely nervous — and incredibly excited.

***

We held the practica at Jolie’s house, with Brian as a DJ. I’d never been to Jolie’s house, and it was a good thing I’d planned on arriving a little early, as we got momentarily turned around. Their house had a large enough space and beautiful wood floors, so it ended up being the perfect place for our little get-together.

The first item on the table was the Big Apple. I was especially nervous about this, as I’d practically volunteered to teach the BA…except, I don’t really know it myself! As such, I made sure I had a few youtube videos on hand, and I went at it the best I could. The first half, at least, I knew well enough to show it to a small group. We moved slowly and practiced what we’d learned over and over to make sure it was drilled in everyone’s head — we essentially covered everything through Rusty Dusties in about an hour. While this was a little slower than I wanted to move, it was a good pace, as many people in the group had no idea what to do with some of the jazz moves, and we were really able to break it down. I’d never broken down Suzie Qs or Apple Jacks very well for myself before, and it was good for me to break them down and practice them slowly. We even practiced two versions of Apple Jacks, which I’d never done before; it was interesting to try to differentiate between feminine and masculine Apple Jacks.

A little past 9pm, we started working on swingouts and swingout variations — everyone’s favorite thing to practice, right?  We started the new kid on learning how to swing out in the first place (with one extra follow, it was easy to rotate). Then we started working on variations — Jennifer suggested a kick-ball-change variation she’d been told about but had no time to practice or work into her swingout. After that we moved to the scissor-kick variation, which I’d been wanting to learn really badly — and honestly, all it took was trying it. That was a crucial moment for me, I think, because while the kick-ball-change variation was really easy, I had no idea how to do the scissor kick variation. But I took a few minutes, tried it a couple times, and figured it out. And then we all worked on it, both leads and follows.

I walked around trying to help as much as I could without “taking over.” It was hard to tell if everyone was getting a lot out of the practice, but almost everyone walked away saying they’d learned at least a little. And honestly, that’s what I wanted.

***

Now that I’ve talked about what went well…the rest.

I am not very good at keeping track of time. We definitely went over our time mark about half an hour, and I worried about imposing on Jolie, as we were using her house. I’m also worry about teaching variations I don’t know — as much as it worked this time, I honestly worry about teaching the wrong thing. And the same goes for the Big Apple — I am by no means an expert on the BA, and I worry that these guys will go to DSS or a big  class and say something along the lines of “well, shit, that was wrong!”

I had to refer to videos a couple times, which was 1) unprofessional and 2) annoying. The first is moot, because I don’t necessarily have to be professional — after all, I’m not actually a teacher, and that’s not what this is about. The second, though, is definitely relevant — it took up time we could have been using to move forward. I am disappointed with the amount of prep I did versus the amount I should have done.

And last, the challenge of offering advice. I’m not technically a teacher — rather, more of a leader, with a vague approximation of experience (at least relative to the group) and an idea of what should go next. This problem is twofold: the first part is that I am not sure how to approach someone without making them feel singled out or resentful of my advice. I know that everyone’s there to learn, but I still don’t want to step on toes by offering unwanted advice. Second, I want to encourage the mutual ability to critique or offer advice — the ability for ANYONE to say “maybe it will look better if you focus on your hips rather than your feet” and have it be generally accepted; however, getting the average person to volunteer advice is…challenging at best. However, I do think there are some exercises we can do with helping others find something to work on, so I almost look forward to solving that challenge.

The only standing question from the night, I believe is: which hand do you salute with when you gaze afar (assuming you land with your right leg forward)?

***

All in all, I think the first practica was a great success, and I look forward to next week! This is definitely a new approach to learning in Atlanta — something not quite a workshop, not quite a private, and not quite a class. That’s what I’m aiming for right now. It’s going to be interesting to see how this evolves; at the very least, it’s a learning experience!!

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One thought on “atl practica: a learning experience

  1. My suggestion re: getting people to give advice? Hold a master’s class style practica. Have a follow dance with 4-6 leads for the length of 1-2 songs (maybe of a variety of tempos), then have everyone give feedback – positive and constructive. (And vice versa)

    You can make it work by asking everyone to give positive feedback and not forcing them to give negative/constructive, and letting anyone who wants to offer constructive criticism as well. People do have to know what they’re getting into, though, and you can let people opt out of being the center of attention if they’re uncomfortable.

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