Sometimes I do things that maybe not everyone would do, and this is no exception. What have I done? I joined the first year Jazz Dance class at my university. I’m not a sideline guest with special privileges, just one of the people in the class. Because the class is for first year Musical Theatre students, and I don’t teach these people normally, the students just thought I was a (possibly really old?!) student for the first two weeks. 🙂 That was my personal triumph.
I am profoundly interested in learning, both my own learning and how people learn different types of things. This is one that requires both mental and physical integration at a precise level. There are also understandings of what and how the learning takes place that are hugely challenging. A dance unfolds in physical space over time, and by nature has rhythm and directional motion. Elements of the rhythm are akin to music making (thinking of my experience with either cello or singing), but the motion is something completely out of my experience. This directionality, I’m learning, is completely natural, yet you (or at least I) have to free my mind from any solid associative thinking in order to do some of it.
By now you may have guessed I have 0% experience with learning dance. I endured the classes in 8th grade where someone very old (they were probably 40, but when you’re in 8th grade all grown-ups look 800) tried to teach us to fox-trot. I was not one of the children who went to ballet class; I went to math class. I was one of the slightly brainy, odd ones who ended up as the wall-flower. The point is that although I don’t have experience, I LOVE rhythm, motion, and music and oh my goodness what a delicious challenge and privilege it is to be able to learn.
When shown some choreography, the student is expected to retain it. <– That sounds so basic, but for me the assimilation of mental and physical genuinely makes my brain turn to dough. As I get more information the dough in my head rises and then my head nearly explodes – or I simply find I can’t directly do bits of the dance – at that moment. I will get it, but for me that will require slowing it down and consciously putting the bits together. Today I realised that I use some of my other, already established, learning methods to cope – for example in the dance room one wall is mirrors. That means you can watch yourself in real time, as well as watching the other people in the class. I simply watch the best ones and realistically I let them lead me (by about 35%). It is cheating and at least I realised I’m doing it. How did I find out? Easy. When in class we had to do what we had learned in groups of 3, and half of the dance was facing the wall without mirrors (!) I realised how much I didn’t really know yet!
Besides retaining and internalising the choreography, a student is expected to go away and learn it on the other side. So if the dance goes to the right, you have to go home (if you’re me, otherwise you just do it) and learn it all going to the left. -and then the teacher also has the option to change it up.
Musically speaking it is as if you learn a piece of Bach and then the teacher says- I expect it in another key next week, and actually instead of doing that cadence at the end of the first half, let’s change it a bit – I’d really like to add some Chopin-esque elements there. It is a completely different way of thinking and although it looks effortless when done well, I certainly respect the craft more for getting inside of it a bit.
What are the takeaways for me so far?
Oh it is exhilarating! I LOVE to move. and you know what? I can. I am not perfect by any means – and I do regularly drop moves because I am genuinely working to figure out which bit of body goes where, and I am sure I look like the game QUOP. (that’s where you manually move the thighs and calves of a runner and make them go. You can see my best is now really so good here:
Of course I like the teacher – I gravitate to excellent people who are inspiring. He is good at his craft, explains with clarity, demonstrates, and also says it like it is – both in terms of praise and things that need to be improved. The other thing that I really, really like is the other students. They have not taken a second glance at me – they are there to learn and so am I, and they help one another and they’ve helped me too. I’ve asked to copy people’s notes, asked for explanations of basic techniques that they, as trained dancers, already know (you’ll see from the picture of my notes that I’m not exactly using technical language, I’m scribbling down whatever I can in the momentary gaps in class), and even really basic questions like where do I go to buy the right shoes. 🙂
My goal is to be able to do the end of semester exam material. I have lots to practice between now and then.