Tap Dancing, Teaching and Learning

November 11, 2011 at 9:49 AM Leave a comment

Yes, I am taking up tap after a 35 year hiatus. Last time was at Jackie Bebbington’s dance studio on Saturday mornings. I was pretty rubbish as a dancer – the steps just fell out of my head and I’d lose the rhythm because I was too nervous to trust myself. Bits and pieces are still burned into my motor memory though – ‘My Old Man Said Follow the Van’, the Buffalo step, shuffle ball change etc.

Starting again is the usual exercise in humiliation at the sharp end of the red pencil, only this time you have to see yourself in mirrored wall of the dance studio. Like I suddenly got old but with the same shoes on. Note there is no YouTube upload. Just saying.

The fear and nerves are tempered by being there with my neighbor and friend Annette and her buddies. So, being in class with friends, and being allowed to sit with them – probably helpful for learning (if you can hold yourself back from joking all the time – we are getting to be more of a discipline problem as time goes by. Not my problem this time 🙂

We’ll do a sequence one week and I think I’m getting it. Then she says ‘practice’ and I have no idea what we just did. The next week, we’ll go over it again and I’ll be “Oh, NOW I get it, this is easy.” and poof, I can do it and remember it. It’s like wearing a path through the over grown thicket of my mind. One week, you pick your way through. The next week, you see the way-markers and wear a path through. I think it’s got a neurological basis, where dendrites are being strengthened and grow connections, and perhaps the next time through, the ones that are not being used die back, so the motor pathways for the steps get clearer.

When I teach a new idea, kids will look like they get it and give me the old thumbs up at the end of the period, but the next day it’s like ‘we never learned this, wha?’. I feel like I was wasting my time but actually, it’s the necessary ground work for long term learning SO LONG AS WE GO OVER IT AGAIN and give them some time for practice and applying it, with some timely feedback and coaching.

Rushing through stuff to say I ‘covered’ it, not helpful and leads to kids being overwhelmed then checking out or getting angry: I hate it when the rest of the class gets it and I’m the doofus clattering across the dance floor all awkward and useless. I’m starting in a class that’s a bit easy – no ‘high math’ for me. Good idea.

(Did I mention tap class is like jogging for an hour only you don’t notice the time go by and you don’t have to worry about being attacked by the neighborhood pit bulls?)

Finding the ‘zone of proximal development’, the sweet spot between boredom and overwhelm, is key to engagement, long term learning and fun. Take a dance class or something new you’ve always wanted to do. Be a kid and enjoy finding the sweet spot yourself. I’m loving it.





Entry filed under: Creativity, Education Psychology, Reflections. Tags: , , .

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