Advice on a teaching technique?

Discussion in 'Swing Discussion Boards' started by pinkcaddy, Mar 4, 2008.

  1. pinkcaddy

    pinkcaddy New Member

    Was wondering if there are any teachers or advanced dancers here that can help me with a teaching roadblock..

    It's about dance connection between partners - that tension in the arms and frame that enables the leader to lead and the follower to follow - you know, the whole "spaghetti arms" thing.

    I have a group of students who have been with me for a couple of months. I've been teaching ballroom, latin and swing for years now, so I thought I knew lots of ways to explain this so students would understand...but this group is simply not getting it, no matter what I do.. and I have to assume that it's my fault.

    Here are the ways I've tried to show them:

    1. By simply partnering with each student, and demonstrating the proper feel of a dance frame

    2. by doing exercises where we connect with our partner and move into a sitting position, and back upright, forcing them to use some tension in their arms and keep their elbows near their centers,

    3. In open swing dance position, I've used the whole "Our hands are sitting on a fence post between us, and as we dance they should stay in that spot if we have proper connection" - also the whole "coiled spring" analogy in the arms,

    4. by explaining OVER AND OVER again how our arms are connected to our bodies, and don't just flop around independent of the torso,

    5. explaining how to keep the elbows bent so that they stay closer to the body and don't extend the arm straight out from the shoulder,

    I've tried every way I can think of to get them to feel the "push pull" of a proper dance connection. We've reached the point where I just can't teach them anymore until we get some sort of connection going, because it's imperative to leading and following.

    These kids are not raw beginners - they lead and follow the basic bronze stuff like underarm turns, cuddle wraps, etc. It's the more advanced steps that require better connection that we can't do yet, because something is blocking us from getting this!

    I'm just really frustrated and felt like my head was going to explode last week when we spent a whole hour on it and there was barely any improvement. This leads me to believe I've been doing something wrong.

    If anyone has any tips, I'm all ears!!! :confused:
  2. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    Send a private message if you want a kibbitzer, St. Anthony's isn't that far to drive.

    Some thoughts in the mean time... arms arms arms but you never mention center? or support?

    Have you experimented with ropes? Elastics? Kleenex? Balloons? Hula hoops? Blindfolds?
  3. pinkcaddy

    pinkcaddy New Member

    oh - somebody local would be great - I'll PM

    Hmm. When I taught them the ballroom dances we did all the leading and following with our eyes closed...is that the same idea as "blindfolded"?

    I'm going to use elastic bands this week....

    What's "kleenex"?? Don't know that one! And I've never used hoola hoops before - that's a cool idea!

    I explain male lead leading from the center of his body in all the dances, and I try to get the girls to understand that concept too, but somehow it isn't clear. I need another way to explain it....or another way to envision it.. or maybe my teaching just needs a fresh look. I've possibly been on my own for too long. sigh.
  4. tangotime

    tangotime Well-Known Member

    I think the answer is in your Q--- " they,ve been with you etc"

    You also say you have been teaching for several yrs-- if so, then you should realise that more complex variations are not going to fall into place in a couple of months !! .
    If you have created a mind set with the group, that it would not be difficult to make a transition to a higher level, then frustration on THEIR part might be part of the problem .

    I think patience by you should be administered, and your methods seem more than adequate .
  5. tsb

    tsb Well-Known Member

    kleenex - have your students go palm to palm with the kleenex pressed in between - the idea is keep the kleenex from falling - the students have to try and match the level of tone they feel in their partner's arms.

    blindfolding the follower eliminates all visual cues and prompts both partners to focus more on the physical connection.

    for open position i emphasize the following details and usually use the following analogies:

    1) leaders' hands - waist level and outside their hips, visual images being a) drawing two pistols like a gunfighter (since i teach the pistol grip); b) the idea of driving a large steering wheel vs. a smaller one.

    (NOTE: the farther outward from the hips the leaders hands are held, the easier it is for lead can be transmitted through *skeleton* - follows arms tend not to bend (go spaghetti) - and body lead required is much less.)

    2) leaders hands - shelves that followers rest their hands on/in - primary contact point being the middle knuckles of the 3rd & 4th fingers of lead to the middle knuckles of the 3rd & 4th fingers of follow - being sufficient for communication - and allow for shift of grip depending on figure being led;

    3) arm tension/tone comparable to pushing a shopping cart - no overtensing which causes follower to feel "heavy".

    4) elbows never go behind the plane of one's torso - no chicken wings

    to help illustrate this, i have the students go palm to palm and then taking turns leading partner to pivot in place, experimenting with hand distance away from hips and toward centerline while follower changes arm tension (when hands are inside shoulders, spaghetti arms becomes more common)

    let me know if anything isn't clear.
  6. pinkcaddy

    pinkcaddy New Member

    thank you thank you thank you!

    Your explanations made perfect sense, and I'm going to use the shopping cart analogy because I was perplexed why they were going from total spaghetti arms to feeling overly tense and heavy. lol

    Sorry I made it sound like I'm trying to make beginners do advanced stuff- these kids have been with me 4 months, and by "more advanced patterns" I'm talking about tuck-ins. So I'm not trying to put crazy advanced stuff on them - it's just that you need proper connection to do tuck-ins.

    I'm going to try the kleenex thing, I have elastics, and maybe I'll try the hoola hoops just for fun - they'd get a kick out that probably.

    About the lead keeping his hands outside of his hips...what pattern do you use to practice this? by pivot, do you mean just two-hand hold, and having the lead practice pivoting the follow in front of him? I also end up constantly repeating not to let their elbows extend beyond the plane of the torso but that doesn't seem to stick. (The elbows just collapse behind their body....still working on that one)

    Thank you again, you guys are great. I need to find some other teachers locally here that I can talk to, but I'm new in Texas. :)
  7. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    From what I can tell, San Antonio is something of a waste land, as far as West Coast Swing is concerned. Look to Houston (South West Whip Club, Mario Robau), or come up this way (Angel Figeroa, Mike Topel).
  8. Angel HI

    Angel HI Active Member

    It does sound as though you have done a fine job. It has been mentioned (Dancelf), but I don't think mentioned enough, that more attention needs to be placed on exercizes that develop "center", "posture", and "support".

    A couple that I like: center - have the partners lean forward off of their centers, but with the bodies straight (not bent at the waists). Have them dance some basics steps, first with the palms pressing, then by holding the arms, then in a dance position. Slowly return them to a more upright posture.

    Lead/follow/topline - Have them form their proper respective dance positions. Then, have the guys stand behind the girls; take them by the arms, and dance the girls' steps (actually leading the girls from the elbows while dancing the girls' part). Then, yes, have the girls stand behind the guys, and dance/lead the guys' part. Fun and affective for them and you.
  9. pinkcaddy

    pinkcaddy New Member

    Just wanted to give an update because things worked out really well...

    I decided this week to use my elastics like I had planned, but I also tried the "kleenex" thing, and also the centering exercises (leaning forward into each other). I sort of combined everything that I thought would be helpful.

    It went GREAT!! They really picked up on it better than last week, and I think the kleenex really helped.

    But the best part....

    I have never taught the pistol grip handhold before, but I liked tsb's description of it. I thought maybe the boys in my class would really understand that analogy... so I taught them the pistol grip and showed them how to keep their hands lower and away from their hips - the results were amazing!

    The boys truly had so much better control, and they could envision what they were supposed to do - I totally love it!! I've decided I'll probably teach the handholds that way from now on because the guys seem to really get it easier.

    Just wanted to say thank you to everyone who responded!! Great ideas and advice. The kids were doing tuck turns like pros tonight, and having a much better time.

    :nope:
  10. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    So, now that you have that one nailed down...
    You never wrote specifically that you were teaching West Coast Swing, although the thread went that way. Nevertheless, here's something I'd like people to comment on, and it is related to what you teach.

    Long time readers here will remember my bringing up woman complaining that I was "pulling" them, when to me, they were falling behind the music when dancing to faster songs.
    Meanwhile, I found someone who agrees with my thinking on this...

    "At faster speeds the partners become more upright and the connection shortens with more of a "push and pull" feel and look."

    Everyone can argue about the validity of that statement, but how would you all adress this as an instructor?

    P.S. I may end up dancing with one of your students some day.
  11. pinkcaddy

    pinkcaddy New Member

    I actually was teaching 6-count east coast swing (tuck turns are similar to ECS "tuck ins") - we haven't really gotten to WCS patterns yet, but I think these kids want to do Lindy hop anyway, so that's where I'm headed at the moment.

    But in regard to your question - I have always felt that faster music demands tighter connection. I don't see how anyone can lead and follow well, at high speeds, without the core being upright and tight, and the arm connections being short and tight as well. You fall behind the music otherwise - so I guess I agree with you. I've never heard people complain about too much "push pull" at higher speeds. Odd, that.
  12. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    Just something to that might help with the original question. My main instructor sometimes joins the rotation. She also has several experienced friends that help out. When I was first starting out, it is amazing how much faster I picked up the connection idea dancing with someone who knows how it should feel vs dancing with other beginners and listening to descriptions.

    Regarding Steve's question. I was taught that the man still leads with his center as the music speeds up. To stay on time and not make the lady work too hard, I shorten my arm extension. Most ladies mirror my shortened connection. That keeps both of us closer together and still makes pulling unnecessary. So the lead doesn't change, just the amount of space you allow the partnership to generate changes.
  13. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Check out Dance to the Bop.
    This is the song for the first on film dancing of West Coast Swing that I have been able to find.

    The link is a to the RCS database and is a 30 s sample.
    http://rcs.law.emory.edu/rcs/ss/04/ss4463.mp3

    Same 'just a shorter connection' with only enough "pull" to "hold up a piece of kleenex" answer?
  14. tsb

    tsb Well-Known Member

    when i recuperated from a torn achilles tendon, i used to go to the supermarket and push a cart around - pushing the cart helped hide changing from heel to toe leads. i'm sure they had to notice that i seldom bought anything.! but maybe they thought i was just taking advantage of the air conditioning!

    yeah - person being led doesn't move or change weight - just changes orientation. and i use the following variations:

    1) follower goes spaghetti arm-ed. the point is that even with a spaghetti arm-ed follow, leads can maximize the follow's ability to interpret the lead by moving the hands out as low and wide as possible; - kinda like trying to manage a wheelbarrow;

    (NOTE: i draw on aikido background so i also suggest that leads can rotate their hands slightly so that their palms are now longer facing each other but angled downwards anywhere from 30 to 45 degrees (follows' palms now rotated *slightly* outwards - the goal is to compel the follows' arms to straighten a bit if they're really noodle-y armed)

    also, when a person hands are in front of them - any force directed down/towards the person by body lead tends to make the elbows bend rather than have the person's body move; the impetus is directed out AWAY from the center of mass. when the hands are outside the hips, that same impetus tends to be directed TOWARDS the center of gravity - especially if you keep the hands low - follows' center of gravity is below the waist vs. above the waist for men.

    2) i usually have couples switch roles at this point - leads can get an idea of how much is too much from a follow's point of view;

    3) during role reversal - i have the leads vary the tension in the arms, starting with very light to extremely stiff. the difference generally gives insight to the follows in that they may think that they're following fine, but having no idea of how hard a lead has to work to lead a stiff armed partner.

    throughout these exercises, i emphasize that the goal is not to move each other's arms, but to transmit and receive information about how their partners are moving - and what expected responses should feel like. i liken it to learning a language - more force being equivalent to shouting, the overall goal being able to speak as softly as possible and being able to hear even when the other person is whispering.



    the shopping cart analogy should help, but for follows, it should be readily apparent that if their elbows go behind them, that makes their chests the closest thing that their partners can come in contact with. in general, i use the "pretend you are hugging a large beach ball" analogy - arms never go completely straight, elbows never bend too far

    i hope this helps.
  15. tsb

    tsb Well-Known Member

    i'll settle for a small percentage of the gross, thank you! <grin>
  16. tsb

    tsb Well-Known Member

    i actually thought it was EC swing myself, though in lindy, the follow's right elbow gets tucked so tight to the body... and i use much the same techniques for salsa.

    to me, it's as much an issue of "do i insist on MY way?" as much as physical technique. even i would prefer a visit to a proctologist named dr. hook than dance with a partner who consistently feels offbeat, the song won't be more than 4 minutes and i can find ways to avoid having to dance with that person again!

    having said that, i already subscribe to more of a "wheelbarrow" school of thought in terms of my lead in WCS so that the follow assumes more responsibility for their own impetus and change of momentum back and forth along the slot, especially on a sugarpush, but if i'm dancing with someone whose movement doesn't seem to coincide with mine at all, i fall back on some of my aikido background and i tighten up the connection using some of the technique i mentioned earlier - hands out and down as far as possible - minimizes the amount the follow can move away from me (and shortens the distance she has to move towards me) - my palms faced completely down, thumbs resting on the tops of the follow's hands. (same technique works on salseras who are all over the place). once i get the sense our movements are synchronized, i loosen up, but ready to tighten the connection back up as needed - but usually once is enough - it's only a 3 minute song!
  17. pinkcaddy

    pinkcaddy New Member

    I do things a tad differently than other teachers perhaps, in that I don't teach the basic 6-count ECS pattern purely as a set-up into WCS or Lindy. I make sure they can dance 6-count by itself, and well, before we do any 8-count patterns. It just makes more sense to me. I want them to be able to learn WCS AND lindy.


    Right now I hold dances for them to practice regularly, but I want them to get out and dance with people they've never met soon. In another month or 2 I'm going to take them to a local lindy social and unleash them on the unsuspecting. (cue evil laughter....)

    I wonder if I'll have the only kids dancing lindy hop and using a pistol grip? LOL
  18. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    Yes, I think there should still be very little arm pull if you are moving your body center correctly. I actually would probably chose ECS for the song you had over WCS, but either way the leader moving their body center seems key. I don't think just having a shorter connection for a faster song changes how we lead.

    Since you have a lot of knowledge about beats, have you tried anticipating a little earlier? For instance, if I want to lead something on beat 2, I have to have started the lead by beat 1.5ish in order for her to get it without my pulling on her. I think that becomes even more important as the speed increases. Otherwise, she just looks like she is getting yanked. Dancing fast ECS country songs is really interesting to see which leaders can keep up.
  19. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    "Dancing fast ECS country songs is really interesting to see which leaders can keep up."

    Ditto for seeing which "followers" (or women, as I like to call them) can keep up.
    I am of a mind that no matter how good you are as a leader, you can't do the woman's steps for her. Things get especially bad at the far ends of speed: way faster than she is used to dancing (falling behind the beat usually doing the anchor step, which get to be more and more like weight changes as they speed up), or way slower than she is used to dancing (just plain getting ahead of the beat).

    The problem really is that way too many people don't dance to the music. It's so much background noise.

    It also seems to me that if you don't get into the more push pull type feel at higher speeds, the dance feels the same at all speeds, except you're going faster or slower. And, fast songs "feel" different, so I guess it makes sense to me that the dance itself, the motion you are doing, should feel different. The music has more energy, so...
    When I do other dances at the country place, and the music seems to slow down and have less energy, I move less energetically, take smaller, softer steps, etc.

    "Lead from the center" is, I think, misleading, because it takes attention away from the connection. Your arms and hands are connected to your center, after all. (The same thing happens in Argentine Tango where the women are told to follow the center, but don't get the lesson on how the connection to the center happens.) If the woman is moving on the beat, she should be already starting her forward step the same time I am. In that case she won't feel much pull at all.
    But, you know, I think of it as a partner dance, not two people doing a dance around each other while barely touching. (too much of that for too many years, I guess) You know... shared movement, exchange of momentum,... like that

    So, just to cut myself off here...
    I guess then that you don't agree with the more "push pull" at higher speeds thing?
  20. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    I was just mentioning the leading from the center because you had mentioned having several ladies complain about the amount of pull.

    If we lead with our center and maintain frame and tone, it seems to me that the couple has great connection?

    We are taught the lady doesn't move until led. So the guy has to work at being exactly on time and the ladies work on being a split second behind. That way, she can get the lead and doesn't end up leading by accident.

    Yes, I don't think there ever has to be much "push pull". Otherwise, we blend in to the thread in which the ladies are complaining about having their arms pulled off.

    I think just shortening the amount of arm extension so that the whole connection is tighter provides the differences. If the couple just takes out the slow sensual stuff and puts in quicker feet to keep up with the music, the whole tone of the dance is very different.

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