5 tips for getting the most out of your group class:
Experiment and prepare to be wrong.
No single factor determines a student’s capacity for learning than their willingness to learn, and being wrong is integral to this process. As dancers, we are constantly unlearning old habits to establish new ones, habits that we will eventually unlearn as even better technique is presented. Put another way, dance is a process, not a product. Open your mind to the universe that the instructor is creating for you, even if you disagree with it in the long run.
It’s clear that the best teachers in the world are able to draw this learning quality out of nearly any student. Less often acknowledged is the corollary to this: the best students are those who are able and willing to suspend their beliefs about dance in order to get to a higher plane of ability via their instructor.
Many students have asked me what to do when one instructor’s teachings conflict with another instructor’s. The implication seems to be that one must be right and the other wrong, and that they must choose one or the other. Though there are some absolutes that, if diverged from, indicate poor instructional quality, for the vast majority of such differences of opinion a different approach works better: try to understand and see the dance from both instructor’s perspectives. The movement of the body is a complex, wholistic activity that generally defies any one form of explanation or another, especially as it relates to dance. This manifests itself in wildly divergent teaching techniques that all bring students towards the same ultimate goal. Rephrased: there are many ways of saying the same thing, so don’t get caught up in the semantics, get caught up in the world of movement that the instructor is inviting you into.
Leave your troubles at the door and focus.
When you enter class, leave all of your troubles behind you and immerse yourself in the class. This includes things as simple as making sure your cell phone is turned to silent and or as serious as making peace with your personal life before it spills over onto the dance floor.
On a subtler level, give your full attention to what is going on in and around your body during the class. Far too many of us (myself included!) glaze over as an instructor discusses a technique point that we’ve heard before. Dig into that moment! Sure, you may have heard it, but have you fully applied it? Are you sure? These are golden opportunities to work further into techniques you may only be superficially familiar with.
This kind of focus is usually not a part of our modern lives. Bombarded by distraction on a minute-to-minute basis, we give up. If you’re looking for a way to cultivate this focused attention, I’d suggest reading my article on meditation written in July of 2016, or read Josh Waitzkin’s book The Art of Learning.
Look, Listen, and Feel.
Much research has been done on the differing ways in which people learn. Some are tactile, others visual, and still others work best with verbal instruction. My advice here is two pronged: First, learn where your dominant strength lies. Second, and more importantly, utilize all channels.
Take 10 minutes and go fill out a learning style inventory online. Just google ‘learning style inventory.’ Go ahead and do it, I’ll wait here.
Great, with those results in hand, what is your gut reaction? Does that match with what you thought it would be? Some people find that they are strongly dominant in one of the three categories, whereas others (like myself) find that they tend to be evenly balanced across the three. For the latter group, skip a paragraph; for the rest, read on.
Those of you with a clearly dominant learning style, think about how this effects your experience in a class. If you’re primarily tactile, you may get less from the instructor’s voice than you do from feeling your partners and body working through the movements. Dig into that strength! You’ll likely find yourself walking away from class with more learned and retained. If you learn best visually, closely study what the instructor and others in your class are doing in order to get the movements. For my auditory learners, listen closely and apply what is said. If you start your class by focusing in on your strength, you’ll find yourself better able to digest and integrate the material.
Once you have focused on your strength, allow that knowledge to be learned in a different way to compound and expand your results. Auditory learners should attempt to apply what they have heard to what they are seeing and feeling, and vice versa. Once information has been processed in one way, actively attempt to process it in different ways as well. Visual learners will often close their eyes in order to focus on hearing and feeling, while tactile learners may have to actively keep their attention in their eyes or ears in order to progress. By cross-applying your strong learning style with your weaker ones, you will build the strongest neural pathways and, thus, the best dancing.
Take notes, usually after class.
The best students record what they have learned in order to solidify it and give themselves material for review. There is a plethora of research out there to back this claim up, just google ‘taking notes’ and scroll around. Much of the benefit of notes, as it turns out, is in the act of creating them in the first place. I usually do this an hour or two after the group class has happened, in order to be sure I am applying and solidifying the most important and memorable parts of each lesson.
Many people profess to have the ‘perfect’ system of taking notes, be it for dance or school. In reality, the perfect system of notes is the one that you are going to stick with. If that means taking an audio recording of yourself re-capping the lecture, do that. If you need to take a video, do that. I personally like a pencil and paper or my Evernote notebook, but go wild.
Review and Apply.
To nobody’s great surprise, reviewing your notes and memories from class will reap you great rewards. I personally still go back to my notes from certain classes to refresh myself on what I was working on. What you review you will not forget. In addition, it’s important to treat your review like you did the initial lesson itself, with an open mind and plenty of attention. If you learned from the class in a relaxed, focused state but practice with tension and distraction, you’re unlikely to see the benefits.