One interesting effect of the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic has been the sudden switch to online platforms for 90% of dance activities. From intensives to skype lessons, the world has moved digital. That’s pretty cool in a lot of ways.
I’m also not a fan of it for myself.
I risk sounding like a Debbie-downer here, but I’d like to share my view for those who might hold similar opinions.
“Why are you raining on our parade, Joel? Nobody asked you.”
Well, that’s fair.
They did ask me. Several people (friends, mostly) have asked me what I think about doing online classes. I’ve found that, if a few people are asking it there’s a good chance that others are wrestling with the same ideas silently as well.
To be clear, there are plenty of people that this digital learning and content creation paradigm does make sense for! I’m just probably not one of them, and it’s worth exploring why.
I’d like to split my ideas into two categories along a natural break-line: why I’m not taking digital lessons and content, and why I’m not making digital lessons and content.
Why I’m Not Taking Them
As an initial caveat, I want to point out that there are many people for whom I think online lessons are a great fit!
I just don’t think I’m one.
I have tried a few of the class offerings, I’m not just ranting against something I’ve never experienced, I just don’t think it’s for me.
If you’re finding great value in the current online offerings, don’t take this as an affront! I simply want to explain my way of thinking.
I’m not a big fan of learning something as necessarily 3-dimensional as dance from a flat, digital screen. I’ve written about this in detail before (click here), but I think a lot of info gets lost. These days, I seem to get the most out of workshops by watching what the instructors are actually doing with their bodies rather than following their (usually brilliant!) descriptions.
Your mileage may certainly vary, but I just don’t seem to get as much out of digital lessons, no matter how well done they are.
I still think some forms of digital dance instruction are highly valuable! The fundamental advantage of something like Westie Pro is that pros can draw on your dancing so you can see what they are seeing, as they are seeing it. That’s something that the dimensionality reduction actually helps with, and it’s not possible in exactly the same way in person. You’re getting additional value from the digital aspect, which I think is very worthwhile.
I just struggle with the two-dimensionality of my screens, in general, and I don’t see an easy way around that until VR technology becomes significantly more user friendly and accessible.
I’m also not the best at staying on task. I have a proclivity for getting distracted, and having access to any manner of shiny things while trying to learn (Facebook, Instagram, the list goes on) makes it hard for me to stay on task for even fifteen minutes of a digital class, much less the entirety.
It’s not to say it’s impossible, but without the peer pressure and workshop environment, I do find it harder to avoid going to the kitchen to grab a snack or popping on my phone to see what others are up to.
Or just going for a walk. Spring in Minnesota is gorgeous!
Recovery and Health
This one is more particular to me, but this respite from dancing every week is actually a huge opportunity for me to heal some nagging injuries that I’ve been dealing with for a little while.
While in Europe, I ended up getting (I’m assuming here, I did not get them checked out) a stress fracture in my left foot, some sort of issue in my right knee (really hoping it’s not meniscus…) and an issue in my right shoulder. While the foot was making slow progress, the knee and shoulder were slowly getting worse with each night of social dancing and teaching.
I don’t like to admit that, but it’s the facts.
This forced break from traveling and dancing is, in effect, an opportunity to take a break from my normal movement regimes and give these parts of me time to recover. Part of that recovery is not subjecting them to the same stresses I was putting them under for effectively the last 14 months. My foot is already back to 100%, in fact.
This is not to suggest I’m not dancing at all. I’m continuing to do some body isolations and, when I’m jamming to a good song, I’ll bust out some footwork here and there. I haven’t put a moratorium on dancing, I’m just downregulating to help my body recover.
I’ve also boosted my physical training in other ways. I’ve recommitted to doing yoga every day, and I’ve been able to keep that up for over 2 weeks now! Long walks and full-body workouts have also returned to my daily routine, something I found nearly impossible to keep up with while on the road.
I’ve written about the benefits of taking a break from dancing before, and it’s a good reminder-to-self that I’ve come out of extended periods of non-dancing with an ability to leap forward in my skill. I’m hoping that’s my outcome this time as well!
Probably pretty self-explanatory, and not as big a deal on some platforms, but watching people fiddle with camera equipment isn’t really my idea of a productive afternoon, no matter how funny it is at the time.
I’ve also seen a few streams go down due to bandwidth, connectivity, etc. This might be rude, but I’d rather focus on my own stuff (reading, writing) at that point than try to debug with everyone else.
Why I’m Not Making Them
Admittedly, it’s a bit facetious to say that I’m not making any digital dance content at all. Obviously you’re reading some right now! I’ve also got a few videos that will come out at some point. What I’m more specifically referring to are the live streams (on Facebook, Zoom, or elsewhere), and the promotion of other paid digital services.
Once more I’d like to make the case that I’m not trying to bash on anybody who’s currently making this content. I think that’s great! I just don’t think it’s for me.
Let’s dive in.
See: All the Reasons Above
Probably pretty obvious, but if I’m not enjoying taking them, it’s hard for me to get too terribly excited about creating them.
On a related note, if any of my students and friends are like me, they might not be huge fans of this format either. That means sub-optimal experiences all the way around, and I’d rather not provide that.
The World is Flat
Surprise! I’m a flat-earther.
But, I do think that the digital world is significantly more flat than the regular, physical world in terms of access to top talent for both instruction and performance.
Put another way, if I’m the only dance instructor available in a certain geographical region during a certain period of time (e.g. a workshop weekend), I get to be the best show in town. Jordan and Tatiana might be teaching in another city hundreds of miles away, and there might be a comp weekend a few hundred miles in the other direction, but for the tight locality I’m in, I’m something new and different for this month.
The digital landscape doesn’t have these physical barriers. It’s just as easy for me to sign up for Robert’s intensive as it would be for any other digital content that’s out and about. Mountains, deserts, and traffic (well, other than bandwidth) don’t materially affect my ability to get content from anyone, anywhere in the world.
The digital world, in this sense, is flat.
That’s part of the magic of the internet, and what has made it such a massive force of change in our lives in the past 30 years. It also means that the few people who are at the top of what they do probably won’t have a hard time filling their online classes, but the rest of us will see diminished returns because we don’t stack up against the best and brightest in the field.
To be clear, I’m not trying to blame anyone here. The heavyweights have spent years and years honing their craft and building their respective followings and fan bases. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and I think for many, that’s the dream: to be able to command a loyal customer base. Kudos!
I still think it’s fair to say, however, that as a content creator myself it makes me reticent to jump onto a playing field that is skewed away from me. I’d rather go find other ways I can win in this digital landscape.
For me, one avenue is writing. Hence this blog.
A final note on this, I don’t really think this applies as much to local, weekly classes. I believe that some of the value that those classes create is the small-group sense of community they provide, and that isn’t the same without the same group. Since I don’t teach any weekly classes, this doesn’t really pertain to me.
My Financial Risk is Low
I’m not nearly as financially exposed as some of my peers in dance. I currently don’t pay rent (got rid of all of my obligations in 2019 so I could travel the world) and am crashing with my parents until this is all over. I graduated with no debt. Credit cards have been used responsibly. On the whole, I’m alright.
Many people are in different situations because of mortgages, kids, student loans, etc., and I’m cognizant of that. I’m one of the most privileged kinds of people in the world, so it’s not too hard for me to step aside and let those with a greater pressing need serve the community and be rewarded.
I’m not saying that to convince you I’m a better person than I am, it’s just a fact of the world right now. I don’t have much to offer the world of medicine and my immediate needs are covered, so it’s not risky for me to step back and make room for others, and that’s what I intend to do.
That’s not to say I won’t pursue opportunities when they’re offered to me, it’s just that I’m not going to launch my ship into the already red-ocean of online classes posted all over Facebook. I’d rather develop some different ideas over a longer time period and not compete against my friends.
Lack of Recording Space or Partner
That section heading probably tells you all you need to know, but recording on the cracked cement in my basement probably wouldn’t be that effective, and despite the fact that I think solo drills are incredibly important, it would seem that everyone and their mother is offering solo drill workshops, and I don’t know that I have anything too special to add in this area. Recording with a partner would be great, but social distancing means that’s a no for me.
It wouldn’t be a great experience for me or (probably) my viewers, so I’ll let others do what they do very well.
My Goals Reside Elsewhere
As I’ve noted already in this article and in my general one on the opportunity that coronavirus presents, I’m mostly interested in doing other things right now. I’ve started two online courses, committed to writing one article per week, started learning German, and have been exercising through yoga and mobility training. The schedule is happy and full.
On top of that, I’m exploring a new business venture I hope to launch in the next couple of months. Excitement!
With all of that already underway, adding digital classes seems like a lot of effort for relatively little long-term reward. I’d rather stick to my current goals.
Just to say it one last time: I think the amount of opportunities for digital learning that we, as a community, have come up with is amazing! I’m just not feeling particularly drawn to it at this point. I’ve got my reasons, and maybe you agree, maybe you don’t.
My thoughts on this may evolve as this worldwide pandemic continues to evolve. For now, this is what I’ve got.
If you’re getting tons out of online dance education, from either the creator or consumer side, please ignore (or constructively use!) everything I’ve said here. I’m not trying to rain on your parade, truly.
If you’ve got any burning questions or concerns, feel free to drop them in the comments!
I’ll see you (someday!) on the dance floor,
2 thoughts on “On Digital Dancing”
Hi Joel, Great article! I have wrestled with the idea of creating online dance classes during this time, and you have done a great job of articulating some of the conclusions I have come to in the past few days and some of the reservations I have about doing so. Lack of partner, lack of studio to do classes, and lack of proper technology to create something professional looking are my main roadblocks now. But, like you, I am content right now (may change my mind in a couple of weeks) in finding other forms of exercise and physical activities, completing a long list of projects that I have not had time for, and recharging for when this is all over and we can all get back to doing what we love – DANCING!. Thanks for the article!
Yes! I hear you. All of those factors make it difficult to want to engage too deeply in the world of digital dancing that people are putting out there. I’m glad you’re finding time to work on other things, as am I, and I hope we all come out of this in a better place, ready to dance with one another! 🙂