I’ve been working on Argentine Tango for a little over a month now. It is challenging, but in an entirely different way than other forms of dance I’ve studied. I will talk about the challenging aspects of the dance in another post. This post is more geared to learning in general.
One thing that seems to be an issue for me is how other people try to direct your learning experience: don’t dance with that dancer, don’t take from that instructor, etc. I realize that this is done in kindness–perhaps to prevent me from having the same bad experience that he or she had in a similar situations. I appreciate the information they impart. I do not like the limiting feeling to my learning experience and autonomy when matters are pressed, or I am shunned when not heeding to given advice. When I proceed to do exactly what he or she has suggested I not do, I mean not to insult. Nor by doing such, do I mean to imply that I know more, better than, or find their experiences irrelevant or meaningless. My way of doing things has function and meaning to me. I want the experience for my own purposes and reasons. I do not need someone deciding for me what is meaningful (good, right, better) through his or her context. I like the exchange of opinion, sharing of experiences, and when I am given advice so long as I am not left feeling like I must abide by such, or that I am wrong for wanting the experience myself.
I know this may sound harsh: no one other than myself understands what is best for my learning. You’ve made mistakes; those are your mistakes, and you developed from them. Throughout your experience, you learned things that helped your dance progress, within your context. It is a fallacy to believe these things apply to everyone in every context. If you decide for me, I will never have the opportunity to test my own initiatives in doing what is best for me, to develop my own judgments, and learn from my own mistakes. Your experiences developed your preferences, but I haven’t a preference yet. I am still exploring and collecting information. Your information can supplement my own, but it cannot be my experience. (How do I know a bad dancer if I never dance with one; how will I know a bad teacher if I never experience one; how will I know what I really like if I only do what you like?)
For the dancer from which I am suppose to away: I want to dance with him. I want to see what it is like like to dance with this person. Is it a matter of style? What did I find uncomfortable? Did I learn anything? Did I enjoy myself? If I did enjoy myself, why? After my skills grow, I would hope to dance with this same person–or someone with a similar style–to see if I still feel the same. Do I dislike this dance now? How has my growth (hopefully) or preferences changed my feeling about this dance? Do I understand now why someone before said not to dance with this person? If it was good the first time and bad the second time, what were the differences? Wow! is the sense I get from these questions. I am better able to understand my development because I didn’t limit my experiences based off of someone else. I am better capable of saying that is the dancer I was before; this is the dancer I am now; and this is how I changed (or, perhaps, stayed the same).
For the bad dance teacher, from whom I am only to learn bad technique or the wrong technique: I like taking from a multitude of instructors, good or bad. You know an excellent instructor when you have one because it works for you at that time and at that place in your learning experience. It isn’t just the information he or she imparts; it includes the entire learning experience. In my past I have found dance teachers who claim to be diametrically opposed. However after taking from both instructors, I found a wide range of similarities their technique and sometimes even style. The differences that separated them were far less than they purported. On the other hand, I have had radically different instructors. I’ve left classes thinking: that was interesting. I’ve returned to these classes later to find myself really learning something in an entirely different way. Cecchetti method in ballet is different than in Russian, French, Bournonville, or Balanchine styles. One can quickly dismiss one style based solely on the apparent “incorrect” positioning of the hip, which “totally isn’t technically correct,” when the style’s technique itself dictates the hip is held in this, different “correct” position. It was easy from my limited experience to make an assumption of bad teacher: my past teacher has always taught me wrong, or this teacher now doesn’t know what she is talking about. At the time, I didn’t know the new instructor was teaching the Vaganova way of using one’s hip. Did that make my old instructor a bad teacher? No. I learned what was right in the past wasn’t necessary right now. I could open myself up to this new way of doing this, or not. It wasn’t easy or natural, but it offered me an opportunity to grow.
I spent over 15 years studying ballet. My childhood classes may have not been a technical powerhouse of information–at least my new instructors had no problem letting me know how inadequate it was. I didn’t learn the correct names/positions of the all the basic ballet positions. We didn’t spend a great deal of time doing tendus and dégagés in center work. My turnout wasn’t all that developed. In short, there were problems. My past teachers were labeled as bad teachers, which is not entirely true. One cannot blame the teacher on every poor aspect of one’s technique. If the teacher is good (maybe not the best), he or she will impart one very important tool to you: the ability and desire to learn. I left my studio and teachers with a passion to learn. My technical deficiencies were an opportunity for growth. I don’t know if I would have felt the same way about ballet if I studied at the Vaganova Ballet Academy. I don’t know if my technique would have been any better; I may have been kicked out after a year (as if I would have ever been accepted in the first place, nudge, nudge).
My fouette turns when I left one school were technically lacking, but at least I could perform the movement. My other teachers taught me how to finesse it, and each one of them had their own ways of executing this one turn. Almost everything one does as a dancer is technically lacking, or always needs improvement. This need for improvement should always be developed but shouldn’t hinder further progress. Still today I find the simplest combinations some of the most difficult.
Maybe all this boils down to learning styles: dualistic verses relativistic. A dualistic learner sees the teacher as the authority figure who passes along truth to the student. There is not room for multiple answers or conflicting interpretations. There is only a right or wrong, a black and white. It’s the students goal to arrive at the right solution–do the right thing at the right time in this right process. Doing the wrong thing has no value. A relativistic learner looks for relationships and different viewpoints, gathers information, expands and modifies concepts based within a context. There is uncertainty in every answer and equal possibilities. It is the ultimate goal to be flexible with what one has learned–to know what you value, what you believe in, but always be prepared to reconsider. If I was hard set in my way of doing things, because the teacher I had was the authority, my progress would have stunted many, many, many years ago–in many respects, not just dance.
I invite everyone to share their experiences with me, offer their opinions, and advice. However, I still want the exploration to be my own. It doesn’t represent how authoritative or talented I think you are. It doesn’t mean your experiences and opinions are not valid. It doesn’t mean I think you are wrong. For me every experience is an experience that leads to growth: good, bad, black, white, right, or wrong all kind-of blur together, and I say I’m ready to learn.
Later on you are welcome to say “I told you so.” I won’t be offended.
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