Monday, November 3, 2014

Progress and Learning at Arthur Murray Dance Studio

We've all been there.

You want to learn something new, something you have never done before, and you are so excited about it. You begin with unbridled enthusiasm and you find, to your great delight, that it isn't as hard as you thought it would be. You come back for more, an eager student, and then hit a wall. Frustration builds, you just can't get it, you feel like you backslide and you don't understand why.

For many people, this usually marks the time when they quit. They stop trying. And they move on to the next thing. Guess what? It will happen there, too. It will keep happening every time you learn something new because it is part of the process. And only those who have an understanding of how that process works will be able to get over that wall and enjoy the amazing fruits that follow overcoming this phase of learning.

With dance, it is not a phase that only happens once, it is a continuous cycle that all students should gain an understanding of. So, let's talk about it!

In this stage, the student is introduced to a new skill or step. In the very beginning of your dance education, this step is thrilling. You've never done any dancing before and your teacher is just covering the very basics of gross motor movement.

In this stage, the student has an increased awareness of what they are supposed to be doing, but still feels awkward when doing the skill. Your body is starting to understand the step pattern or technique, and your brain is actively engaged in what you should be doing, but it still doesn't feel or look natural and you are thinking about what you are doing a lot.

In this stage, the student can perform the step or technique more effectively and easily, and although it may look good, it still must be thought through when performed.  The skill or step is starting to feel much better, but it isn't quite second nature yet, you still have to think about what you are doing.

In this stage, the student can perform the skill or step with ease. It is spontaneous, comfortable and creative. This stage is reached only after a period of time over which the student has continued to practice the skill.

The key to this system is that EACH TIME you learn a new skill, you must go through all the stages
with that skill. Once you have learned a basic step, and gotten to the point where that step can be done at a NATURAL USE STAGE level, your teacher will inevitably add a new skill to the step. Perhaps they will introduce you to a bit of footwork, or move you into a dance frame, or start to talk about the timing in more detail. Whatever the next layer is, as soon as it is introduced (INITIAL LEARNING STAGE), you will feel that the basic step no longer functions as well as it did before. That is because now you are focusing on 2 things, the old skill and the new skill, so the old skill will "backslide" just a bit until the new skill starts to move into the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th stages of learning. Then, you will feel a surge of progress as you are able to use both skills simultaneously at level 3  and 4. This is where the Plateau or Wall is felt. But if you push through the tough time, you will be rewarded with the satisfaction of now being a much better dancer!

A really good example, that makes a lot of sense is to compare it to learning to drive a 5-speed (stick shift). When you first learn to drive the car, you are really excited, and even though there are squealing tires, stalls, and rough starts, you feel good about your progress because you are driving a car when before you could not. In the beginning, you find that you are putting a lot of thought into using the proper clutch/gas pedal ratio, shifting, steering, using the mirrors, etc. But, once you've been driving for awhile, all of that becomes second nature. And then you start to add layers. You can change the radio station, eat your burger, make a phone call, and in some cases even put on make-up and change your clothes! (we don't advocate any of these behaviors while driving, but we all know some folks who have done it!) The driving has become second nature and maybe the first time you tried to eat your burger, you accidentally stalled the car, but then, it got easier and easier. Dancing, or learning any new skill for that matter, is the same. If you had given up on learning to drive the first time you stalled the car, you would never know the feeling of cruising down the highway with the wind in your hair and your favorite song on the radio. Right?

Some of you may have heard of these levels in different terms. Here is a link to a nice article that discusses the road from Unconscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence, which very nicely complements exactly what we've been discussing here today. (Ironically, I had never seen this particular article before today, but they use the same example of driving!)

So, as you continue on your dancing journey, don't be discouraged when you feel like your progress has slowed, or even stopped. We can assure you, it has not. Most likely, it just means that you have learned something NEW and are getting ready to make a big leap forward! I always used to tell my students "If it's easy, it means you aren't learning (anything new)."

Keep moving forward, my friends! It's the only way to go...unless you are the follower!