Base: true and false beginners

Beginner level students fall into two categories that affect the rate of progress:

1. True beginners have no dancing experience of any sort at all. The whole dancing thing is completely new to them and so really they are just getting into the world of dancing and movement.

2. False beginners have done some dancing before, whether tango or some other dance, and have some foundational skills, what we might call a ‘base’, which will allow them to progress at a much faster rate.

False beginners already have some knowledge of working with movement and with a partner to music so that they are able to coordinate better and sooner than a True Beginner who has to learn a host of skills related to partner dancing. Those are therefore very different learning tracks and learning curves. However, even in false beginners it is necessary to start of with the basics and practice in a slow and deliberate manner without end-gaining. True Beginners will usually take more practice sessions in the basic skills to get these under control.

On the other hand, the difficulty teaching false beginners has to do with attitudes to learning dancing acquired in prior dancing lessons. There are two types of movement lessons. The vast majority of movement lessons are of the steps-and-figures variety taught using the demonstrate-and-drill methodology. In such lessons, students come into the classroom expecting to learn a new choreography or technique, piling ever more of these. A tiny sub-segment of movement classes teach what might be broadly called “movement awareness”, including things like the Feldenkrais Method, Alexander Technique, or Contact Improvisation.

So the difficulty is that, while false beginners may have a physical base in movement, they typically lack a base on awareness, and come into the class expecting to learn choreography. And teachers, even if they started out trying to teach movement awareness or culture or whatever, fall back on meeting the student’s expectation of teaching choreography. Therefore, part of the goal of a teaching system has to be to build a “base” in movement awareness for both types of beginner. The way to do that is to teach simple choreography but instead of falling on the demonstrate-and-drill method, to use movement awareness teaching techniques such as visualisation.

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