Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Mad Hatter Theory of Dance Lessons

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“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly. “I've had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can't take more.” “You mean you can't take less,” said the Hatter: “It's very easy to take more than nothing.” Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

I remember being struck by the scene in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in which Alice is offended because she is offered tea but is given none – even though she hadn't asked for tea in the first place. So she helps herself to the tea, the bread and the butter. From my perspective as a dance instructor, I believe that the best way for a person to become a good dancer is to listen to Alice when she says, “…I can't take more” because “I've had nothing yet.” The Hatter would have us believe that “you can't take less”; however, that is exactly what many dancers do when they are motivated by the promise of accelerated proficiency, into taking more advanced classes before they have a sufficient mastery of the basics to assimilate the new information. In this “terpsichorean reversal,” these underprepared dancers work harder and learn less!

Matt Auclair, a six-time National Swing Dance Champion and one of St. Louis' foremost instructors says, “it is not uncommon for an enthusiastic, new swing dancer, who is continually exposed to more accomplished dancers at different club activities, to begin taking Intermediate level dance classes before he or she is ready; and then, to become a less competent dancer as a result. Over the years, I have found that the dancers who learn Imperial Swing the fastest are not the impulsive ones who take self-directed shortcuts in their training; instead, they are the disciplined ones who practice regularly to become proficient with the basics before they attempt to learn more challenging dance moves.” Auclair concludes, “the time that these dancers initially spend on practicing the fundamentals invariably pays off as an investment in time saved in the future because their progression into more advanced training is much less likely to ‘plateau' for deficiencies in their understanding of the Basics.”

It may very well be true, as the Mad Hatter says, that in the topsy-turvy world of Wonderland, “if you can't take less,” then “it's very easy to take more than nothing”; however, we do not live in Wonderland! In our realm above that netherworld, where we can easily “take less” unintentionally, I imagine that the Hatter might say, “it's not very easy to take more than nothing!” I asked Matt if he had any final thoughts on this “Hatter” (pun intended). After giving me one of his exasperated “no more questions” looks, he said, “Skip, I really don't like to drink tea very much (except for Crystal* Light, of course); I think about rabbits only on Easter; and besides, who ever said that learning to swing dance is easy!”

*Note: Matt's wife is named Crystal.

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