Monday, March 30, 2020

Teacher vs. dancer

It's really important to distinguish between these two "hats" or roles.
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Recently I had an interesting exchange with a student in a class I was teaching. He is someone I dance socially with quite often. As he is not a regular student of mine, I had rarely danced with him in a teacher-student situation before.

He had asked me a question about why the move he was learning was not working to his satisfaction, so I got him to try it with me. At some point I felt the moment where his lead needed some improvement, so I resisted a little, stopped him and asked him to try it again, suggesting a correction or two. He looked at me somewhat taken aback and said, "But you're normally much easier to lead than that! That's not what it usually feels like to dance with you."

"That's because I'm not usually wearing my teacher hat when I dance with you," I replied.

As these things do, the exchange stayed with me and got me thinking.

What I said to him was very true: When I am wearing my teacher hat, I am focused on improving the quality of the other person's dancing. When I am wearing my dancer hat, I am focused on the quality of my own dancing. I think it's really important to respect that dividing line.

When I am, for example, teaching a private lesson, I do my absolute best not to compensate for my leader or follower's flaws but to pinpoint them and find ways to correct them. But when I am dancing in a milonga I do the exact opposite. I, in fact, pay little attention to my partner's shortcomings, purposely ignoring the most blatant ones and not even noticing the minor ones as I concentrate instead on just being the best follower (or leader, as the case may be) I can be, enjoying my partner's best qualities, the music and the moment.

Why do I think it's important to distinguish between the two "hats?" Because the primary goal of dancing socially is enjoyment and connection. If I start focusing on my partners' flaws I will necessarily diminish my own enjoyment as well as that of my partner. And I will also break the connection between us every time I begin to speak. The partner in my arms in a milonga is not there to receive instruction, whether he or she is my student or even knows I'm a teacher or not.

In a class there might be moments when I let go for a couple of minutes and just dance and enjoy – an overall good sign for the student I am dancing with – but "relax and enjoy" are not my primary goals in that situation. My objective, and the reason the other person is paying me, is to pinpoint their mistakes and help them find ways to fix them. That is my job. It takes a lot of focus, concentration and energy, both mental and physical, to teach, especially private lessons. While it is incredibly rewarding work, why would I want to do that job in my leisure time, during moments when I am allowed to just let go and have fun?

That's why I might feel different to dance with when I'm just dancing than when I'm teaching and that's why only teachers should teach – but never in a milonga.

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