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Concise Teaching – fewer words, bigger impact

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One thing I have always admired about Carolena’s and Paulette’s teaching, both, is their ability to distill concepts down to refined verbiage. That is to say, they take more complex details of technique and refine their teaching language so that the important points are all addressed, without overburdening a student with too much information. Of course they have lots of additional details they are keenly aware of, which they have learned through years of studying, dancing, and teaching; and while all of it is useful, it’s not actually helpful or efficient to try and share every single detail when trying to teach someone else.

Today as I was driving home to the grocery store, I was thinking about how important this skill is. For instance, if I wanted to get someone from the grocery store to my house, I would say “Take Highway 99 south until you hit 145th. Hang a left at the light, right on 1st, then right onto my street. Our house is on the right hand side.”

By contrast, when I am driving MYSELF home from the grocery store, the volume of information I know from this well traveled route is much greater, and I know little tricks and ways to make the trip more smoothly and quickly because of these little details. For instance, I know that the traffic on Highway 99 is difficult at some times of the day, so I may actually take a slightly different route depending on the day. If I do take it, once on the highway, I get in the left hand lane and watch for the lights as they cycle. If I hit 145th while the through-light is red, then I will actually plan to go ahead to 125th instead of waiting for the turn signal, as it will be a long wait through the full cycle until the turn light I need turns green. But if the through-light is already green, then I know the left turn signal will ping soon, so I hop into the turn lane and take 145th as planned. If I instead end up taking 125th, I have to go around the lake but that road turns into my street so there are no more turns to navigate, and in that case my house will be on the left side as I drive up. If I take 145th I skip the lake, but it means I have two additional turns ahead of me, and my house will come up on the right side… (You didn’t really read all this, did you? Well if you did congratulations! You know how to get to my house…sort of!)

All that is a very long way of saying I know how to get to my house very well, with a multitude of options which I choose in the moment depending on various factors I have become familiar with over the 12 years I have lived in my house and going to that grocery store. But if I am telling someone ELSE how to get there, trying to disseminate all that information would just confuse the heck out of them! All they really need is a small set of instructions, and the rest of the information simply comes through individual experience.  They need to travel that path several times on their own, and through that repetition they will figure out their own little tricks and shortcuts to make the trip more efficient.

So yeah, dance is like that. Students really only need a simple road-map–a concise set of instructions on how to do what they do. As they practice and grow, they will learn more naturally on their own. 

And of course, in the case of driving directions, if a friend comes to me and says “Hey I will probably be coming up from the south this time, how do I get there?” I can give them new information that is relevant to their specific needs at the time.

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Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

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